Membership Plugin Review: iThemes Exchange

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Welcome to my iThemes Exchange Membership review.

If you've never visited my site before, there are a few things I cover on this site regularly. One of them is WordPress membership sites. I look at plugins and review them so that you can make a good decision when picking from all the options you have.

A couple of months ago, I began a series on membership plugins. I had hoped to do them all in one month, but they took some time…

Yes, there are actually more than 30 options.

This is review #29 focused on iThemes Exchange.

This is one review in a series

Here are the others:

  1. Membership 2 Pro – 3.0
  2. WP eMember – 3.3
  3. WP-Members – 2.3
  4. Restrict Content Pro – 3.3
  5. FastMember – 3.6
  6. Memberful – 2.9
  7. InstaMember – 3.6
  8. Members – 2.5
  9. WP Membership – 2.3
  10. Cart66 Cloud – 4.1
  11. Private Content – 1.9
  12. Zippy Courses – 3.6
  13. Ultimate Member – 1.7
  14. Easy Quick Member – 0.4
  15. WooCommerce Membership (Envato) – 2.0
  16. MemberWing-X – 3.0
  17. Simple Membership Plugin – 2.0
  18. Page Security and Membership – 2.0
  19. S2Member Pro – 2.3
  20. MemberMouse
  21. Digital Access Pass (DAP) – 3.3
  22. Magic Members – 2.9
  23. Wishlist Member – 2.4
  24. Rainmaker Platform – 3.9
  25. WP eCommerce w/ Membership Add On – 2.8
  26. Memberium – 4.0
  27. Paid Memberships Pro – 2.8
  28. WooCommerce Memberships – 5.0

The Rating Criteria

As I scored the previous plugins, I looked at 8 different factors.

Ease of Use & Speed to Configure

These two criteria almost sound identical but they’re not. Ease of use is all about the “predictability” of the plugin. Are the names of the different features and configuration easy to understand? Does the software work in a way you can predict? Are the screens well designed and easy for someone who isn’t an expert? How overwhelming is the settings page?

Speed to configure is something different, but related. The issue here is that even if you know how to do what you want to do, can you do it quickly? It presumes proficiency at the task and then inquires as to the velocity of the effort.

Multiple Concurrent Accounts

Can a single registered account holder exist in more than one membership level or group at the same time? This is often a critical need when someone is using a membership plugin to deliver protection over course-related content. Just because you’re in one membership program (writing your first book) doesn’t mean you may not want access to another (learning how to shoot videos for YouTube).

Payment Gateway Support

The core of the question is whether a variety of gateways are supported. Industry standards like PayPal and Authorize.net should be standard. Stripe is a pretty huge expectation. After that, the question is about variety. Are there many?

Dripped Content

Can a site owner schedule content so that a member can’t log in, download everything, and then sign out and request a refund? In essence it’s a core way people mitigate content theft. Many support scheduling content these days but a few years ago this was much harder to find.

eCommerce Support

The reality is that most people don’t just spin up sites with protected content. That’s not their focus. Instead, their focus is to create a community. To support that community. And eventually to potentially monetize that community. That often means selling eBooks, physical books, t-shirts, posters and more. So the question is, can this membership plugin integrate or work alongside an eCommerce solution?

Upgrades / Downgrades

It’s not hard to predict what this means. Can a member easily upgrade or downgrade from their current membership to another level? Sometimes the restriction is the plugin (because it doesn’t support it). Sometimes the restriction is the payment gateway. Either way, a great plugin will support both – from the assumptions made in its features to the way they’ve integrated with payment gateways.

Pro-rating & Pausing

When we talk about upgrades or downgrades, it’s only logical to also want the charges to be pro-rated. But that’s not always been easy. So many plugins still don’t do it. But those that do get extra points. And the same holds true for pausing a membership. It’s a wonderful thing to have and these dynamics really do happen in the real world. So it’s not crazy to want them.

Other features that are nice-to-haves

There are many other features that I constantly monitor but they’re unique and pretty darn specific so these reviews would be horribly long and boring if I added all of these other features in. That said, there are a few that are fan-favorites.

  • Google indexing posts (and even supporting first-read-free)
  • Membership directories
  • Pre-renewal emails (like days or weeks in advance)
  • One-touch upgrades via links (no need for cc info)
  • Upgrade offers at the initial purchase – as in, One Time Offers (OTO)

The Background on iThemes Exchange

When iThemes spun up an eCommerce plugin, people wondered if there was anything they could add to an existing marketplace that had several solutions:

  • Easy Digital Downloads
  • WP eCommerce
  • WooCommerce

And the truth is, they did bring something new to the table.

At the time, the membership solution for WooCommerce was a complicated mess than required several extensions and tons of clicks. Easy Digital Downloads, at the time, wasn't really focused on membership solutions, and the WP eCommerce solution was pretty old and hadn't been looked at in a while.

In other words, iThemes Exchange brought a powerful solution for membership sites that the other eCommerce solutions hadn't focused on.

It's what put it at the top of the membership plugins in 2014.

Of course, in the last year, Restrict Content Pro (which can work with EDD) has been improved. And WooCommerce now has a real membership solution.

The competition continues to push everyone to get better – which is a great thing for users.

Do you know Timothy Jacobs?

Before I go into the details of my review, I need to mention Timothy Jacobs. He runs the site IronBound Designs.

I like Timothy because he attended a talk I gave in New York where I highlighted one of the areas where iThemes Exchange could get a bit better. You know what did? He built it.

It's a powerful solution for group memberships which are linked. There are few plugins that support the feature (like Paid Memberships Pro), and now iThemes Exchange is better because of it.

He's created several other extensions as well, which you should check out.

Reviewing iThemes Exchange

Building a platform is easy.

One of the best features that you get with iThemes Exchange is the platform it provides for eCommerce. What I believe is that your membership site will eventually shift into an overall eCommerce site. You'll sell a book. You'll sell a t-shirt. You'll sell something and when that happens, you'll want your customer to have a single consolidated user account. Not sub-domains. Not multiple sites. One site.

And iThemes gets this. And so, because they do, you get it too.

Everything is easy.

I shouldn't tell you that building a platform is easy. It makes it sound like that's the only thing that's easy. And that's the wrong idea. Everything is easy with iThemes Exchange.

drippingcontentMy favorite feature and the absolute easiest to manage is the scheduling of content. This drip feature is so easy to use it's crazy. Without a doubt, it's the simplest screen of all 30 membership plugins when it comes to configuring drip access.

If you're building a site to protect content, you ought to consider this plugin simply because of how easy it is.

Want a members-only forum?

One of the requests I get a lot is the request for bbPress integration when it comes to all the membership plugins. Guess what? The Pro-Pack for iThemes gets you not just the membership extension, or the Stripe extension. It not only gets you the MailChimp integration. It also gets you the integration with bbPress for a members-only forum.

ithemesBBPress

That's why the ProPack is the right call!

Did I mention BuddyPress?

Some membership plugins work with BuddyPress. Others don't. Actually, let me be clear – few do. Of the whole list of plugins I reviewed, only a handful do. But guess what? iThemes Exchange does, using an extension that comes as part of the ProPack.

Upgrades & Prorating

Let's talk a little about the math they've done to let users upgrade (and get their fees pro-rated).

iThemes had already did work on upgrades and pro-rating to make sure the math was right. But what if you wanted more? What if you wanted to use a fixed period for a membership, like a single year? Then the pro-rating would have to work differently, right?

Well, good news. Remember that Tim guy I told you about? Check this out: A pro-rated extension for free.

So now, whether you have a non-fixed plan or a fixed-term membership, you're good to go with prorations.

Scoring iThemes Exchange for Membership Sites

So let's get to it.

  • Ease of Use – 5
  • Payment Gateway Support – 4
  • eCommerce Support – 5
  • Drip Support – 5
  • Concurrent Accounts – 5
  • Prorating Charges – 5
  • Upgrades / Downgrades – 5
  • Speed of setting it up – 5

The iThemes Exchange Score: 4.9

About Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

Chris Lema

Chris Lema has been working with WordPress since 2005. Over the years he's been a blogger, a speaker at WordCamps, a coach for WordPress product companies, and the founder of the conference for WordPress business owners, called CaboPress. Today he's the VP of Products at Liquid Web, where he manages the world's first managed platform for WooCommerce stores.

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