It’s time for two of the big names in the WordPress eCommerce space to go head to head. Today we are looking at the WooThemes WooCommerce eCommerce toolkit and iThemes Exchange. Both are well-regarded options for building an online store with WordPress, but which represents the best choice and better value over the other.
Let’s find out by comparing these two popular plugins in the WordPress eCommerce sector, in order to help you make the right decision when starting your eCommerce store.
iThemes Exchange is the eCommerce platform for WordPress from this popular theme developer. It allows you to easily sell physical and digital products via your WordPress site by simply installing a plugin. The standard functionality of the plugin is quite basic, but as with WooCommerce, it can be greatly expanded with add-ons.
This makes using the service easy to get to grips with, as you aren’t presented with a lot of features immediately. However you still have the option of using the add-ons to increase the feature set to meet the needs of your project.
Features and Usability
A nice feature of Exchange is the ‘Buy Now’ option. If you are selling just one product, you can allow your customers to purchase the item without following the traditional route of adding the item to their cart, checking out and then completing the purchase.
With ‘Buy Now’ your customers can complete the transaction on one page, reducing the length of the check-out process and reducing the risk of their shopping cart being abandoned before the transaction is complete.
When it comes to payment options, PayPal is supported out of the box and there is a free add-on for using Stripe to process payments. There are also plans in motion to include an invoicing feature which should be of interest to freelancers and contractors.
The plugin settings and options are easy to understand and the design of the backend is very appealing, using professional and clean designs in keeping with the iThemes ethos.
As with both eCommerce platforms here, there are a number of add-ons available to enhance the basic functionality of the free plugins. Here is a selection of the most useful and popular add-ons for iThemes Exchange:
- Membership: product content including digital downloads and sell access to it on a one-off or recurring payment plan
- MailChimp: iThemes Exchange can be integrated with MailChimp and this add-on allows your customers to sign up to your mailing list during the check-out process. This is a great way to turn one-off customers into regular shoppers.
- Recurring Payments: this add-on is included in the Membership add-on but if you don’t want to offer a membership site but still want to accept on-going payments then this add-on is for you. Payments can be collected monthly or yearly, with an option for auto-renewing them.
While there aren’t many add-ons to choose from at present, there are a number of items in development. You can view the iThemes Exchange public roadmap to see what’s in store for the service.
There are six themes available from iThemes that are Exchange-ready. They are all modern in appearance featuring clean and flat designs. However, they don’t immediately stand out as eCommerce themes and feel a little like the store functionality was a secondary feature of the theme, after the other areas of the template.
This is a great for bloggers or those running a content site first and foremost, but would like to include an eCommerce store on their website, in order to sell their products. However, for those who are building a site whose main focus is that of an online store, then there are better themes out there and a wider selection available for other WordPress eCommerce platforms.
There is plenty of support material available on the iThemes website to guide you through the setup and assist you in exploring the advanced features. With numerous videos covering every part of Exchange, getting to grips with this platform shouldn’t be a problem. As well as the tutorials videos, there is also an extensive set of online documentation for Exchange. When it comes to asking questions and raising issues, the user support forum is available. The purchasing the Pro pack version gives users access to ticketed support for one month, while the Dev Suite license includes support for one year.
When it comes to using Exchange, there are two main options: free and premium. There are two plans available for the premium option:
- Pro Pack: $197 – includes various add-ons, two eCommerce themes and one year of updates
- Dev Suite: $247 – as pro but also all iThemes plugins including `
WooCommerce is probably the most popular eCommerce toolkit for WordPress. It’s available from the well-known theme developers WooThemes and is a free plugin that can be built upon by installing additional free and premium extensions.
Features and Usability
Out of the box, WooCommerce offers a completive set of features. Security is a priority and the latest version has been audited by Sucuri to ensure it meets industry standards. Adding products to your store is very easy and the plugin uses custom post types to handle the publishing of your inventory.
Anyone familiar with adding a post in WordPress will be able to easily add and edit products on their site. The ability to keep track of your inventory and see how your products are performing is straightforward thanks to the reporting functionality of WooCommerce.
When adding products, as standard, there are plenty of options and types of data that can be stored about the items. These include:
- Enabling/disabling backorders of products
- Shipping info such as weight and dimensions
- Linked products for up-sells, cross-sells and grouping
- Enabling/disabling custom reviews
There are 210 extensions or add-ons listed on the WooCommerce website and more available elsewhere. While many offer similar functionality, but from different developers, this still means that if you want to do something beyond the out of the box abilities of the plugin, there is probably a WooCommerce extension to enable it. The price of add-ons for WooCommerce varies considerably, ranging from free to up to $199.
The main areas of functionality covered by the extensions include:
- Accounting: including printing invoices and packaging lists
- Import and Export: including export orders to XML with automatic download or upload
- Marketing: including coupons and reward points
- Payment Gateways: including credit cards, amazon payments and bitcoin
- Products: including recommendation engine and price checking
- Reporting: including SMS notifications for customers and KISS Metrics event tracking
- Shipping Methods: including FedEx, USPS, Royal Mail, and postcode validation
- Subscriptions: accept recurring subscription payments
- Widgets: including dynamic switching of currency for displayed prices
There really is a large selection of add-ons available for WooCommerce to enhance your online store.
As WooCommerce is made by the popular theme publishers WooThemes, there are many themes that are available from them that have been designed to work specifically with WooCommerce, including the ever popular Canvas theme, one of the most downloaded premium themes for WordPress in circulation.
There are premium and free WooCommerce themes available from WooThemes so it needn’t cost you an additional penny to setup your store with this toolkit.
Many third party developers also offer themes that are WooCommerce-compatible. This means choosing this toolkit for building your eCommerce store gives you an extensive list of themes to choose from. No matter what product you are selling, there should be a theme to suit it.
Although you don’t need to be a WooThemes customer to use WooCommerce, being one will gain you access to the premium support channels. By purchasing a theme or plugin, WooCommerce extension, or joining the theme club, you can get access to the support forum, knowledge base and help desk.
Otherwise, as a free user, you will only get access to the WooCommerce documentation, although this does include a lot of support material.
WooCommerce is free. This means you can turn your WordPress powered website into an eCommerce store without spending anything. However, it’s important to remember that many of the extensions are not free, so if you need a particular feature that isn’t available in the core features, such as being able to specify a delivery date, or bulk import products, then you will need to spend some money.
WooCommerce vs. iThemes Exchange
As both plugins are free, with iThemes Exchange also offering premium versions, both can seem like attractive options for building an eCommerce store with WordPress.
However, WooCommerce has many more extensions available for increasing the number of features your online store can include. There are also many more compatible themes available for WooCommerce, including both free and premium options, developed by WooThemes themselves and third party sources.
While all the available add-ons for Exchange can be purchased for $247, as part of the Dev Suite pack, the costs for the WooCommerce extensions could quickly mount up if your store requires additional or specialist features.
So before deciding on a platform, its highly recommended to scope your project and define the features you will need and then see whether WooCommerce or Exchange would be a better fit, while also calculating the cost for adding the necessary features to your site via Exchange Add-ons or WooCommerce Extensions to see which is truly the most cost effective solution for your project.
From experience, it’s hard not to recommend WooCommerce. Basic out of the box functionality is enough to get started and the wealth of extensions from WooThemes and third party developers means any extra functionality that is required should be available, with more extensions added to the list all the time.
The number of themes that also support WooCommerce is vast and also constantly growing. Unless you are a big fan of iThemes and their themes and their Builder product going with WooCommerce seems like the obvious choice.
|Number of Addons/Extensions||7||210|
|Buy Now (Bypass Cart)||Y||N|
|Learn More||Learn More|
While it is difficult to directly compare the features of these two eCommerce plugins, the above table shows some of the key features and their availability on each service.
While WooCommerce has 120 extensions available for it, it is important to note that many of them provide similar functionality, but are from different developers or for slightly different 3rd party services. If you decide to go with WooCommerce, you may want to see roundup of best WooCommerce themes.
If you sell digital goods such as themes, templates, and plugins, go with Easy Digital Downloads, as none of the above options come as close to as what EDD does.
We’d love to know what platform you are using for your online store, and what your experiences of these two options have been, so please leave a comment below.