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Why WooCommerce users are feeling the pain
WooCommerce powers many of the web's top eCommerce stores - but it is by no means the simplest platform to navigate. Unless you are technically minded, or have access to significant developer resource, a WooCommerce site can be a hidden ticking time bomb for your brand.
The reasons for this are simple. WooCommerce is ‘free’ to use, almost endlessly customisable and open source. It runs as a WordPress plug-in which makes it great for publishing content, and works across almost all devices.
And therein lies the problem. WooCommerce enables a relatively inexpensive, DIY approach to website creation. This is great for small eCom players with low overheads and existing tech skills, and larger players with significant developer resources. But for brands without direct access to that specialist knowledge, running a WooCommerce site can fast become a technical minefield which distracts from the real challenge of building a successful business.
The open source nature of WooCommerce makes it extremely customisable for the user. It also means you’re essentially on your own when building a site. Set-up requires access to WordPress, as well as your own hosting provider - the latter of which is not free.
With customizability, comes complexity. Running a WooCommerce site means managing the litany of plug-ins and apps required to tailor it to your needs. These add-ons need day-to-day maintenance from a technical specialist. Again, great if that is your thing, not so fun if you aren’t technically minded or don’t have ready access to developers.
The consequences of not having the right knowledge are potentially critical. If your WordPress theme and plug-ins are out of date, it can open you up to security vulnerabilities and cause major issues for your store front. Should this go down, you no longer have a business.
Another consequence of customizability is fragmentation. In the WordPress directory there are over 6,000 WooCommerce plug-ins, and 350 extensions, all of which exist to bring more functionality to your eCommerce store.
If you know what you want and know how to manage it - no problem. If you don’t, the more standardised (but more expensive) solution offered by WooCommerce’s main competitor Shopify, is probably for you.
The more plug-ins you are running, the more chances of conflict between them. Additional add-ons bring more code, increasing the chance of bugs which could bring your site crashing down. Because of its open source approach, WooCommerce can’t offer any guarantees for its third party plug-ins, potentially leaving the uneducated website owner vulnerable to tech problems they have little understanding of.
In addition to this technical quagmire, WooCommerce doesn’t quite offer the same seamless user experience that it’s competitors do.
It’s templates, for example - which provide the basis of what your website looks like to the consumer - are fairly limited, and lack the professional polish of Spotify’s equivalents. Similarly, it’s integrations have less scope and quality when compared to those of competitors. Although there are huge numbers of plug-ins available via WooCommerce, they can be clunky to use, and can’t be added with one click as is the case on Shopify.
It is also difficult to sort, extract and display data from a WooCommerce site. Having insights into how consumers are interacting with your store is clearly crucial to any eCom business - and WooCommerce falls down in this area. Indeed, so limited are WooCommerce’s analytical capabilities that some vendors have resorted to using third party analytics dashboards built especially for their site to mitigate this shortcoming.
The point to make here is that running a WooCommerce site inherently comes with more pain because you are not paying as much for the privilege of doing so. WooCommerce doesn’t offer you a standardised, reliable, secure, easy-to-use platform with a guaranteed service wrapper to troubleshoot when you get stuck.
What it does offer is access to an open source WordPress plug-in, and essentially leaves you to sink or swim. As we’ve established, this model can give a tech savvy developer the flexibility they need to create a great eCommerce store. For the less initiated business owner, or marketing executive tasked with running a brand’s website, it can cause real problems.