There is a runaway train of add-on fees, mandatory subscription fees, and per-site costs for reasonably functional Ecommerce on WordPress. Why is that? We are not referring to fully hosted solutions, or custom development. But merely WordPress Plugins that work reasonably well, are reasonably stable, and are updated reasonably often.
WooCommerce - The Good and the Bad
WooCommerce is now the leading WordPress ecommerce system, and therefore one of the most popular of all systems. It is pretty good as a solution, and while it has its quirks, the massive user base (and cash cow) keeps updates going as well as a user base that means compatibility with other systems is quite good.
The problem comes down to their business model which means that certain integration options or third party tools that integrate with WooCommerce are licensed at a very high fee, and limited to a certain number of sites. As well, the per year fee structure kicks in (basically updates and support are denied for future versions without additional payment).
While some may claim this is the only way to continue to deliver a quality product (that is, make a lot of money), this artificially constricts the number of potential buyers and therefore the idea is high cost, low volume (or medium volume, if you are lucky). Not a great proposition for the buyer.
Other models are indeed quite viable, though they seem to escape those who get a nice revenue stream from referral/affiliate fees.
Protip -- if someone uses a single license on 1,000 sites, that doesn't mean there will be 1,000 support calls, since it is licensed to a single person or organization. At the same time, those organizations, e.g., large school systems, that have many sites and no budget, by using a given product, will make it way more visible and encourage additional customers through word-of-mouth and simply much better exposure.
An Approach to WooCommerce Integration
Clue one is to use WooCommerce, but not buy Woo-licensed or Woo-influenced third party tools (iThemes is another offender). Instead use reasonably licensed tools that have integration (usually free) with WooCommerce. There are several options, but go with those systems that are functional, stable (aka have been around a while and are reliable with updates), and provide good support. My favorite for Ecommerce is the oddly named Tips and Tricks - HQ. We first purchased a bundle of several of their products on 21 March, 2010. Yes, that is right, their products still work, more than 5 years later, and support has been stellar.
While we did have some trouble with the PDF Stamper (and got a prompt refund when we couldn't get it to work), We've used many products for years on end on multiple sites, and feel the money paid has provided exceptional (actually, unbelievable) value. Especially when dealing with Ecommerce, a site needs to function properly or there will be a money problem.
Tips and Tricks HQ WordPress Plugins
Here are some of the plugins we use currently and have used in the past:
- WP eStore
- WP Affiliates
- WP eMember
- WP Affiliate Link Manager
- WP Simple Paypal Shopping Cart - Note that this is a free version (with less functionality) of the WP eStore. This isn't a crippled version but just has fewer features. And is free.
Integrations of Tips and Tricks HQ plugins with Woo Commerce (all free):
- WooCommerce Coupons with WP-Affiliate
- WooCommerce and WP eMember
- WooCommerce WP Affiliates advanced integration
LearnDash - Courseware / LMS
For courseware / LMS (learning management system) software that has good WooCommerce integration, there are several options. We've looked at LearnDash, Namaste, Sensei, WPCourseware, LearnPress, and CoursePress. Some of these have a bad cost structure (monthly ongoing payments) and/or are less mature/less functional. The one we recommend is LearnDash. While it does have a yearly price (50% of purchase price) the cost is reasonable and includes unlimited sites. It also happens to be the most advanced in terms of actual LMS support, such as integration with SCORM / Tin Can API.
LearnDash integrates forum functionality with bbPress or BuddyPress. In addition, premium plugins are available for extended functionality, such as multiple instructors/courses that allow for commission structures, multiple courses offered by multiple instructors, each with their own access to their own courses only.
While LearnDash doesn't provide functionality for all features one might desire, it covers the bases quite well, and emulates standard classroom practices.
Summary of Ecommerce on WooCommerce
In conclusion, we recommend WooCommerce as the core ecommerce plugin on WordPress, but the use of Tips and Tricks HQ plugins (and integration plugins) for other functionality (specifically WP eMember and WP Affiliate). We also recommend LearnDash as the LMS / Courseware plugin. WooCommerce acts as the hub and very functional extensions with better licensing, and solid, reliable performance are added for an Affordable WordPress Ecommerce Solution.