How Good is WooCommerce? What Does a Typical WooCommerce Shop Cost?

Michael Firnkes Last updated 20.10.2020
13 Min.
WooCommerce advantages
Last updated 20.10.2020

More and more self-employed people, freelancers, and agencies are thinking about using WooCommerce. But what can the free WordPress-based shop system do? When should you use WooCommerce and how much does a typical online shop cost? We've got all the answers for you.

WooCommerce has become the most successful software for online shops worldwide within just a few years. According to industry service BuiltWith, up to 22 percent of all shops currently use WooCommerce. Well-known names such as Shopify or Magento follow in the next places. If you rely on WordPress in your company, startup, agency or as a freelancer, then you can no longer get around WooCommerce . This has several reasons:

The advantages of WooCommerce

Free shop system

WooCommerce is, like WordPress itself, open source. Not only does this save operators paying for expensive licenses 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 developing additional components and services. The open source concept is ideal for trying out an eCommerce business model for the first time. For example, as an additional source of revenue for an already existing portal. Working with WooCommerce reduces your entrepreneurial risk as an operator or service provider.

Easy to use with minimal training

WordPress revolutionized the simple creation of websites. To a large extent, WooCommerce is just as easy to use. This also saves costs - both in the initial setup and shop maintenance and in the training of employees. If you already have experience with WordPress, you'll be able to navigate your way around WooCommerce easily.

With the WooCommerce Product Blocks for the new WordPress editor Gutenberg, the development team continues this trend. With this extension, you can integrate your products into sites and posts using drag & drop. For example, for the prominent display of product categories, special promotions, bestsellers or new goods:

Product Block WooCommerce
Integrate WooCommerce products with drag & drop

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.

Scalability: How many products can WooCommerce handle?

For a long time, WooCommerce was considered a solution that was only suitable for small shop projects. But these times are long gone. Since versions 3.x, WooCommerce has become increasingly performant, among other things with optimized product tables and integrated caching functions. WordPress shops with several thousand or even tens of thousands of products are no longer a rarity. Here is another example in a moment.

In addition, WooCommerce scales particularly well 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 on, depending on your requirements, you can activate new additional extensions (so-called Plugins) or remove them again. With proper maintenance, your shop system remains as lean, performant and manageable as possible.

WooCommerce is now a tool for professionals

In the last update, WooCommerce introduced a wealth of new features aimed primarily at professional shop owners and agencies. These range from integrated payment solutions to better control of shipping costs.  Even in the standard version, WooCommerce now covers the most important applications. Unless they want to deal with it themselves, shop owners still need to have a solid configuration and ongoing maintenance from an experienced service provider.

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 practical example is Quagga's online shop for image licenses. It has been growing for many years together with WooCommerce and now contains 40,000 products:

A WooCommerce Shop with 40,000 products
40.000 products with WooCommerce: The Quagga Onlineshop

What doesn't look very spectacular at first requires sophisticated technical planning in the background. Not only the database has reached an enormous size due to the countless graphics, but also the optimization of image sizes for thumbnails, the price calculation for the different licenses and the import of extensive product data were a challenge. But now the portal runs performant, soon the multilingualism of the shop is planned.

Basic requirements for professional shops are a suitable WooCommerce hosting, i.e. the accommodation of your shopsites on a web server of an appropriate service provider. Also coordinated Plugins, regular speed and load tests (for example, when using extensions for AJAX search) and a properly configured system. Because with a "proliferation" of WooCommerce the individual components 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. This means that there are significantly more resources available for further expansion. This is particularly evident in the release cycles: At least twice a year, the development team releases 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 performed worse than its competitors were thus gradually optimised. This applies, for example, to the practical set-up of shipping zones, the efficient management of products or even innovations to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR ). Especially with 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 for this to continue.

All of this means an exciting market is awaiting agencies and freelancers. Portal and shop owners report time and again how challenging it is to find good service providers and external employees. Developers for WordPress and WooCommerce are in high demand. Their expertise can be marketed well and they can charge appropriate hourly fees.

Own community

Countless users and free developers worldwide provide their own solutions to WordPress . Or they help in blogs and forums with words and deeds. There is also an extremely active community in the European and German-speaking regions. It organizes itself in events like the WordCamps or the local WP Meetups. You can now find the latter in almost every major city.

It's not quite that far yet at WooCommerce . Here, communication mainly takes place among the shop owners themselves, for example in WooCommerce specialist groups on Facebook. 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 area. Feel free to contact us at the next camp!

WordCamp Osnabrück 2019 - RAIDBOXES Recap
Tobias and Torben at WordCamp Osnabrück 2019

The WooCommerce developer community is built almost entirely on the basis of WordPress. On the whole, developers who create plugins and themes for WordPress can develop for WooCommerce too. There are also now plenty of free tutorials on WooCommerce and its extensions available in every country. These resources include blog posts, e-books, podcasts, and YouTube videos. All of these points make it much easier for beginners to get started.

The market for online shops is growing

Sales through e-commerce continue to rise rapidly. In Germany alone, these are estimated at around 58 billion euros for 2019 (source: Statista). 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 user figures.

A pattern can often be observed in small WooCommerce shops: Most start off with a manageable number of products and then some substantially increase their portfolio, sometimes within just a few months. The market for paid WooCommerce plugins is also growing and the scene overall is becoming increasingly professionalized. As a result, more and more agencies and freelancers are broadening their services to include technical and consulting services geared towards WooCommerce.

Tip: You offer services for WooCommerce? Then use the arguments above in your acquisition.

WooCommerce basics

Getting started

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 wizard guides you through the installation of WooCommerce
The WooCommerce wizard guides you through the installation

In fact, creating a simple shop you can use straight away only takes a few minutes.

But the devil is in the detail. WooCommerce now covers all shop functionalities, you only need additional plugins for a few areas. But this also means there are WooCommerce functions hiding in the backend behind inconspicuous submenu items that can really jumble up way your shop works. Vouchers are suddenly not working? Taxes for your products or shipping costs are calculated incorrectly? Individual customers no longer see certain payment methods? The cause of all of these issues could be one 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 superior Content Management System (CMS). More about the technical requirements can be found 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.

Note: If you have questions about WordPress , the forum at wordpress.org is the first place to go, or wpde.org. However, make sure you research existing solutions there first before opening a new topic. The members of the forums will thank you.

The most time-consuming part of creating an online shop is entering your products. This is not due to WooCommerce, but to the creation of product texts, image editing, the creation of product features and product variants, the assignment of meta information for search engine optimization, etc.. The shop system provides you with separate fields for all these details:

Create products in WooCommerce
Adding products in WooCommerce just takes a little practice

You'll already know the basic process for this from WordPress. Publishing and editing are done in the same way as editing blog posts and pages in WordPress.

Transfer of existing data

WooCommerce provides a set of demo data that you can install. This is particularly practical if you want to try out WooCommerce first, or if you do not yet have any concrete product data available when you set it up. Because many functions can only be tested with existing goods, as well as your WooCommerce-Theme. The screenshots in this article were created with the help of the demo data from WooCommerce .

If your product and/or 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 have proven themselves. The former is preferred by many developers due to its numerous functions:

Import and export product data for WooCommerce
WP All Import plugin for WooCommerce

Some more free tools for importing and exporting product data can be found here.

For individual shop systems there are special tools that facilitate the migration to WooCommerce . For example, the Plugin FG Magento to WooCommerce by Frédéric Gilles for the change from Magento. In the full version, it automatically transfers the most important data such as products including product texts, product categories, customer and metadata, coupons, product ratings, post and category images and thumbnails thereof. 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.

Ongoing maintenance

Despite the comparatively quick setup, you shouldn't underestimate the effort required to maintain your online shop. The same can be said for all other shop systems, however. Among other things, you have to thoroughly plan and calculate the following work packages, either for yourself as a shop operator or on behalf of your customers:

  • Regular updates for WordPress, WooCommerce, plugins and shop themes. Themes regulate the design and appearance of your 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?
  • What new functions may need to be added or exchanged, for example, due to legal requirements such as those in the GDPR? As a rule, there are different responsibilities for content and technical implementation.
  • The regular and comprehensive backup of all data in the online shop, if necessary the restoring of old statuses after failures or failed updates.
  • 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 and what content, designations or technical systems need to be adapted as a result?

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: An online shop with a missing test environment is like alpine climbing without a belay. If you have already experienced one or the other bumpy WooCommerce update, then you know what errors can occur. See our Staging solution.

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 optimization (SEO), measuring success via Google Analytics & Co, distribution in social networks as well as content marketing. The latter refers to the promotion of your products with high-quality texts, blog posts and newsletters. This way, you attract Google's attention as well as that of potential visitors to your shop.

You will not become an expert in all these areas. Ideally, you'll concentrate on a few areas, such as technical operations and web design. You'll then leave the adding and managing of products, online law, and online marketing or SEO to suitable employees. Or have a specialized agency take care of these tasks. Do you want to offer services related to WooCommerce? Then think carefully in advance which of the services mentioned you can offer and which you would rather leave to other professionals.

What does a WooCommerce shop cost?

Without knowing a project in detail, it is only possible to make a rough estimate of how high the costs for setting up and running a WooCommerce shop will be. These depend on numerous factors for each shop system. To name just a few:

  • Do you already have a technical infrastructure (domain, web 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?
  • 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 knowledge and other know-how do you have as a shop owner? How much time can you invest yourself and what do you need 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 will manage the products? Do you already have product texts and images ready or do these need to be edited or newly created?
  • Can the data be transferred from other systems, perhaps even with an automated transfer? Or should the data be integrated into other marketplaces and portals with WooCommerce 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 the topic of online law and data protection? Depending on the industry but also the target countries, quite considerable resources are necessary for this, otherwise warnings and fines threaten.

Agencies and freelancers must ask their customers exactly the same questions in order to calculate the size of the project. The requirement analysis for an online shop is often considerably larger than that for a classic WordPress site.

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:

  • A fair number of freelancers, and even some agencies, working in the open-source environment ask for hourly rates significantly lower than the usual rates in the IT branch. After expenses and taxes are deducted, these rates are not always economical or profitable.
  • Shop and portal owners often don't include their own working hours. For a realistic view, however, this is absolutely essential.
  • 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:

WooCommerce Extensions
WooCommerce Extensions, the extensions for the shop system

So when you're starting a commercial project, "open source" doesn't mean "free". As soon as you (rightly) include your own working time in the calculation, costs will run into low five figures before the first version of your online shop can go live. This would be significantly more for larger projects. It sounds like a lot of money at first but it's a pretty small investment compared with most startups, however.

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?

If your answer is yes to one or more of these, it'll be straightforward to calculate your running costs. In all other cases, you'll usually 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, but also at beginners.

You have questions about WooCommerce? Feel free to use the comment function. You want to be informed about news and tutorials about the shop system? Then follow us on Twitter, Facebook or via our newsletter.

Contributed image: Bench/Unsplash

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