The flexibility of WordPress has always been its strong point. The fact that you can tweak and twist it to your own will with just a bit of knowledge and an extraordinary support from a large community of developers and blogger transformed what initially was a blogging tool into a powerful website CMS, may it be a blog, photoblog, portfolio or simple presentation website.
And since its flexibility is undisputed, the folks at Instinct, a New Zealand development company, took it a little further with their WP e-Commerce plugin.
Here’s what they have to say about their plugin:
The WordPress e-Commerce plugin is a state-of-the-art e-Commerce platform with a focus on aesthetics, web standards and usability. It is both free and priceless at the same time.
Let’s see about that!
If your coding knowledge is limited, you have the chance of getting your own ecommerce website up and running in about 5 minutes, including the download. That’s a big plus.
If offers a wide range of settings for your products, including extra custom fields, product variations, promotions, coupon codes and downloadable products. Again something worth having.
There are many payment gateways that you can use, including PayPal and Google Checkout, and transactions are made safely through SSL connections. To that you can also add downloadable CSV sales reports.
Subscriptions with recurring billing are also available with the purchase of an upgrade module called Gold Cart. Individual bloggers can get a license for $25, while businesses have to check their pockets for $195. Although they are not very specific about these licenses, I suspect that the “business license” simply allows more installations.
And to top all the good features, this plugin is free, which is really great.
Until now it sounds like a dream, I know, but let’s check out the downside.
The Bad & the Ugly
The easy part is to install the plugin, but what comes after can prove to be a real nightmare if your knowledge is limited or if you’re a perfectionist.
With the free license, you only get one way to display products in category view, similar to a list. If you need a grid view, you’ll have to get the cash rolling and buy an upgrade. Let’s say that this being a customization, you either do it yourself, or support the developers by buying the grid module.
But what it you decide to do it yourself? Tough luck. You’ll bump into poorly organized code, with insufficient comments. If you’re used to WordPress’ logical file naming structure, you’ll get a headache trying to figure out what goes where. But you’ll get to it… in time.
If your patience runs out you’ll probably look for documentation. Aside from the information you’ll get on how to manage your store, containing most of the plugin’s screens there’s not much to see. There little info on development and integration. And I meen LITTLE.
The community lacks of real official support and most times users do their best answering each other’s questions.
Considering the four years (or so they say) spent developing this solution, I think they should have took a bit to invest into documenting it right, which apparently they did not.
And, after four years, there’s no built-in search capability, at least with the free package. If you try using your regular WordPress search box you’ll get no results, as product entries are stored in a different set of tables, other than WP’s regular ones.
There’s also not widget to simplify the search and if you go into developing themes with WP e-Commerce support, you’ll notice the lack of “template tags”. There are 4 or 5 of them, but mostly not very useful. One template tag per year of development doesn’t seem OK to me. Ohh, but you can have a product search box if you buy the Gold Cart upgrade. It figures.
While the WP e-Commerce WordPress plugin might satisfy the needs of a not so picky user, after 6 hours of continuous tweaking I decided to let it go. I can get a new (not so spectacular, but from scratch) WP Theme up and running in a maximum of 2 hours, so I hate “tweaking” a plugin for almost 6 hours, only to discover more things that need tweaking.
I’m not saying it might not be right for you. I’m just saying that you have to have an open pocket to upgrade and a lot of patience to adjust.
If I were to rate it, I’d say that it is far from being a “state-of-the-art e-Commerce platform” as claimed, but rather a solution for those with low expectations. 3.5 out of 5 stars would be fair for this WordPress plugin, and mostly because of the poor community support and documentation.