More and more self-employed people, freelancers and agencies are turning to WooCommerce when planning an online shop. But what can the free WordPress shop system do? When should you use it and how high are the WooCommerce costs for a typical shop? We have the answers for you.
WooCommerce became the most successful software for online shops within a few years. According to the industry service BuiltWith, almost 30 per cent of all shops worldwide currently use WooCommerce. Only then do well-known names such as Shopify, Magento or PrestaShop follow. Read more about this in our comparison of WooCommerce vs Shopify.
E-Book to get started with WooCommerce
If you rely on WordPress in your company, start-up, agency or as a freelancer, then WooCommerce is a must. See, for example, our customer story about the michel und elbe online shop. There are several reasons for the success of WooCommerce :
Free shop system
WooCommerce is open source, as is WordPress . This not only saves expensive licence fees, it also makes it easier for small to medium-sized shops to get started. At the same time, it allows agencies and freelancers to concentrate on the development of additional components and services.
The open source concept is also ideal for trying out an e-commerce business model first. For example, as an additional source of revenue for an existing portal, or if you want to make your local shop more crisis-proof. All this considerably reduces your entrepreneurial risk as an operator or service provider when you work with WooCommerce .
WordPress has revolutionised the simple creation of websites. WooCommerce is just as easy to use in large parts. This also saves costs - both in the initial set-up of an online shop and in the maintenance and training of employees. More about the exact WooCommerce costs later. You already have knowledge of WordPress ? Then you will quickly find your way around WooCommerce .
With the WooCommerce Product Blocks for the WordPress editor Gutenberg, the development team continues this trend. With this extension, you can integrate your products into sites and articles by drag & drop. For example, to prominently display product categories, special promotions, bestsellers or new goods:
The associated components of the product blocks are continuously being expanded and supplemented with new modules. In the future, the design of product descriptions should also become much more convenient - here WooCommerce still relies on the proven standard editor.
For a long time, WooCommerce was considered a solution that was only suitable for small to medium-sized projects. But these times are long gone. Since version 3.x, WooCommerce has become more and more performant, among other things with optimised product tables and integrated caching functions. WordPress Shops with several thousand or even tens of thousands of products are no longer a rarity, an example of which will follow in a moment.
In addition, WooCommerce is particularly easy to scale compared to other systems. This means that it grows with the size and requirements of your webshop. At the beginning, you start with the standard version, which can be set up relatively quickly. Later, depending on your requirements, you can activate or remove additional extensions (WordPress or WooCommerce Plugins ).
With the right care, your shop system remains as lean, performant and manageable as possible. At least if you book a high-performance WordPress hosting or a special WooCommerce hosting, which can be expanded upwards in RAM, cores and storage space if necessary - in the case of very many accesses and sales.
WooCommerce is now a tool for professionals
Since the last updates,WooCommerce has been convincing with new features that are primarily aimed at professional shop operators and agencies. These range from integrated payment solutions to better control of shipping costs. Overall, WooCommerce already covers the most important use cases in the standard version - here, too, a well-founded configuration and ongoing maintenance by an experienced service provider is mandatory if you cannot or do not want to maintain the shop yourself.
If you are looking for special functions like product catalogues, B2B shops or auctions, there are plenty of (mostly paid) plugins available. The annual license fees for each of these plugins usually remain in the double-digit range so you can still keep your outgoings in check.
A good example from practice is the German-language online shop for image licences by Quagga. It has been growing for many years together with WooCommerce and now contains over 40,000 products:
What does not look very spectacular at first requires sophisticated technical planning in the background. Not only has the database reached an enormous size due to the countless graphics, but also the optimisation of image sizes for thumbnails, the price calculation for the different licences as well as the import of extensive product data were a challenge. But now the portal is performing well and the shop is soon to be multilingual.
The basic requirements for professional shops are again a suitable WooCommerce web hosting. Likewise, coordinated Plugins, regular speed and load tests (for example when using extensions for AJAX search) and a cleanly configured system. Because with a "proliferation" of WooCommerce , the individual components and Plugins can quickly play off against each other.
Such a proliferation occurs, for example, when the calculation of individual shipping costs is based on countless rules and different functions. This makes it all the more important to have a separate test environment so as not to endanger the live shop in the event of Plugin updates and the like. The technical development should definitely be taken over by a person or an agency that really knows its way around WordPress and WooCommerce .
WooCommerce is future proof
In 2015, WooCommerce was acquired by Automattic, the makers of WordPress .com. Since then, even more resources have been available for further expansion. This is particularly evident in the release cycles: At least twice a year, the team behind WooCommerce publishes a major update that contains important new core functions. Smaller adjustments are made on a monthly basis, central bug fixes also more frequently.
Areas in which WooCommerce scored lower than its competitors were thus gradually optimised. This applies, for example, to the practical set-up of shipping zones, the efficient administration of products or also innovations to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR ). Especially with regard to the last point, it was easy to observe that Automattic now reacts quickly to developments that affect the European market. The widespread use of WooCommerce and WordPress as well as the huge developer community in the background offer good chances that this will continue.
The market for agencies and freelancers is correspondingly exciting. Portal and shop owners repeatedly report that it is anything but easy to find good service providers and external staff. developers for WordPress and WooCommerce are in demand, so the corresponding know-how can be marketed well and with realistic hourly rates.
Countless users and freelancers developers worldwide provide their own solutions to WordPress . Or they provide help and advice in blogs and forums. There is also an extremely active community in European and German-speaking countries. It organises itself in events such as WordCamps or local WP Meetups. The latter can now be found in almost every major city, as online or face-to-face events.
It is not quite that far yet at WooCommerce . Here, communication mainly takes place among shop owners themselves, for example in specialist groups for WooCommerce on Facebook and LinkedIn. However, eCommerce topics are becoming increasingly important at WordCamps & Co. Gradually, the first pure user and developer meetings as well as meetups on WooCommerce are emerging in Europe. Raidboxes regularly sponsors WordCamps and meetups in the German-speaking and European area. Feel free to contact us at the next camp if you have any questions about WooCommerce and WordPress.
However, the WooCommerce community of developers is almost completely based on that of WordPress . Anyone who can develop Plugins and Themes for WordPress can, in principle, also do so for the associated shop system. In addition, there are now numerous free tutorials on WooCommerce and its extensions in every country - in the form of blog articles, e-books, podcasts and on YouTube. All this makes it easier for beginners to get started.
Turnover through e-commerce continues to rise rapidly. Shops such as Amazon, Otto or Zalando account for the majority of this. But smaller and medium-sized webshops are coming on strong, as we can see from our own figures from new customer projects. COVID-19, not least, has further strengthened this trend.
What can be observed very well in the smaller WooCommerce shops: Most of them start with a manageable number of products. However, many of them significantly expand their portfolio within a few months. The market for paid Plugins at WooCommerce is also growing - the scene is becoming increasingly professional. Accordingly, more and more agencies and freelancers are adding technical and consulting services to their portfolio that are geared towards the leading online shop system.
Basics from WooCommerce
WooCommerce is so popular because you can install and set it up very quickly and with little prior knowledge. A setup wizard guides you through the most important basic settings for the basic configuration, shipping and payment methods for each new shop:
A simple online shop, which you can also try out immediately, can actually be set up within a few minutes.
However, the devil is in the detail. WooCommerce now covers all shop functionalities, and you only need additional Plugins for a few areas. However, this also means that functions are hidden behind inconspicuous sub-menu items in the backend of WooCommerce that can mess up the way your shop works.
- Vouchers suddenly no longer work?
- The taxes for your products or shipping costs are calculated incorrectly?
- Individual customers are no longer shown certain payment methods?
The cause may lie in a single checkbox that is set incorrectly. It is therefore all the more important that you are familiar with the settings of WooCommerce .
To get started with your first WooCommerce shop, WordPress must be installed on your web server or on your local test system. It serves as a basis and as a higher-level content management system (CMS). You can find out more about the technical requirements in this blog post.
As mentioned above, WooCommerce is, like WordPress, open source. You can use them free of charge, even if you're running a commercial enterprise. Are you new to the world of WordPress? Then I recommend getting a good textbook for beginners. These are now available in almost all languages.
The most time-consuming part of creating an online shop is entering your products. This is not due to WooCommerce or WordPress , but to the creation of product texts, image processing, the creation of product features and product variants, the assignment of prices, meta information for search engine optimisation, etc. WooCommerce provides you with your own fields for all these details, which can also be expanded by Plugins :
You already know the basic process from WordPress , even though Gutenberg has significantly simplified the WYSIWYG process ("What you see is what you get") for articles and sites - WooCommerce is still lagging behind here. The publication and subsequent editing of products is also analogous to the maintenance of blog posts and sites of the CMS.
WooCommerce provides a set of demo data that you can install. This is particularly practical if you want to try out WooCommerce and the design of WooCommerce Theme first, or if you do not yet have any concrete product data available when setting up the shop. This is because many functions can only be tested with existing goods. The screenshots in this article were partly created with the help of demo data from WooCommerce .
If your product and customer data is already available - from another shop system or as a CSV file from other databases - then you can also import it into WooCommerce . WordPress comes with its own importer solutions as standard. But for the usually quite complex shop data, you usually have to use more extensive tools.
In practice, WP All Import or the Product CSV Import Suite from WooCommerce itself have proven to be particularly useful. The former is preferred by many online shops and developers because of its numerous functions:
Some more free tools for importing and exporting product data can be found here.
There are special tools for individual shop systems that make the migration to WooCommerce easier. For example, the Plugin FG Magento to WooCommerce by Frédéric Gilles for the change from Magento. The full version automatically transfers the most important data such as products including product texts, product categories, customer and meta data, vouchers, product ratings, post and category images as well as thumbnails.
Content from WordPress , such as articles and sites , can also be transferred. Especially practical: If test data is already available in WooCommerce , you can delete it in advance at the touch of a button. All this helps you to reduce the costs of migration from an existing webshop.
Despite the comparatively quick set-up, you should not underestimate the effort required to maintain your online shop. However, this applies equally to all shop systems, not only to WooCommerce. Among other things, you need to plan and calculate the following work packages well, whether as a shop operator yourself or on behalf of your customers:
- The continuous update of WordPress , WooCommerce, the Plugins and your WooCommerce Theme . The latter ensures the design and correct display of the online shop.
- The update itself takes place at the push of a button or partly automatically in the background. It is much more time-consuming to test each new update on a separate system before installing it: Will there be any undesired interactions with other Plugins or the Theme? Do the shopping cart and the checkout in the shop work as usual? Does the new version lead to a loss of speed?
- Which new functions may have to be added or replaced, for example due to legal requirements such as those within the framework of GDPR ? Here, there are usually different responsibilities for the content and the technical implementation. But one person must keep an eye on all legal changes and react if necessary.
- The regular and comprehensive backup of all data in the online shop, if necessary the restoring of old statuses after failures or unsuccessful updates. Raidboxes helps you here with an integrated solution.
- The control and management of data, texts, and images for products, stock levels, delivery times, product links for bundles and cross-selling etc.
- Ongoing review: What new legal framework conditions exist that require not only the technical basis, but also all content, designations, prices, taxes and other information to be adapted?
A note on the last point above: In Europe, the legal frameworks for eCommerce change very frequently. The resulting work must be carried out promptly to minimize the risk of a legal warning.
Tip: Minimise effort and risk with a test environment
As you can see, running an online shop is by no means trivial. It requires technical knowledge as well as know-how in the areas of online law, logistics, online marketing, usability (user-friendliness), web design, search engine optimisation (SEO), measuring success via Google Analytics & Co, distribution in the social networks as well as content marketing. The latter refers to the promotion of your products with high-quality texts, blog articles and newsletters, thereby drawing the attention of Google and potential visitors to your shop.
Very comprehensive shops - or if you operate or realise several such portals - should also be implemented with a suitable project management tool. This is also where the cost calculation for development, product care and maintenance takes place. Online collaboration tools such as Slack , Asana, Trello or Microsoft Project help you to coordinate work processes between individual employees and teams. And if necessary, across different languages, time zones, media and distances. These apps allow you to create a more coordinated workflow for your online shop by providing a unified platform for collaboration and communication.
You will not become an expert in all these areas. Ideally, you should concentrate on a few areas, such as technical operations and web design. You then leave the setting up of the products, the topic of online law and online marketing or SEO to suitable employees. Or you can have these tasks done by a specialised agency.
Online shop outsourcing
WooCommerce Costs for your online shop
Without knowing a project in detail, it is only possible to make a rough estimate of the costs for setting up and running a WooCommerce shop. These depend on numerous factors for each shop system. To name just a few:
- Do you already have a technical infrastructure such as domain, WordPress hosting but also third-party systems for accounting, shipping or customer management? Does this still need to be expanded?
- How many and what types of products will be included in the short, medium and long term? Is your website already prepared for this?
- How many visitors per month and page views per minute do you expect? This is especially important for hosting. Can there be peaks that go well beyond this, for example seasonal, during sales promotions or press coverage? How you prepare your shop for such peaks, we explain step by step in this article.
- What technical and other knowledge do you have as a shop owner? How much time can you invest yourself, and what do you have to outsource?
- Can your product range be distributed via standard sales processes or do you need special solutions for personalized goods, auctions, subscription models, etc.? Are there already ready-made plugins that can cover your workflow entirely or will the plugins need to be developed individually?
- Can you rely on off-the-shelf WooCommerce themes or do you want a completely independent and distinctive shop design?
There are also questions to consider regarding the organization and marketing of your online shop:
- Who enters the products? Are product texts and images already available, or do they need to be adapted or newly created? Do you have the necessary rights to reproduce them?
- Can the data be transferred from other systems, perhaps even automated? Or should it even be integrated into other marketplaces and portals, with WooCommerce and WordPress as a basis?
- Do you operate in a niche market with few competitors or do you sell very generic goods with low margins? The latter usually requires a significantly higher marketing budget.
- Following on from above, who takes care of online marketing and search engine optimization? Which social media channels should be used? What level of support is required to answer customer queries there?
- Who is responsible for online law and data protection? Depending on the industry but also the target countries, quite considerable resources are necessary for this, otherwise there is a risk of warnings and fines.
Agencies and freelancers have to ask their clients exactly the same questions to calculate the scope of a project. The requirements analysis for an online shop is therefore often even more extensive than for classic WordPress projects.
The resources involved in creating new WordPress and WooCommerce sites are usually underestimated and, as a result, the work is offered too cheaply. There are three main reasons for this:
- Quite a few freelancers in the field of open source - but even some agencies - charge hourly rates that are significantly below the usual rates in the IT field. After deducting expenses and taxes, these are not always economical or cost-covering.
- Shop and portal owners do not usually include their own working time in the calculation. However, this is absolutely necessary for a realistic view.
- A professional online shop usually requires paid pro-Plugins grams, at least temporary individual development, legal support, but also a high-performance hosting. All this costs money, but is often overlooked at the beginning.
While WooCommerce does offer many free extensions for important functions, other plugins need to be paid for. The more specific the requirements of your online shop are, for example booking events or having an extensive member area, the higher these costs will be:
Open source does not mean "free" when you start a commercial project. As soon as you include your own working time (to be fair), a sum in the low five-figure range quickly becomes due until the first version of your webshop can go live. For large projects, it can be considerably more. This sounds like a lot of money, but compared to typical start-ups, it's a relatively small investment.
Besides the initial project planning, you should also keep an eye on the running costs of your online shop. The cost of updates and maintenance depends mainly on what type of products you sell, how often they need to be updated, and who is responsible for the system and maintenance:
- Is your online shop just an additional sales channel for an existing retail shop?
- Is your product range manageable? Do your products have a long life cycle?
- Can you automatically transfer the product information from other systems?
Then the effort is manageable. In all other cases, you will need external help or additional staff, at least temporarily.
You can find more tips on WooCommerce in our 70+ sites strong e-book WooCommerce for professionals: Online shops with WordPress . It is aimed at freelancers, agencies, WP professionals and beginners. Do you have questions about how to implement a high-performance online shop with the right WooCommerce hosting? Or which package you need to get started? Then let our team advise you at any time.
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