Earlier this year, WordPress hosting company Flywheel asked me what I am most excited about with regards to WordPress this year. My answer was “WooCommerce”.
We have developed a lot of eCommerce sites over the years but have generally recommended other platforms such as Magento or custom systems in most cases. WordPress has had eCommerce plugins available for a while but they were never quite up to scratch.
That all changed with the arrival of WooCommerce and in the last 12 months I have felt that it had reached the level of maturity needed for it to be used by serious online retailers.
The beauty of it is that you get the famous ease of use of WordPress, together with the fact that you can now unify your blog, brochure site and online store within a single system.
This makes content management easier, improves SEO, simplifies maintenance and massively reduces website development costs when compared to using two separate solutions such as a WordPress content site with a Magento store.
So here we are in San Francisco at the first ever Woo Commerce conference – WooConf 2014, at a time when it has just reached 5 million downloads and now accounts for nearly 18% of all eCommerce sites worldwide. Market share is going through the roof!
So what is the key to the sudden success of WooCommerce?
Mark Forrester, co-founder of Woo Themes explained it pretty well as follows:
1. They started off by establishing a really solid, reliable base platform that like WordPress itself is free and open for developers to contribute and build their own extensions.
2. They have a great team of developers who are passionate about democratising eCommerce in the way that WordPress had democratised publishing, and who are tuned in to what the community wants.
3. Last, but certainly not least, is the fast-growing Wordpress community, who have jumped upon the opportunity to help build a world class eCommerce centre. This itself has contributed to the development of hundreds of extensions that enable eCommerce to be held as a platform of choice.
None of these factors alone would have been enough, but together they have created a real breakthrough in both the history of WordPress and the eCommerce sector.
The result is that WordPress has not only once again cemented its position as the world’s leading CMS, but is now one of the eCommerce systems rivalling the likes of Magento.
But how capable is WooCommerce in reality?
The big concerns that most people have had about it are scalability and security. These have naturally been hot issues here at WooConf and there were a number of very insightful presentations from industry experts.
Can WooCommerce scale?
Joshua Eichron, CTO of WordPress hosts Pagely, clarified the reality of WooCommerce scalability, explaining that with a good caching system in place, it scales very easily. It only starts to consume a lot of server resources when users purchase products (add to cart, checkout etc) because they are then making calls to the server and visiting non-cached pages. However, this is true of eCommerce systems in general and is not a big issue because you only need to significantly upgrade your server hardware in proportion to the amount of purchases taking place, so hosting costs are always going to be in-line with revenue.
As opposed to WooCommerce itself, other plug-ins are much more likely to cause a scaling problem as they consume a lot of resources or prevent your standard front pages from being cached.
Besides, any good WordPress host such as Pagely, WP Engine or Flywheel will name the caching itself, so the site owner doesn’t need to even think about it.
So the scaling limitations are not in the amount of traffic or number of transactions. However, Eichron did state that WooCommerce is not yet the ideal solution for stores with huge numbers of products. It works well for stores with fewer than 100,000 products, but above that you should probably use an alternative enterprise system. Ultimately, this is fine for the majority of online stores, but you won’t be using WooCommerce to build the next Amazon.com.
He also explained that while product search is not fundamentally a problem, advanced search of multiple product attributes could result in very slow database queries if the database structure for storing the product attributes is not planned carefully from the outset.
So what about WooCommerce Security?
Rahul Deshpande of MasterCard and Sam Hotchkiss of Automatic covered the fundamentals of WooCommerce security.
They demonstrated that while no system can ever be 100% secure, WooCommerce is as secure as any other equivalent systems on the market; so long as it is configured following good security practices for WordPress and payment processing.
A large part of the conference focused on conversion optimisation, which has been a key focus of Wholegrain Digital for a long time. With the addition of eCommerce, the opportunity to add value to clients businesses is growing significantly.
It’s been a great experience here at WooConf 2014 and we are excited to take our clients’ websites to the next level with world-class eCommerce moving forward.