There are a few options out there for WordPress when it comes to building an eCommerce site and making the choice can be hard especially if you don’t build eCommerce sites on a regular basis.

Where do you even start? What are the real differences between the major players like Woocommerce, WP eCommerce, Exchange, and Easy Digital Downloads?

What are you goals?

The place you need to start is to identify your goals with the site.

Which payment gateway do you want to use?

Are you shipping physical goods or is this purely a digital store?

Do you need to integrate with advanced analytics like KissMetrics?

Do you have a well built conversion ready theme that supports an eCommerce platform or are you starting from scratch?

How much support do you need from the plugin seller?

The single eCommerce platform with the most options in extensions that can do the most is WooCommerce. It can be a digital store or a store that ships things. It can run a learning based membership site and integrate with advanced metrics.

If a WordPress theme supports an eCommerce plugin then it’s likely that plugin is WooCommerce since it’s already the engine behind most WordPress eCommerce sites.

But that still doesn’t mean it’s the best option for you.

Digital Downloads

If you’re building a digital downloads store (like selling books or software) then Easy Digital Downloads is your best option.

Sure WooCommerce or WP eCommerce or Exchange can also power that type of site but EDD is the easiest to set up simply because it doesn’t have all those options that are needed for physical goods.

If you’re selling software, particularly WordPress themes or Plugins, then EDD gets even easier. WooCommerce does have the ability to do software licenses, unfortunately the documentation is hard to get around while EDD offers easy examples of how to implement software licensing.

To give you an example I sat around with 2 other WooCommerce developers when I was getting ready to setup the software licensing portion of my commercial plugin and after 60 minutes of back and forth we still didn’t quite get how WooCommerce wanted so set things up.

Then I bought the EDD software licensing plugin and had it set up in 20 minutes which included tearing it apart so the software licensing pages looked different for my plugin.

It does seem a bit ironic to sell a WooCommerce plugin with Easy Digital Downloads but there is no simpler option to handle software licensing so I went with the best tool for the job.

How much support do you need?

How much support do you need? How familiar are you with code? I build sites all the time so I actually need very little support. When I hit and issue I know that I can look at the code and 98% of the time figure it out in short order. If I can’t then I have a friend who can figure it out with me.

If you’re going to need support/help with your plugins then there is a few things you should know about how each plugin does support.

Currently WooCommerce has the slowest support. They’re getting better but expect at least 24 hours to hear back from them about an issue you’re having. Their support ticketing system is a fairly long form that asks for a bunch of data you may or may not know where to get inside the plugin and inside your WooThemes account.

So WooCommerce does provide support for their paying customers but it’s a bit of a laborious process to submit a ticket and response times are slower than competitors.

Probably the best support comes out of Easy Digital Downloads. Pippin (the founder) and his team provide fast top notch support to all paying customers. Their support is fast, but if you want to be at the top of the list of incoming tickets you can pay for Priority Support. That means that the already fast and stellar support will be faster.

WP eCommerce has a ‘token’ model for support which means when you purchase an extension like Gold Cart you get a single support token. Once you use that to get 1on1 support from WP eCommerce you’re going to need to purchase another support token at a cost of $99 USD for each support request you submit.

iThemes offers 1 month of ticketed support with the purchase of a Pro pack then you move to ‘regular’ support. So during that crucial time where you are likely to have more questions as you get used to the platform iThemes has you on the fastest support.

Later on when you’re likely to have less questions you still have paid support, but the speed is a bit slower.

Outside of the paid support on each platform you can get community support for any of the above options by going to the WordPress.org plugin forum support pages for each plugin for which there are links below.

Updates and Stability

Regardless of which platform you use you should be running a testing server and upgrading your eCommerce site there first and only once you’ve run tests on it you upgrade your live site. Not doing this is simply asking for trouble of the emergency variety.

If something breaks and it’s on your testing site, there really isn’t a big issue. It’s simply a testing site and no one is being blocked from purchasing your products.

If you upgrade the live site first and something breaks, it’s a big deal and you’re in panic mode since your customers can’t make purchases.

The only plugin I more or less expect to have issues during and upgrade is WooCommerce. Maybe it’s a theme issue when they rewrite all their CSS (which really did need to get done it was terrible) or maybe they change how the whole coupon system works and some of the plugins you’ve purchased aren’t upgraded yet.

Whatever it is, the one I consistently have to go back and ‘fix’ after upgrades is WooCommerce.

All of the others have had issues upgrading at times but 95% of the time there is no issue with upgrading Exchange, EDD, or WPEC.

Most delightful to use

Hands down the most delightful UI and plugin function award goes to iThemes Exchange. They are the ‘newest’ option on the market and put a lot of work in to how the plugin functions for users. None of the other ones are terrible to use, but iThemes really kicks the usability up a notch.

Wrap up

Where does that leave you really, because I said that each option was best at some things but not best at others?

Like I said you need to decide a few things about what you want to do. If you’re looking a shipping a bunch of physical goods then EDD is out as an option.

Once you’ve made the easy cuts then it’s time to look at the extensions around the plugins and choose the one that has the most extensions already built to do what you need.

None of the options are terrible choices.

photo credit: 22875869@N02 cc

Posted by Curtis McHale

Web developer specializing in membership and ecommerce sites. I like to ride my bicycle.

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