Last week I had an interesting experience at Urban Moon. A client insisted that she wanted to go for WooCommerce and not WordPress for her e-commerce store because she heard it was better. I was not immediately sure how to explain to her that WooCommerce and WordPress are different, but you cannot have a WooCommerce website without WordPress. So today, I thought of writing a detailed article explaining the difference between these two tools.
WordPress is a Content Management System that provides the infrastructure to create and manage a website and hold all its web pages, images, and database. WooCommerce is a plugin that is added to a WordPress website to add e-Commerce functionality to it and cannot function as a standalone tool.
The nature of WooCommerce is such that it’s only usable as a part of WordPress, yet being different from it. This concept can be a little confusing at first, so you need to understand the nuances of the ways in which these two are different.
WordPress is the most popular platform to create a website, and one in two websites on the internet is built on it. It is an open-source Content Management System (CMS), that is, it allows you to own a website on the World Wide Web without writing a single line of code.
WordPress was created in 2003 as a blogging platform. It was meant to allow bloggers to have their own site to post their blog articles without having know programming. Over the years, WordPress grew in popularity and became one of the most popular platforms to build all types of websites, be it blog sites, business websites, portfolios, resumes, social networks, or e-commerce stores.
In its native form, WordPress is sufficient to create a basic website with multiple web pages, a blog, pictures, videos, and text. However, WordPress allows you to add third-party software called plugins to your website in order to add numerous functionalities and enhance the existing functionalities.
It’s the plugins that add magic to WordPress. There are tens of thousands of WordPress plugins available in the market, developed by independent developers or companies. These can add functionalities like EdTech functionality, eCommerce functionality, the ability to book appointments or hotels, enhance SEO capabilities, track and analyze data, and design attractive web pages, to name just a few.
WooCommerce is one such WordPress plugin that is used to add eCommerce functionality to WordPress. And it is just one of the many eCommerce plugins for WordPress. There are numerous others like BigCommerce, EasyCart, impleCode, Ecwid, etc. Having said that, WooCommerce is the most popular one, and over 90% of WordPress eCommerce sites use this plugin.
WooCommerce was launched in 2011 and can be used to create all types of online stores, be it for selling physical products, digital products, services, membership, or subscriptions. It also has built-in analytics that generates valuable insights about your store and helps you manage your business better.
I found an interesting analogy on the web that explains the difference between WordPress and WooCommerce very clearly to any beginner. WordPress is like the operating system of your device, like Windows, IOS, or Android. WooCommerce on the other hand is an app that is installed in the device to enable eCommerce functionality, like WhatsApp is installed for instant messaging or Uber for ride-hailing.
Because WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, it’s obvious that it has to be installed on a WordPress website and there is no way it can function alone. However, there are certain things that you need to do on your WordPress site if you are going to use WooCommerce, that you wouldn’t normally do.
For starters, you should make sure the theme you are using on your WordPress site is WooCommerce compatible. In theory, all themes are compatible with every WordPress plugin, but in reality, there are certain themes that work better with WooCommerce, while others might need some tweaks before running WooCommerce smoothly.
There are certain themes that give out a message like ‘Your theme does not declare WooCommerce support’. You might wanna choose a theme that does not have this message. If you are using a theme like Astra, Neve, OceanWP, Divi, or Ultra, you can rest assured that these will never cause any compatibility issues with WooCommerce.
Next, if you are using a page builder like Elementor to design the other pages of your website, these do not work on your WooCommerce pages. In other words, you do not get the option to ‘Edit with Elementor’ on WooCommerce shop pages.
If you simply use the default WooCommerce template, your eCommerce store will look exactly the same as any other store, which does not allow you to stand out. Thus you might need to customize your store pages and design them as per your branding or your personal taste.
Elementor has been my favorite web page builder, and over the years I have made sure they become my clients’ favorite too. However, if you try to edit a WooCommerce store page (or any other dynamic page for that matter) with Elementor, you get an error message.
However, a handy trick that I use is, I install a plugin called Woolentor. What this plugin does is it adds a whole section of Woolentor addons on the widget panel of Elementor. In simple terms, now you can add new features to an Elementor-designed page.
So I create a custom shop page (rather than using the default WooCommerce shop) and add a product layout from Woolentor addons. This means now I have a custom shop page displaying my products, that is built on Elementor and so I can edit it as I need. Further, Woolentor also allows you to create your own product pages by using its unique widgets, so you don’t need to use the default WooCommerce product page.
If you are using WooCommerce on your WordPress site, you also need to choose your hosting differently. You need to make sure the hosting you choose is optimized for WooCommerce in order to ensure performance. I have explained this in more detail in the next section.
If a WordPress website needs to run the WooCommerce plugin, you need to choose a hosting that is optimized for eCommerce functionality. Again, in theory, any WordPress hosting can support WooCommerce as well, since WooCommerce functions as a part of WordPress. However, there are certain performance levels that you expect from your hosting when you are running an eCommerce store, that may not be required otherwise.
Thus, WooCommerce hosting has more to do with performance optimization rather than server requirements. It should have performance optimizations, features, and benefits specifically meant for WooCommerce.
Performance-wise, the basic requirements of WooCommerce boils down to just a few things. The first is the caching ability. At the expense of sounding too technical, let me mention this fact about cashing. With cashing, your website is able to load by using cached HTML versions of your web pages rather than processing PHP every time. Thus it makes your site faster and perform better.
The next requirement is on the database side. Any eCommerce website functionality is a lot more database intensive than a regular website. Allow me to geek out once again, but imagine how many times your site hits the database every time it loads the list of products along with all its details, it loads the details of a customer with all their history and preferences, and all the reviews of a product written by hundreds of customers. Thus you need hosting that is powerful enough to support heavy database usage.
Next, most WordPress hosting plans offer a decent level of reliability. They may guarantee an uptime of 99%. But for WooCommerce that may not be enough. For an eCommerce business, its website is its backbone. Even a single minute of downtime can result in losses, which may not be the case for a regular business website or a marketing website.
WooCommerce is used in WordPress to turn any regular website into a fully functional eCommerce store. It adds all the basic eCommerce features needed to run any successful eCommerce business.
It offers functionality like product management, inventory management, payment integration, and customer account management. It also has strong analytics and other reports that help you get insights about your business and manage it more successfully.
The advantage WooCommerce has over other eCommerce platforms like Shopify or Wix is that it allows you to run your eCommerce business while using the powerful benefits that WordPress offers. These benefits can include SEO, marketing, design, and blogging features. All of these can help your eCommerce business grow rapidly and also build a strong brand.
WooCommerce does not need any coding to be added to WordPress. You also don’t need to code in order to build and manage your online store after adding WooCommerce. However, some users customize WooCommerce by using some CSS codes, but most of these additional functionalities can also be achieved by adding some additional plugins, rather than coding it yourself.
If you already have a WordPress Website, or even a basic infrastructure ready with a domain, hosting, and WordPress installed, you can add WooCommerce with a few simple steps.
First, you need to go to the ‘Plugins’ section of your WordPress back end, and click on ‘Add New’. On the next screen, you need to type WooCommerce in the search bar. Once you find WooCommerce, you need to click on ‘Install’. After it completes the installation, click on ‘Activate’.
So now, you already have WooCommerce installed on your site. Next, you need to do some basic settings within WooCommerce, like entering your store info, industry, product types, and details about your business. You also need to choose your theme after the basic settings. For starters, you can go for the Storefront theme since it is one of the most compatible themes with WooCommerce.
Thus, WooCommerce is ready to use and now you can start building your store and adding your products. As you can clearly see, even non-tech-savvy entrepreneurs can learn WordPress and WooCommerce with some guidance and practice.