For many years Magento and ZenCart have lead the ecommerce race. The preferred open source software platforms to setup professional online stores for businesses of all sizes. But Magento (used mainly by developers) and Zen Cart (used more by amateurs), have recently been pushed off their number one and two spots by WooCommerce, a WordPress shopping cart plugin. (Chart, right)
The rise and rise of WooCommerce from humble beginnings in 2011 has been staggering and even surprised their South African developers, Woothemes. Although in the past we’ve worked with Magento, CS-Cart, X-cart, Cubecart, Virtuemart, Opencart and OSCommerce shopping sites, today we focus on WordPress + WooCommerce.
So, why is WooCommerce now so popular? Magento can certainly handle the most complex of shopping sites and most requirements. It has a proven pedigree and a large, expert developer base. But Magento along with other long-established cart platforms, is a bit of a beast, taking considerable time to setup and configure correctly.
This complexity comes at a cost with basic Magento sites starting at $6,000 even before products or training is added in. The average Magento website cost here is closer to $20,000, together with high monthly host and support fees. To me it’s a bit like buying and running a big Mac truck. i.e. Expensive, harder to drive and way more costly to maintain. And with the high investment and support overhead, you’d likely need to sell at least $5k/month to turn a profit.
p.s. I’m not against these older, long-established cart platforms since they often have some highly advanced features suited to large sites with complex shipping, workflow or payment needs. On occasion I still use them, with the lesser-known CS Cart my preference over Magento, Opencart and others. It seems easier to setup with a beautiful back-end design, more useful features for the money like product filters, slick coupons, discounting, gift vouchers and rewards points, plus multi-store/vendor/warehousing options that most others lack. Comparison chart.
Enter WooCommerce – A Better Small Business option, for less
But that said, for 80% of small retailers or start-ups on a tight budget, Magento and the others are often unaffordable and too complex. Now, with the ability to expertly integrate WooCommerce directly with local banking gateways, POS systems like Vend and online accounting packages like Xero, WooCommerce can fulfill most local needs admirably, for much less cost. It’s a slick, low risk option.
Upgrade for other carts? No problem
We’ve worked out how to migrate other common open source carts to Woocommerce. The list includes: AspDotNetStorefront, BigCommerce, CS-Cart, CubeCart, digiSHOP, DrupalCommerce, Interspire, Loaded Commerce, Magento, OpenCart, osCommerce, PrestaShop, Shopify, Shopp, Squirrelcart, TomatoCart, Ubercart, VirtueMart, Volusion, WP e-Commerce, X-Cart, Zen cart.
WooCommerce, running on the popular WordPress CMS and blogging platform is a timely alternative for smaller eCommerce sites with say 10 – 1,000 products. WooCommerce is not necessarily a replacement for big Magento sites hosting thousands of products. Its growth is a new, largely untapped small business market.
The reality is that most smaller businesses or retailers don’t need a big truck, but a nimble, lower cost courier van instead. They’re far more likely to have hundreds, not thousands of items to sell online.
Woocommerce is for the masses. Built right on a managed VPS host it’s remarkably fast, robust, secure, quick to setup, easier to self-manage and way cheaper to maintain or update. The nice bonus, is a WooCommerce configuration, when expertly configured and managed, will also get you around 50-70% more Google search traffic than a more costly Magento configuration. More traffic usually means more sales.
WooCommerce Developer support on the rise – New Support Groups
As Woo now leads the eCommerce race, the number of third party developers providing slick add-on has increased froma handful in 2011, to over 300 today. We wrote a separate more detailed article on these enhancements that apply to the NZ market, on our Auckland WordPress User Group website.
More importantly, we’ve just established a new Auckland WooCommerce User Group specifically for WooCommerce users, in response to WooCommerce new status and number one spot. We’re also looking at a special Woocommerce training event after or alongside the Auckland WordCamp in July.
But eCommerce still takes good planning, effort and expertise
But Woo is not a panacea. Most business people have a very simplistic view of setting up and running an online storefront. Most self-built DIY sites using WordPress+Woo (or similar host-provided carts like opencart) when setup by novices that lack web development qualifications will create sites that usually fail to meet expectations, with too few sales.
It tells us that successful, high traffic shopping cart sites still require considerable time, planning and tech expertise to build correctly, regardless of the platform chosen. e-Shops require more upkeep than websites too, along with far greater understanding of hosting, SEO and security aspects that newcomers or ‘non-geeks’ always lack. They will often spend days/weeks resolving setup or branding issues that us coders will sometimes resolve in a few hours.
In some instances for those novices insistent upon building their own DIY storefront without outside help or any technical training, we recommend they consider using a cheap, self-service cart like Shopify or BigCommerce for 12 months, selling just a handful of products – It helps them ‘learn the ropes’ of online selling and to better understand the real-world challenges of eCommerce.
These cheap ‘monthly subscription’ shop sites have good features, but also limitations, not the least of which is getting enough search traffic and sales! They can ‘look nice’ with the right skin/theme selected, but sadly looks don’t convert to sales or money in the bank. They’re also more difficult to brand or customise to specific needs, requiring employing a coder. And some systems are now becoming overloaded with confusing features that puzzle many newcomers. Many hours can be wasted in forums and awaiting support. But, they can serve as a good e-commerce training ground for little upfront cost.
However, in spite of all this, WooCommerce is a huge leap forward for local businesses and small retailers. It’s a newer, more cost-effective, more user-friendly breed of online storefronts that is a big improvement upon what has gone before. Good news for both developers like ourselves and business users. Thank you WooCommerce and Woothemes.