We’ve already reviewed Exchange, which is the easy-to-use eCommerce plugin offered by iThemes (and told you how to use it for a membership site), but there’s been a ton of new development for the platform. As a result, we wanted to revisit the plugin and do a new iThemes Exchange review, but time with a twist.
In this review, we’ll take a look at what you can do with Exchange, as well as the Exchange Pro Pack, in order to give you a complete view of what you can do with your Exchange-powered eCommerce site.
Want to skip ahead to the Exchange Pro Pack part? Click here.
Let’s start with some of our favorite things about the core Exchange plugin as well as some of the downsides, then we’ll expand to some of our favorite add-ons in the Exchange Pro Pack.
First of all, I like the simplicity of setting up an eCommerce site with Exchange. If you’re a developer looking for an easy-to-use solution for a client, this is one that you should consider. Setting up a shop and managing products has a very small learning curve in comparison to some other plugins. There are also lots of basic features that can be enabled on an as-needed basis so that shop managers don’t have lots of options available that they don’t need. They can also duplicate products to make product addition easier (if enabled).
The frontend will look good even with out an Exchange theme, and the Exchange superwidget does some pretty cool stuff. If you haven’t assigned it to a widget area, it will simply be displayed on your product pages:
If you have assigned it to a widget area, then it will display it that area, and the content will adjust based on which page is viewed. For example, most times it will display a shopping cart. However, it will display “Buy Now” and “Add to Cart” buttons on product pages, but will also allow for a complete AJAX cart and checkout process so that customers never have to leave the page to complete a purchase.
Simple shipping is included, as you can set up per-product flat rate shipping (the cost can be overridden for products as needed). Free shipping can also be offered, but will default to “enabled” for products rather than off. Be aware of this if you don’t want to offer it for most products – it will have to be overridden as needed. Support for multiple shipping options is also included if “free shipping” for some products is enabled but not others.
Support for simple, downloadable, and physical products is included in the core plugin. Downloadable products have some handy options, such as the ability to set a download expiration time as well as the ability to limit the number of downloads for a product.
Regardless of product type, you can also add purchase messages to provide more information at purchase, as well as set product availability dates in case products are available on a limited basis (such as courses).
You can also enable coupons if needed. Coupon codes can be entered or randomly generated and offer a few simple options:
- Discounts can be for a flat amount or percentage.
- Start and end dates can be set.
- You can limit the number of coupon uses (overall).
- You can limit the coupon to one product.
- You can set a usage limit use per customer (maximum of once per year).
Coupons cannot be limited to more than one product, so there’s no way to create a coupon that applies to a group of products or a category.
Finally, there are a few payment options available with the core plugin or as free add-ons. Shop managers can use offline payments (such as cash or check), PayPal Standard, and Stripe (no SSL certificate required – uses the Stripe pop up). As Stripe is our favorite processor, this is a huge bonus for us.
With the simplicity of Exchanges comes the sacrifice of some features and the ability to scale well. For example, bulk actions for products are lacking. There’s no way to bulk edit pricing (for example, to adjust all prices by a percentage), add sale prices, or adjust inventory.
This is also a problem for order management, which needs improvement. There’s no way to bulk update orders statuses (moving orders from “pending” to “paid”), and there’s no status for a completed or shipped order, which will make it difficult to know what’s waiting to be shipped or what’s already been shipped as you get more orders. There’s also no way to set a status as cancelled or refunded for orders paid for using external methods (like Stripe), which creates a need for very good external accounting and makes payment management within the plugin far less useful.
Shipping also needs to grow with your store, which doesn’t happen currently. Flat rate shipping is set per product rather than on a per-order basis, which is not an issue for shops that only sell a few items, but can be problematic for shops that send several items with each order.
Mixing free and paid shipping also creates a slight inconvenience, as shop customers must select multiple shipping methods (which introduces a point of friction), then select free shipping manually if a paid option is also offered. For example, if you offer free and expedited shipping, the customer must select which they’d like instead of defaulting to the cheapest option and allowing customers to change shipping methods from there. A shipping plugin that works on a per-order basis can help to solve some of these issues (there are none available yet).
The last cons I see have to do with the customer experience (aside from shipping). There are no “Add to Cart” buttons from the store page, which requires customers to click through to the product page rather than be able to add items to the cart as they view all items.
There’s no way to enter a coupon at checkout, and customers can only do this from the cart page or using the superwidget to check out from the product page:
There also some other small downsides, but these are covered by what you can do with the Exchange Pro Pack.
Okay, now that we’ve gone through a bit of what you can do with the core plugin, let’s take a look at some of my favorite add-ons from the Exchange Pro Pack, which will allow you to add more capabilities to your store.
This is hands-down my favorite add-on for Exchange. I really disliked that you couldn’t do variable products with the core plugin, but I’m really happy with the way this add-on works.
When you enable this add-on, you’ll see some new menu options under the Product Advanced settings. You can add variants and display them using a dropdown, radio buttons, swatches (color), or images (thumbnails). You can mix and match these variant groups to create all of the options needed for your products.
Note that when you create a group, you can set the variant title (e.g., color or size), but you’ll need to delete the default options as you can’t override the names.
You can also manage inventory based on variant, change price based on which variant is selected (which I found really easy), and also create groups of images for a variant. You can determine which variants will display which groups of images to change the photos based on what a customer selects.
This resulted in a really smooth process for variant addition, and a smooth experience for customers. Scroll through the gallery to see examples of variant addition and options:
The only issue I experienced was with the swatches, as it could sometimes be a bit janky to use but I’ve always been able to set the colors I wanted for each swatch. The images swatches work the same way, but are much easier to set.
This add-on lets customers choose what to pay for products. You can create pricing options for customers to select, or allow them to enter the price they wish to pay. You can even optionally set minimum and maximim prices:
This add-on lets you create and track up to 3 custom URLs for products. This can be handy for tracking ads or promotions without using a redirect plugin. You can set custom URLs for the product, which will display the product page, and track views to that URL (these can be in addition to the product’s permalink URL).
You can also choose to redirect your custom links to the permalink instead of desired. This will be helpful so that your custom links are less likely to be used or shared on other sites, as this way people will be redirected to the permalink and more likely to share that.
This add-on lets you add a featured video to your product pages that will be displayed before any details, such a images or pricing. Accepted sources are YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler, and Flickr. While this is a cool perk, you could also embed videos via shortcode if you’re using Jetpack or a video embed plugin (or using an iframe), though they won’t be featured at the top of your product page. I liked that it was part of the Pro Pack, but it’s not something I would have purchased separately.
The Invoices add-on allows you to create Invoice-type products, then send these products to customers via email to collect payment (customers will have a unique URL to click to view the invoice). You can select existing customers or create new clients to invoice. These products will not show up in your store. You’ll be able to leverage your current payment options and keep track of payments right in Exchange.
The Manual Purchases add-on lets you create orders for a new or existing customer. While viewing payments, you’ll be able to click “Add New” to create a new order. You’ll also be able to create an order while viewing purchase details for an existing customer:
These new orders will simply be labeled “manual payment” as the payment method and will automatically be marked as “Paid”. One downside to using this is that product variants are not supported, so you’ll only be able to add a manual order for a parent product, not one of the variations of that product.
This add-on is pretty nifty for those of you that want to customize “Welcome” pages for your users. You can determine where users should be sent when registering or logging it – choose from the default location, WordPress pages or posts, or other Exchange pages. This could be a great way to reward customers for registering at checkout – send them to a Welcome page with a coupon offer for their first purchase.
bbPress lets you create forums on your site, and this add-ons lets you to tie forums to membership purchases. You can restrict forums, topics, and replies to certain membership levels so that users have to purchase a membership before they can view forums. When you create a membership, you can add forums to the access rules to only allow those members to view a forum, or you can select the appropriate levels that should have access as you edit or create forums.
This is super useful for sites that want to create a “club” or discussion area, but only allow members to access these areas and restrict others from viewing them.
I’m actually not going to go into using the Membership or the Recurring Payments add-ons here. They’re both awesome, and I wrote an entire post on them already: Using Exchange for Membership Sites. I recommend you check that out instead!
There are some other add-ons in the Exchange Pro Pack that we haven’t covered here. One that’s really useful is the Easy US Sales Taxes add-on, as the simple taxes add-on is very limiting and doesn’t allow you to override taxes for certain products. The Easy US Taxes add-on integrates with TaxCloud (free) to automatically calculate the appropriate taxes for orders and lets you set tax classes for products.
There are also email integrations, such as one for MailChimp (my preferred email service), that you can use to allow customers to opt-in to your email list at checkout.
Overall, the number and quality of the add-ons in the Exchange Pro Pack helps you to do some really cool stuff with your Exchange site. My favorites are Product Variants, Memberships, and Recurring Payments, and I think these 3 plugins alone justify the cost of the Pro Pack for me. Have some questions? Ask away!
Ready to go pro? Check out the Exchange Pro Pack today: