Choosing a WordPress eCommerce Platform

I know I’m not going to win any fans with this answer, but which platform you choose truly depends on the need of your store. WooCommerce is my overall favorite based on quality, extensibility, flexibility, and scalability, but whether you use it will depend on your what you’re selling, and thus it’s not a clear-cut winner. Are you selling physical or digital goods? How accurate do your shipping costs have to be? Do you need to integrate with a particular service? Do you want to be able to use marketing tools or just focus on the point of sale? One thing that has become apparent after trying all of these platforms is that each has strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a visual person, you can take a look at a simplified spreadsheet that gives an overview of major features for all platforms reviewed (or download this platform comparison PDF instead of you prefer).

With that being said, some platforms certainly perform better or are more well-rounded than others. Some of my major concerns when considering a platform are reliability, security, flexibility, support, and pricing, so I’ll make recommendations with those criteria in mind. Here are some other points to consider and some items to note that will hopefully help you choose which platform to use.

Choosing a Platform Based on What You Sell

First, the type of good you sell should hold most influence over which platform you use — are you shipping physical goods, selling digital content, creating a membership site or subscriptions service, or a combination of services? Each platform approaches selling these products differently, so I’d argue that this is the most important consideration when selecting a platform.

Here are a few general points to get out of the way first. All platforms (except Ready! Cart), support coupons/discount codes. What you can do with discounts is very limited in Exchange, eShop, and, MarketPress Lite, but fairly well done in all other platforms. Need to allow backorders? Then you’re limited to WooCommerce, Jigoshop, or Ready! Cart. Need to be able to force SSL on checkout? WooCommerce, WPeC, Cart66, Jigoshop, and Ready! Cart can do it. Using a multisite setup? Then you’ll probably look at WPeC or MarketPress (though WooCommerce does have some stuff in the pipeline for this, but WPeC has had time to test / debug it).

Selling digital goods?

Go for Easy Digital Downloads or WooCommerce. Both have licensing extensions, are super extensible, easy to use, and are quality products. So what about WooCommerce vs Easy Digital Downloads? I would go with EDD for shops selling only digital products, as the shopping experience is designed with digital goods in mind and provides a slightly more intuitive experience for users shopping for music or other digital goods. However, if you may start selling physical goods at some point, WooCommerce offers a lot more flexibility, especially in terms of shipping. You can’t go wrong with either platform if you’re selling digital products.

What about support? Easy Digital Downloads takes the edge here. Both offer good support (don’t roll your eyes, WooCommerce haters, I’ll get to you in a minute), but EDD offers faster response time. EDD support takes place in basic or premium support forums, while WooCommerce support is via a ticket system, but both will log in to your site to troubleshoot and won’t move on until the issue is resolved. You’ll find some people that dislike WC support and others that love it, so I’d point out a couple of things to consider. First, WooCommerce has the most active installs of any platform (as in almost 200,000 active users). That’s a lot to support, so I think this is more of a growing pain than anything else – they can’t hire support techs fast enough at the moment to keep up with the ticket volume. EDD has far fewer users at the moment, so support hasn’t reached scaling issues as of yet, and thus you’ll get faster support (and quality is also great; check out our review for some links to user comments). I see the sheer number of WC users as a potential bonus even though it slows support down at the moment, as it leads to more bugs being found and compatibility issues being uncovered and addressed. However, support for all products is under one roof for both plugins, making it easier for users to determine how to get help when compared to other platforms. Points to each here for ease of use and quality, but I’d give an edge to EDD until WooCommerce scales more effectively with its user base.

Selling physical goods?

This is where I’d recommend WooCommerce for the majority of users. It has the most active installs for a reason — it works, and you can do a whole lot with it (which is why it’s continuing to grow at a crazy rate). The large user base also bodes well for longevity and continued development. However, it has become a “premium” product (which seems a bit crazy to me at less than $450 a year for most shops, but this isn’t the place for a pricing talk I guess 😉 ), so some users have concerns about price. I valued costs with WooCommerce at about $600 to set up for the first year, and about $300 per year after that for basic stores, which was at the top end of costs for all platforms. However, this is because WooCommerce lets you do more than most other platforms (so you’ll probably spend more), and has a lot more options for marketing, accounting, and other integrations. You also get the ease of purchasing extensions and getting support all under one roof. In terms of extensibility and flexibility to sell whatever you want, WooCommerce takes the cake.

Why else would I recommend it? WooCommerce is dependable and scales well, whether you sell 10 or 10,000 products. Your hosting will actually affect your store’s scalability far more than WooCommerce will. Sales reporting is top notch, and helps small stores do without large accounting services to save costs while still evaluating performance. Also, it has some features you really can’t duplicate or find on other platforms, such as the Dynamic Pricing extension, which offers a lot of flexibility in creating pricing tiers based on quantity and membership. You can also manually create orders so that you can take phone orders, send gifts to customers and associates (while still account for them in your reporting), or edit order information for customers if needed (not to mention the ability to add order notes). Theming could be an issue, but it seems that most quality theme developers provide products that have few issues with WC compatibility. Don’t skimp on a theme that breaks your store.

If you’re against using WooCommerce, then I’d probably choose Shopp or Exchange in your shoes. I think that Exchange will actually become the major WooCommerce competitor as it grows (it was launched just a few months ago), and the roadmap looks promising. If you’re going to invest in a store you want to have for some years, Exchange will probably be the next best thing even though it’s not in the major leagues yet. You could also check out WP eCommerce, which has a proven track record and is the most mature platform out there. They are also rumored to be coming out with an add-on marketplace soon. However, as I said in the review, you may want to have some tech support available as it does have the potential to have some issues.

Memberships and Subscriptions

I think Cart66 Cloud takes the cake for ease of use and setup here, but there are other good options. First, Cart66 Cloud helps you skirt security issues by running transactions through their servers, but this limits flexibility a bit and makes selling physical goods a bit more difficult than other platforms. Membership content is very easy to restrict, and over 50 payment gateway integrations are included and all can automatically be used for subscription billing (again, really easy to set up). However, this brings up the same point as selling digital goods: if all you plan on doing is selling subscriptions or memberships for virtual products, then Cart66 Cloud is a great choice, but it doesn’t expand past that as well as it could. If you’re selling a lot of physical goods or doing other stuff on your site, then you may want a different option. Since it’s basically a SaaS service, you also don’t have options for extension.

If Cart66 Cloud, isn’t your guy, then check out Shopp, Exchange, or WooCommerce. Shopp includes subscriptions billing in the core plugin, but offers no way to restrict membership content, so it’s a decent budget choice for basic subscription goods. Exchange just released a Membership Add-on to complement their Recurring Payments Add-on (check out the “Read More” section in our Exchange review for a couple of good reviews of this add-on). WooCommerce also has a pretty awesome Subscriptions plugin, which is more expensive than other options, but offers a ton of features and is constantly developed and updated. You’d need to pair it up with the Groups extension if you want to create memberships.

Choosing a Platform Based on Quality and Support

I’ve touched on support so far, but to summarize, I’ve had the best experiences with Easy Digital Downloads, WooCommerce, Cart66, and Exchange. That’s not to say other platforms offer poor support, but those are at the top for me (please let us know in the comments if you can add to this with your experiences!). Extensibility is also important to me and I consider it to be part of quality (we’re focusing on usability here, not a code review – that’s for another time). Few solutions will do everything you want them to do out of the box, so the ability to add functionality is important (especially since keeping it separate from the core offering helps with stability and performance). In this respect, EDD and WooCommerce provide the most opportunity to add functionality, with WPeC throwing its hat into the ring as well.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the opening, WooCommerce is probably the most versatile and reliable solution you’ll find for WordPress eCommerce (though EDD is right with it), but evaluating your needs will determine if it’s the right fit for you. I’ll be curious to see where Exchange goes as it grows, as iThemes has had the benefit of seeing every other platform’s triumphs and mistakes, and has a clear roadmap for building the platform. Easy Digital Downloads and Cart66 Cloud round out the rest of the top 3 list, but are far more specific in their usage than WooCommerce. With that being said, the only platforms I would tend to avoid would be eShop since it’s a bit difficult to use and doesn’t take advantage of custom post types for product creation, and Ready! Cart, as it seems to have some limitations and bugs to work out before it’s a viable solution. As I’ve said in most reviews, I recommend downloading each plugin and taking for a test drive on a fresh WordPress install before building your store out to see which WordPress eCommerce solution works best for you.

Read More

Check out the rest of our WordPress eCommerce Platforms Guide for detailed reviews of each platform.

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.

Cover Photo Credit: Fosforix (CC BY-ND 2.0 license)
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Posted by Beka Rice

Beka Rice manages the direction of Sell with WP content and writes or edits most of our articles to share her interests in eCommerce. Or she just writes as an excuse to spend more time jamming out to anything from The Clash to Lady Gaga. Who knows.

11 Comments

  1. Hi Beka,
    Thanks so much for including Cart66 in this review! We’re definitely putting a focus on memberships and subscriptions in our product and we have more planned along those lines in the near future.

    Also wanted to mention that we offer a built-in CDN for managing your digital files for selling digital products, so that has been a great fit for some of our customers as well. It’s just one more thing that folks don’t have to set up on their own, it’s all included.

    Thanks again!
    Joey, Cart66 Team

    1. Hi Joey,

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you mentioned this – I’ve tried to include as much detail as I can but it’s always nice to have clarification on what’s offered / not included. I’ll add this info to the Cart66 Cloud review as well.

      Thanks again!
      Beka

  2. ” EDD support takes place in premium forums”

    Actually, unlike most other ecommerce carts, EDD does support people who never purchase anything from us, in our free forums.
    So we answer tickets via the premium forum on our site, the free forum on our site, and wordpress.org (in that order).

    I think that differentiates us even more in the support category from WooCommerce. You have to buy something from them to get support.

    -Chris

    1. Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your comment! I realized that while I had explained how support works in my EDD review, I needed some clarification here that there are both basic and premium forums available in case people haven’t checked out the full review; I’ve updated that section to reflect this.

      Thanks for the heads up!
      Beka

  3. Hi Beka,

    I have to admit I haven’t tried the others you mentioned but I have dabbled a bit with Woocommerce but overall I prefer Ecwid. http://www.ecwid.com I’d be interested on your thoughts of Woo vs. Eciwd.

    1. Hey John! Thanks for the comment. I do have a review of Ecwid on my article list. I’m working on some articles about membership sites and plugin reviews (we try to work in advance), but that’s something we definitely plan on tackling in the future. Keep an eye out!

    2. We now have an Ecwid review posted! You can check it out here: https://www.sellwithwp.com/ecwid-review/

      I think it was a pretty solid choice for users that want a simple store that’s easy to get up and running with pretty basic functionality (no memberships, content restriction, etc). Ecwid is probably a good choice for either users that already have a site and just want to throw a store in without changing anything, people that want the store mirrored in multiple locations, or agencies providing eCommerce sites that non-technical users will be maintaining on their own.

      I shy away from hosted solutions myself, as they aren’t nearly as extensible / customizable, so I think it depends on your needs. For users that want to sell simple and variable products and do nothing else, it’s a good choice and I’ll be interested in following it.

  4. Wow what a refreshing change to read something which is so detailed on this! Great work Beka. With WooCommerce’s flexibility it is a really great choice for many businesses. Have to agree though it’s really key if you’re setting up an online store for the first time you need to identify and develop how your business will run before you decided which platform to go for.

    1. thanks for the kind words!

  5. Great and very detailed review!

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