So many options out there – how to choose? First, educate yourself on the difference between a self-hosted ecommerce solution (an ecommerce plugin like WPEC or a dedicated solution like Magento or Zen cart) vs a hosted ecommerce solution (like Shopify, Volusion, Bigcartel, Tictail) and decide what features you really need before you select a product. Each option has a different cost structure.
Hosted ecommerce solutions
Most hosted solutions charge all the transaction fees associated with a payment gateway plus extra fees – they take their own cut of each transaction. Shopify offers that option but also can act as it’s own gateway so you can avoid the extra 1% fee they used to charge to all users. Hosting and other monthly fees are generally higher than self-hosted solutions but up front and maintenance costs are much lower. Also, hosted solutions usually have final checkout take place off your site (on a subdomain like mysite.shopify.com) – some do this more gracefully than others but it’s not ideal. I mention Shopify since they have much better templates than most other similar services I am aware of and now offer the option of hosting checkout on your own URL for “plus” level users (custom SSL certificate are part of the $995/mo plan so it won’t be relevant for most shops).
If you want a fully integrated self-hosted solution then a WordPress plugin might be a great option. You get all the power of a WordPress site without having to “tack on” the store with a separate software package (like Magento).
WooCommerce and WP e-Commerce (WPEC)
These developers both offer the basic code as a free plugin. You’ll need to pay to have a fully featured store but by offering the free option they are sticking closer to the spirit of Open Source software and, most importantly, the plugin will get more community testing and input so that’s a good recipe to grow strong over time. I have
I have used WP e-Commerce for 4 projects and Woo for 4. WPEC is not perfect but offers a good balance of usability and features. There are some bugs and the code is evolving more slowly than Woo. To me WooCommerce is the platform with the most momentum behind it and I use it exclusively now.
Both platforms have the same code useful features (but Woo executes them all with better design, usability and consistency):
- Different pricing (and stock control) for variations of one product
- Tax options are strong but do not support tax variations by city. That is a big issue here in California. there is a new paid subscription option to solve this issue offered by TaxNOW but it’s really expensive at $.50 per transaction – that is what they charge to calculate tax for you.
- there are many free plugins and more paid ones out there.
- Lots of shipping integration options
- Lots of gateway connection options (I usually use PayPal Pro – it has a simple fee structure)
WooCommerce is more expensive since most sites need to buy a few extensions (@$79 first year and half that for subsequent years) with recurring yearly fees and WPEC jsut needs the one time $47 “gold cart” payment.
If you just need an order form but not a whole shopping cart then this is a really simple solution that can easily accept and manipulate other kinds of non-purchase information since it’s got all the easy-to-use form building elements right there. You can even make ‘buy now” buttons that will prepopulate the form from other pages (although not like a cart where it will remember those settings from one page reload to the next). Gravity forms can do fancy things like connect to a MailChimp account so users can automatically sign up for a mailing list. Or even turn a purchase into a post – that would take custom code to do in a real ecommerce system. This solution is limited to a fairly small number of products although if you can design a compact form or split the form into pages (a built-in feature) then “small” could mean hundreds of products. Payment gets finalized at PayPal or stripe.
UPDATE: Gravity Forms now supports PayPal Pro so you can take credit card information on your site.
Examples of how I’ve used Gravity Forms:
- A simple Gravity Forms order form/store
- A donation form that allows for extra information to be captured
Seems to be the main competition to WPEC. There is no free version. I see an equal number of complaints about bugs but I have never used it.
This one lets you enter some products and easily add a “Buy Now” button you can put on any page. It doesn’t have category-based layouts so it’s not really for managing a full store. There are a few plugins out there that will automatically generate PayPal buttons also.
This is a new offering. These folks were tired of working with Shopp so made their own system. Seems feature rich for a 1.0 version but I have no experience with it.
Some lists to learn more
- 10 best WordPress Plugin for ecommerce via Gaea
- Another top 10 list via speckboy
- 5 nicely detailed reviews via sixrevisions.com
- Comparison notes on WP ecommerce plugins
The best place to buy Ecommerce WordPress themes for WPEC is Store Front Themes. I have used a few of their themes and they are really clean and modern.