WooCommerce and WordPress – you know it makes sense


Open source e-commerce sounds like a recipe for disaster but it isn’t. Here’s why I think WooCommerce and Wordpress are a useful combination.

automattic-and-woocommerceIn a Strativa story that discusses the case of Aero Fulfillment Services filing suit against Oracle, Frank Scavo makes the point:

Many traditional providers of goods and services are now finding themselves, like Aero, in the software business. Yet they often do not have core competencies around software development. As a result, such firms look for systems they can use as the basis for their custom development.

The Aero case involves access to source code for web commerce following acquisition. Scavo concludes:

The best solutions to use as the basis for software development are open source. But a true “open source” license involves more than access to program source code. It includes various rights to use, modify, and redistribute the source code as the basis for new products. True open source software is developed and licensed with the intention that others will use it and build upon it. Therefore, it is an excellent foundation for use in transforming an organization to a digital business.

In the past, we used to hear that open source would likely be rejected by IT departments because of the difficulties in knowing where to turn in the event of required upgrades or bug fixes.

The reality is that an entire industry has sprung up around open source that largely mitigates the risks. It is no coincidence that we frequently see proprietary vendors making use of open source code in their offerings. That doesn’t mean we’re all free and clear, normal vendor selection criteria still apply and close attention to the different licensing models is always needed.

So when I saw that Automattic, WordPress’s owners have acquired WooCommerce, I was more than a little excited. WooCommerce claims it is profitable, has seen 7.5 million downloads of its free to use commerce plugin and has more than 600,000 paying customers. It is challenging Magento in terms of e-commerce market share. What may be less well known is that estimates suggest WordPress is in use among just shy of one quarter of all CMS sites. On that measure, it is by far the market leader. Viewed in those terms Automattic can directly sell the acquired commerce solution into a dominant and readily addressable market.

Longer term, I can envisage WordPress integrating WooCommerce into its enterprise aimed VIP service. If/when that happens, then all sorts of possibilities emerge i the enterprise space.

Why would I be more bullish about WordPress+WooCommerce than – say – Shopify, which recently IPOd at an implied valuation of $1.2 billion and raised $130 million in the process?

Automattic has consistently shown itself to be a good actor in the open source community. In the last year, it has accelerated feature/function output and is now much more than the blogging platform it once was.

The availability of masses of plugins both commercial and free to use, combined with important functional updates, positions WordPress as a solid CMS platform against which developers can build communities and applications of all kinds. WooCommerce is one such example. Copyblogger’s Rainmaker is another. Code Cavalry is yet another.

WooCommerce has shown there is a genuine appetite for WordPress driven commerce sites while addressing the all important business model issues that support the open source plugin. In short, if you want to do anything vaguely exotic, which is most people, then you will find yourself paying for extended functionality and likely developer services to get what you need.

Don’t get me wrong. WooCommerce may be near infinitely flexible but it can be a beast when compared to the relative simplicity (and constraints) of Shopify. And while I am a huge WordPress fan, it is not without its own issues. For example, the tight integration between the MySQL relational database and the application make web scaling a problem without throwing masses of resource at the topic. Hence the WordPress VIP program, the rise of services like WP Engine and others.

That may change since there are persistent rumors that some development is aimed at decoupling the database so that WordPress can be opened up to web scale NoSQL databases like MongoDB and others. And it remains to be seen if WooCommerce can break out of its SME base to service much larger enterprises without requiring a good amount of custom development.

Even so, WordPress+WooCommerce implies an inflection point in the development of open source that I am sure folks like Scavo will be watching closely. At the very least, this combination opens up fresh possibilities for businesses considering their e-commerce strategies.

Disclosure: Oracle is a premier partner at time of writing

Image via Ma.tt