The Minimalist: Exchange Review
The eCommerce space in WordPress is constantly expanding with new plugins and extension, and Exchange is part of that expansion. It’s one of the newest eCommerce offerings for WordPress, and is developed by popular theme shop iThemes. Exchange’s minimalist approach to store setup (most functionality is activated via add-ons) makes it easy to use and tailor to store needs. However, this platform shows its youth with respect to extensibility, and while add-ons and features are in constant development, it needs some time to mature to offer a lot of store options.
Skip to section:
- Base and Ancillary Costs
- Overview and Usability
- Customer Experience
- Built-in Payment and Shipping Options
- Reporting and Inventory Management
- Other Features and Comments
- Exchange Review Wrap-up
- Read More
Base and Ancillary Costs #
Exchange is available as a free download from the iThemes website, and is also available on WordPress.org. Installation was easy, and the ability to test drive the plugin before purchasing extensions is obviously a plus. Theming doesn’t seem to be an issue, as Exchange was compatible with the themes we tested. However, if you’d like an Exchange-specific theme, you can purchase them from iThemes at $80 each (bundles are available).
Premium Add-ons are also available to extend Exchange’s functionality, and you can access them directly from the WordPress admin:
Can’t find an add-on to do what you want? With a public roadmap available, you can see if the functionality you want is in the works, as Exchange is a very young platform and doesn’t have a lot of add-ons available as of yet.
Free core plugin, which is great, and you may spend about $170 on add-ons or themes if you want them. Obviously, costs will grow as functionality is available be added.
Overview and Usability #
Setup for Exchange is very easy, but some options are limited. For example, Exchange recommends that you only use one payment method, which will make your life difficult if you want to accept both credit cards and checks. Tax and shipping options are also basic. I did like that all Exchange settings and information is located under its own menu in the WP backend.
One of the cool features of Exchange is that it tries to do only what you want it to do. Want to enable only physical products and get rid of downloadable products? No big deal. You can also decide whether you need shipping or tax included, and more. You can enable or disable add-ons, including built-in add-ons, right from the WordPress admin:
One thing users may want to note is that you can’t edit Exchange pages from the WordPress admin. You’ll also have to make sure you add them to your navigation, as they won’t be added automatically and are in their own category.
One small usability note is that orders are called “Payments”, which was a bit confusing to me at first. You have to go to Exchange > Payments to view order information. You can only edit order status, and cannot update customer information, add notes, or manually create orders.
You can enable simple tax options as an add-on if you’re selling physical goods. However, you can’t set bands or zones for taxes, and they will be applied to all products. If you sell both physical and digital goods, this may not be ideal if you’re not required to assess tax on digital goods in your region. You can’t change this on a per-product basis.
Exchange allows you to add simple (“physical”), downloadable, and virtual (“simple”) products. “Simple” products seem a bit redundant now that physical products are supported (functionality that was just added), as simple/virtual product addition appears to be exactly the same as physical product addition when shipping is disabled.
Despite the seeming iteration of simple virtual product addition, adding any kind of product is easy and intuitive using Exchange, as products are added using a custom post type. You can choose which kind of product addition to enable, then add info such as a short and/or extended description, images, and more from the product editor:
Downloadable product addition is very similar, and includes some useful settings, such as the ability to add download limits and expirations:
One downside is that Exchange does not currently support variable product addition, so you’ll have to add all of those tee shirt variations as individual products, which will clog up your store catalog a bit if you’re selling variable products.
Shortcodes and Widgets
Presently Exchange doesn’t support shortcodes to add products to pages or posts, which is a bit of a downer if you want to organize product display in any way (for example, by category). You also can’t feature a product in a post, and will have to link to the product page instead. However, it does offer a “super widget”, which will display a shopping cart, buy now information, and more:
Customer Experience #
Customers will find that Exchange handles the basic frontend experience well, but is in need of some growth to build a truly great user experience. The customer account section is handled very well, and customers can view prior purchases, downloads, and account information. Navigation is easy and clear, but there are a few downsides. First, the shopping page only displays 2 columns of products in the grid display:
While this is better than a list view, it will still be a bit difficult to navigate for stores with hundreds of products. There’s also no way to segment browsing by product category or other attributes, and since shortcodes are not supported, you can’t set this up on your own, which will make browsing tedious for customers of larger stores.
Product pages are clear and allow you to add multiple product images. Customers can also scroll over images to zoom in. Call to action buttons will be added by default, or will transition to the super widget if in use.
The shopping cart is easy to get to and use, and I liked that customers can apply discounts without having to click on a link to do so. Quantities are also adjustable from the cart page:
The checkout process requires a couple of steps to complete, and guest checkout is not currently supported (this is on the roadmap as “coming soon”). Customers have to submit a shipping address (or billing address if you have this enabled), then select shipping options to check out. Payment options are also limited at the moment, but more options are being added soon. However, you could go through the entire checkout using the super widget, which is kind of cool.
Built-in Payment and Shipping Options #
Exchange’s payment and shipping options are limited at present, but more options are in development.
Exchange supports offline payments, Stripe, and PayPal Standard out of the box. However, installing only one payment method is recommended, which puts a damper on accepting credit cards and another payment form, such as checks or payment on pickup. Authorize.net, PayPal Pro, and 2Checkout are in development.
Shipping options are also very simple, and are enabled as an add-on. Exchange currently supports flat rate and free shipping for products. Free shipping is enabled for all products if allowed (permitting the customer to choose, which is not what you want), and can’t be set on a per-product basis, rendering it a bit useless.
Flat rate shipping is set as one rate, and is not based on zone or region. However, you can override a product’s shipping charge to increase or decrease shipping. This will allow you to set free shipping, as you can set an item’s shipping to $0.00 (which again, is why I feel like free shipping is a bit useless in the current form). Basically, you’d want to choose one shipping method, and it would obviously be flat rate unless you ship all products for free (although, you could just set the flat rate to $0 if that’s the case for the sake of flexibility). I’d rather see custom methods, such as “standard” and “expedited”, as both methods would actually be useful, rather than the free shipping option, which essentially does nothing that flat rate can’t do.
Reporting and Inventory Management #
Exchange includes only basic sales stats, which can be enabled for the WordPress dashboard, and provides no real reporting. However, it looks like a more advanced reporting add-on is on the roadmap for future release.
Exchange also includes basic inventory management, which can be set on a per-product basis (useful if you sell both physical and digital goods). However, notifications for low or out-of-stock items are not available.
iThemes offers free community forums for basic Exchange issues (with fairly prompt responses), and paid support subscriptions for all other issues at $47 per month. Basic issues brought up at WordPress.org are also answered in a timely manner. However, documentation and video tutorials are pretty extensive, which should help many new users with setup and troubleshooting. Paid support will probably be most useful for stores that use a variety of plugins or add-ons in case of compatibility issues. Support is also included with some bundles.
Other Features and Comments #
The public roadmap available is a great idea, especially since Exchange is so new and has a way to go before it’s fully functional as an eCommerce solution. The Recurring Payments Add-on, which is also included in the purchase of the new Memberships Add-on, is one of the most interesting add-ons, as it allows stores to create subscription products.
The addition of a membership add-on also starts to make Exchange a more compelling platform, as it expands the possible use past simple and downloadable products. iThemes wrote an introduction to the Memberships Add-on upon launch with more details.
Exchange Review Wrap-up #
Exchange is a light-weight, well-executed, minimalist plugin for WordPress eCommerce. While the plugin is immature and has a ways to go before it can be considered a fully-functional solution for larger stores, it’s beginning with a very solid foundation, and I like the approach that iThemes has taken by making a lot of core functionality optional to tailor the plugin to a store’s needs. Basic options are very limited, and the inability to add variable products will eliminate Exchange as a contender for some stores. However, the progression of this platform will be interesting to follow as more add-ons are developed and the core offering is refined. Overall, Exchange is a young, but very promising eCommerce platform.
Read more: #
- James Dalman posted a review of his iThemes and Exchange Experience.
- Chris Lema wrote a review of the new Membership Add-on for Exchange.
- Brian Krogsgard reviewed Exchange on Post Status when it was launched earlier this year.
Like this Exchange Review? Check out the rest of our WordPress eCommerce Platforms Guide.
Please Note: I did not test all of the paid upgrades/plugins that I reference in this article; If I didn’t test it, I’m basing my information on reading user reviews or other articles.
Full Disclosure: The author of this article also works for SkyVerge, who develops WooCommerce extensions. Despite this fact, every effort was made to be impartial and write this review from a neutral perspective.