A new WordPress e-Commerce offering – is it right for you?

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wordpress-e-commerce-option

WordPress.com introduces a new WordPress e-Commerce offering

Millions of people have blogs over at WordPress.com – all of them started for free. When you think about it, that’s truly amazing.

Those of us in the WordPress community that work with customers using WordPress.org (the software, hosted elsewhere) can sometimes forget how big WordPress.com truly is.

Back in December, my daughter started a blog over there. And it’s given me a chance over the last few months to re-engage WordPress.com after over a year away.

If you’ve not checked it out recently, you’ll find that it does a really good job of helping people explore WordPress for the very first time.

But like the yearbook teacher I spoke with this past week said, the options to start paying for things appear quickly.

And today, there’s a new option – an e-commerce store feature, if you pay for the $300 business package.

Is it right for you?

A visual walk-thru (of the 8 steps to add e-Commerce)

I tested the solution today, to see how it would work. After all, I get a lot of requests for simple and inexpensive e-commerce sites through my blog here at chrislema.com.

Before I answer that, let me walk you thru the steps I took.

1. Purchase the business upgrade for $300.

Now, like my friend Brian said today, $300 isn’t a lot for an e-commerce site, so it seems like a good deal. But it’s not the only expense in this game.

2. Pick your e-commerce solution.

You might have thought they were going to integrate with Easy Digital Downloads or Exchange (as they’re both simple e-Commerce platforms). Or maybe WooThemes WooCommerce (as the one that has a really large market share). Or even WP e-Commerce (because they’ve been around the longest). But instead, they went with partners instead.

This is a benefit for them, as they can route most support issues to their partners. But it means you’re now going to be dancing between two different vendors for different things. And it makes the integration inside of WordPress pretty shallow – to the point that this may only be good for you if you already have a shopify (or other supported) site.

ecommerce-options

3. Add your store url.

If you don’t have a store, you’ll have to go create one.

LinkShopify

4. Create your store at Shopify

Whereas the process on WordPress.com has been really easy to this point, a quick look at the options available on Shopify highlight why some people have left it. It promises to be easy but has more options than WooCommerce.

StartingShopifyStore5. Add products

This is where you realize how truly easy EDD & Exchange are. But I moved forward, creating a digital product.

AddProducts

6. It’s time to pay. 

This is when you find out, if you didn’t know already, that $300 isn’t the last money you’ll be spending. The basic plan will add another $360 to your bill.

PickAPlan7. Lastly, connect your store to WordPress.com

At this point I started wondering what GUI we’d find inside of WordPress after the fact. New places to create products? New places to edit store details?

Connect-StoresI went back to WordPress.com and mistakenly clicked on Store. It was top of mind. But all it did was offer me more upgrades (which, by the way, my new business upgrade made these less applicable now).

No-not-that-store

So I went to my “Add new post” page thinking I would get a new button that said product. But you can see, nothing changed here.

NoMagicButtonsForEcommerceThen I went back to Shopify to see if there was something there that was new.

Where-is-integration-hereBut where do you look? Can you guess?

did-you-guess-three-dotsIf you said the three dots at the very top, you were right. I don’t think I would have found it unless I’d been curious. Nothing suggested it would be there. But I found it. And it gave me a new shortcode for my WordPress.com post.

ShortCodeSupport8. Add the shortcode to a post

There-it-isSo, is it right for Automattic?

Like I referenced above, my friend Brian suggested it was a good move for Automattic.

I’m not sure I agree. Though I understand why anyone would think it would be. After all, they have millions of customers and this drives lots of people to pay $300 up front to get e-commerce.

That’s a faster way to earn money than on $10 upgrades, and it’s also faster than SquareSpace, which charges you $10/month for their personal solution (which still includes e-commerce).

So from a business perspective, faster money is better money.

But the integration is to a third party solution. Which means they won’t get as many support issues.

Wait, isn’t that good? I know, you would think it was brilliant right – all the fast cash, none of the long-term pain.

But you also lose all the short term feedback that helps you learn about your customers and what they’re trying to do.

And if you’re not trying to learn from your customers, then it’s likely you’re not looking to improve and build it as a first class option.

And if it’s just a complicated (8-step) way to put a “buy now” link on your page, Paypal handled that a while ago.

So I land on the side of wishing they’d pursued it as a way to learn and build a world-class hosted e-commerce option. Apparently, that will be left to others to do.

Is it right for you?

I’m sure, out of tens of millions of people, there will be some that say yes. I’m glad for that.

But none of the folks that I’ve interacted with (a tiny portion of the planet compared to those that interact with WordPress.com regularly) want two solutions for an e-commerce site. They don’t want a blog that has a short code with a link to a different solution where a product is defined that has additional configuration.

There is nothing easy or simple about that.

So if you already have a shopify account, and already have a WordPress.com account, this may be good news for you.

But for everyone else, there are other options that may make more sense when it comes to

  • cost
  • ease of use
  • configuration

I wrote, a while ago, about picking an e-commerce cart. I’ll have to circle back, as they all keep improving.

If you want to use WordPress and an e-commerce plugin (built for WordPress) these detailed reviews might help.

And if you’re considering the costs of a custom WordPress Solution vs Shopify then you’ll appreciate these spreadsheets.

Do you have a different take on it? I’d love to hear it.

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  • http://andrewnorcross.com Norcross

    I’ll admit I’m more than underwhelmed with the offering. It seems like a counter against the Shopifys of the world offering blogging.

    But honestly, no one not named Amazon has done ecommerce well. Hoping WP is the answer, but it isn’t there yet.

  • http://thereforei.am Brent

    Great post Chris – saved me spending the $300 to test the 8 steps myself! I figured the integration would be minimal, and cumbersome to setup, and you’ve demonstrated that unequivocally.

    My suspicion is this: Automattic are using the easiest possible MVP to test the demand for eCommerce on WordPress.com.

    If it proves popular, then they know it’s worth putting in the effort required to offer an integrated solution via either WooCommerce, EDD, Exchange, WP e-Commerce etc. (or offer a few of them ideally).

    With the exception of WP e-Commerce, none of these WordPress plugins have an official hosted service yet. I think that’s because their greatest selling point is in being fully integrated with your WordPress site (as you touched on when you mentioned people not wanting two solutions). A hosted WooCommerce alone wouldn’t do that and ultimately, wouldn’t add that much more value than Shopify or Bigcommerce.

    WooCommerce inside WordPress.com is a whole other story.

    Long term, WordPress.com could actually become “the hosted WooCommerce” and “the hosted EDD”. It makes a lot of sense for everyone involved. Automattic may even be hinting at going that route by using “eCommerce Plugins” as the menu title.

    My only worry is that by releasing a half-baked solution, eCommerce will not appear popular enough for Automattic to invest in offering native plugins.

    • http://gravatar.com/carlhancock Carl Hancock

      I wouldn’t hold my breath for what you described Brent. To do eCommerce right and provide a solution that can scale to the volume WordPress.com would require, they wouldn’t be able to use a solution that is built solely on custom post types. eCommerce is not posts or pages and is far more complex, especially when you get into reporting and analytics around sales, etc. WordPress.com does NOT integrate plugins into their platform that use custom tables just like they do not allow WordPress VIP sites to use plugins that require custom tables.

      If you think about it, expecting every type of functionality to be able to be efficiently shoved into the WordPress database architecture and use custom post types and taxonomies to accomplish everything is not a good idea. You build your database architecture to fit your application need. You don’t build your application to fit a pre-existing database architecture. How WordPress handles data associated with content such as posts and pages is fine, but it is most certainly not a one size fits all architecture solution which is why I most definitly do not buy into the idea that all plugins should rely solely on WordPress core database tables.

      Automattic’s solution to this is their Developer API. They have no intentions of intgrating WooCommerce, EDD, etc. They model they are going with is partnering with SaaS solutions and providing functunality via an API. This is precisely why they are offering Shopify, MyLocket, etc. The are SaaS solutions. Take a look at all of Automattic’s commercial offerings beyond WordPress.com and you will see they are all SaaS. VaultPress. Akismet. PollDaddy. They view SaaS as the preferred solution, not full featured plugins such as WooCommerce, EDD, etc.

      In fact you can view the developer documentation on how to create WordPress.com apps at this URL:

      http://developer.wordpress.com

      There is nothing wrong with this thinking. The SaaS model is a very good one. We use plenty of SaaS solutions to power our own business. But it is most definitly a different business model than what WooCommerce, EDD, etc. utilize which isn’t compatible with Automattic’s philosophy when it comes to plugins.

      So in short, look for WordPress.com to add integrations with additional SaaS ecommerce solutions along the lines of Shopify. If you’re holding your breath thinking this is some sort of test and they’ll introduce hosted WooCommerce or EDD you’ll pass out. It’s not going to happen.

      I think people have the wrong expectations as to what WordPress.com is all about, including @capedave below. WordPress.com is not SquareSpace and I don’t think it will ever become like SquareSpace. If you need more advanced functionality and the ability to install any plugin or utilize any theme you are never going to get that at WordPress.com. Ever. If that is the case then you need to be looking at hosting WordPress yourself. Either via a low cost shared host, your own VPN or cloud host, or a managed service such as Pagely or WPEngine.

      • capedave

        I think WordPress.com exists to make things easy for people to get started with WordPress. This totally confusing ecommerce offering is a disaster waiting to happen. I know wordpress.com is not supposed to be advanced solutions. The opposite is true. Always start with the simple and move towards complex. Not the other way around. They should have done a PayPal button to add and basic products.

        This is just my two cents. I am not super up on the .com variation of WordPress. But if any lessons have been learned on the web, it is that limiting choices, at least in the beginning translates directly TO MORE SALES. This world suffers deeply from information overload and this simply adds to it. Have Matt call me if he has any questions :)

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  • capedave

    Good grief, I work with plugins and WordPress for a living and I see that as the most confusing mess I have ever seen regarding ecommerce. Sheesh? What were they thinking? I hate to critique my most favorite software company in the universe, but WP, my friend, you dropped the ball HARD on this one.

    Beginners are going to be three times more overwhelmed than usual.

    What about KISS, Keep It Simple Silly.

    All the more reason to go with hosted WordPress if you ask me. Matt, where are you? Fix this!

    Dave

  • http://www.sellwithwp.com Beka Rice

    I think Carl’s spot on here that (1) Automattic isn’t going to offer a native plugin and would probably develop their own SaaS solution if they wanted to offer “native” eCommerce, and (2) keep in mind that we’re talking about WordPress.com, not just WordPress users.

    Using SaaS solutions falls in line with the type of user that WordPress.com attracts, as many WordPress.com users are either trying the platform out for blogging or looking for someone else to manage a lot of the setup and structure around managing a site for them, so a SaaS solution for eCommerce probably makes sense to them since it’s “easy”. They can run a small store well enough with a SaaS setup. As for VIP users who would attract enough traffic to create a large store, I’m sure they have enough money to create a customized solution or host a store elsewhere and it’s probably a moot point.

    The infrastructure of having a native solution could be a mess as well in terms of SSLs and server environments, which may not fit into the current WordPress.com hosting structure. Using solutions like Shopify and Ecwid circumvent this problem by routing payments through their servers. The Shopify integration could definitely be a lot better, but I can see why it fits into the structure they have (and Ecwid already had the WordPress integration built to fit this).

    I agree that it wouldn’t be the route that many of us would choose, as I wouldn’t want to manage a shop and site from different places. However, I probably wouldn’t host my site on WordPress.com to begin with, so I can’t really say I’ve stepped into those shoes.

    As a side note, thanks so much Chris for the link to Sell with WP! :)

  • http://nowthinkaboutit.com/2013/01/book-release-in-defense-of-divorce/ EnnisP

    I don’t see an e-commerce function on my site any time soon but, as always, I appreciate the precise and insightful reviews. Thanks Chris.

  • http://TheBalancedCoach.com Diana Gardner Robinson

    Just a simple thank you, Chris.

  • http://www.andymci.com/ Andy M.

    I agree with Carl – we’re going to see more partnerships/connections between WordPress.com and other SaaS platforms. WordPress.com is a great platform for publishing, and I doubt Automattic will move away from that any time soon.

    A few more thoughts:

    1. This strategic partnership between WordPress.com and other services (e.g. Shoplocket) is a good one. It lets each company focus on their core competency at while opening up more opportunities to their users.

    2. Shopify, in particular, is more than just a “buy now” button. They also handle PoS (http://www.shopify.com/pos). That level of specialization in retail is well beyond the scope of WordPress.com.

    3. E-commerce is never easy. Connecting WordPress.com to Ecwid or Shopify is less difficult than setting up SSL certificates, tax rates, shipping options, payment gateways, and all the other stuff that comes with e-commerce on a self-hosted WordPress site.

    • Carl Hancock

      I actually had never checked out Ecwid so i’m looking forward to taking a look at it.

      I wanted to comment on one thing you mentioned. That is Shopify’s POS. I read about this a few weeks ago and had no clue that they had launched a POS. I think it’s a brilliant move on their part. Offline/Online integration is difficult for businesses that do have a physical presence and an online presence.

      While I haven’t tried Shopify’s POS solution as it’s not a need I have, I think it was a brilliant move on their part to introduce that solution. Especially as an iPad application which can be utilized similar to Square’s POS.

      Shopify has always had a solid hosted ecommerce solution so the fact that they provide a point of sale solution that integrates directly into their ecommerce solution certainly gives them a leg up in this space.

      • http://mathetos.wordpress.com mathetos

        ECWID is excellent. It’s the easiest way I’ve seen to integrate products into a site without having to theme anything. That’s exactly why I’m not surprised at all that they would partner with them for the .com’s. There’s almost no real burden on WP to work hard on the integration because it’s just js code into a post really.

        Great article Chris. I think this would be a good route for the really low end clients who just want to blog and sell 10-20 products online.

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  • http://gravatar.com/simonwebdesign simon

    Solid post. I would add on shopify you get shared SSL – that’s it.

    In order to get access to that you need to be an “enterprise” customer, “Pricing starts at $995 per month.”

    How EDD is not there is amazing. Frankly, I think an acquisition would be in order.

    • http://gravatar.com/carlhancock Carl Hancock

      I fully understand the fondness for existing WordPress plugins such as Pippin’s Easy Digital Downloads, WooThemes WooCommerce, etc. but as far as Automattic’s WordPress.com integrating any of them (or any major business oriented plugin) or acquiring any of them is simply not going to happen because it is not what Automattic’s business model is about and there are fundamental differences in business model philosophies at play.

      Now if EDD or WooCommerce were SaaS solutions like VaultPress, PollDaddy, etc. that might be a different story. But even then I don’t think it would happen.

      The fact that they are self contained plugins and not SaaS solutions pretty much rules out any chance of it ever happening.

      Honestly I can’t blame Automattic one bit. Do you know what would be involved in supporting EDD or WooComerce at the scale of users that WordPress.com works with? I can sum it up in one word and i’m sure Pippin and the guys at WooThemes would agree with me on this…

      HELL.

      Shopify, etc. are venture backed companies who’s sole focus is eCommerce. There’s a reason for that. Providing a hosted eCommerce solution at such a large scale is HARD. Really hard. Frankly providing a good self-hosted eCommerce solution is hard too.

      It makes far more sense for Automattic to partner with well established hosted solutions such as Shopify than provide the functionality as a plugin. It provides there users with an eCommerce solution backed by a company that’s sole focus is eCommerce which is not what Automattic’s focus is.

      The WordPress.com developers API was built specifically to integrate with 3rd party SaaS applications rather than going down the plugin route. It allows Automattic to integrate a wide variety of functionality without actually having to develop or support it on their own outside of the API integration itself. It’s a smart move.

      This move is completely in line with the business model WordPress.com has been going down from the very beginning.

      The big question is why is this so controversial? How many people here are actually hosting their business sites with WordPress.com? If you want EDD, WooCommerce, Gravity Forms, etc. then that’s the beauty of WordPress. You can host it yourself or host it with any of the many fantastic managed WordPress hosting providers and install any plugin or theme you want.

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  • http://flyplugins.com Ben

    That was anything but “Automattic”. I wanted to pull my hair out reading your post. I can understand the support headache, but why use WordPress.com for eCommerce anyway?