I’ve written dozens of articles for United Virtualities and this one is the emotionally hardest for me. I am a long-time WordPress lover. I’ve created and hosted hundreds — no exaggeration — of sites. My decision (self-imposed!) to compare WordPress envisioned as an ecommerce platform (that is, using the WooCommerce plugin, since that is overwhelmingly far and away the only ecommerce platform for WordPress worth considering; heck, it is made by WordPress itself!) to Salesforce Commerce Cloud is a bit like someone asking me to do a musical analysis of your favorite singers since childhood. How could I even analyze Pink Floyd with an open mind? That’s just not possible. There is and never will be a group better than Pink Floyd… objectively!
But I gave myself that task anyway, promising myself to be as objective as possible, no matter how many “gulps” I would have to do. Here is my conclusion.
WordPress (considering use with WooCommerce as the ecommerce engine) has a few major benefits.
The first is that it is free — both WordPress itself and the WooCommerce plugin. Free, as they say, is hard to compete with. And not just the product, but the design. There are tens of thousands of high quality themes/designs to use — many of which are paid, but many more are free. Good design, click, install, and it works!
The second benefit is that WordPress power 35% of the entire internet. As a result, there is a very, very sophisticated and well developed universe around it. There are hosting companies that specialize in it. And endless software developers (the fact that it’s written in PHP makes this doubly true). As well as nearly an unlimited number of plugins that do almost anything you can imagine.
And that lets you sleep easy at night. In 10 years, will Salesforce Commerce Cloud even exist? Or will Shopify? Or Magento? We don’t know, but WordPress will still be around. It ain’t no Moveable Type (the first mainstream open source blogging platform).
The third benefit of WordPress is: it is the best-in-breed content management system — the core of its popularity. And with last year’s introduction of Gutenberg, even more so. You don’t need to worry about content being integrated into your site or not.
The fourth benefit of WordPress is full and absolute control. You want to use the .htaccess file to set up any rule whatsoever under the sun regarding anything that happens on a page? You can do that. You want to go into the core code and change something fundamental? You can do that. You want to SSH into a server? You can do that. You want to be able to just export your entire friggin’ site and thus you can do anything with it or reimport it anywhere, or back it up in the way you want in case the world explodes? You can do that. There are no random limitations of the sort that you get with any cloud type commerce system. (Note that this appeals to control freaks like, ahem, ahem, yours truly.)
But WordPress does have a few downsides, as well.
First, it scales like a….(Insert a not nice word here). The bigger your userbase is, the harder it is. You want speed? Okay, use a caching plugin — but then you can’t cache all the unique custom changes you want just for this or that person to see. It’s hard to do WordPress right, at scale, from the purely technical side of things.
And the reason for that leads to the second problem: WordPress wasn’t built to be an ecommerce platform. It was built to be a blog, or content platform. It does content amazingly well but as a result, no matter how well WooCommerce is integrated, and the fact that it is built by Automattic (the creators of WordPress), it can’t compensate for the fact that it is, to be very blunt, hacked onto WordPress.
The next series of reasons are less problems with WordPress and more things that are uniquely powerful about Salesforce Commerce Cloud:
- The marketing functionality built into it from the ground-up is something that no other ecommerce platform can compete with. You can create any type of sale on any product for any audience triggered under any conditions. (Well, almost.) If you want only people in Los Angeles to see “11% off” on Pink Products between 11:11am and 11:22am but this sale is visible only to people who have spent more than $137 on your site within the last 322 minutes — you can do that. Neither WordPress (with WooCommerce) nor any other platform can even come close to this.
- WordPress’s plugins are great — you can find or buy one to do almost anything — but are notoriously high risk, high reward, with the risk happening far too often. (I’ve had to remove many beloved plugins from my WordPress sites because their 10,000-character-long attempted queries crashed the poor MySql database every time, as the sites grew.)
- A/B testing is built into Salesforce Commerce Cloud. While there are various plugins to do this for WordPress, they all test out content on the “section” level (just one sentence or part of a page) or on the “page” level (some people see this version of the page, some people see another). But with Salesforce Commerce Cloud, you can test completely different experiences, just as though they’re different sites.
- There is a mandatory staging environment, so that changes to the site don’t go live. This is notoriously not the case for WordPress, although many of the dedicated hosts like WPengine include this functionality. But even when they do, it is still complex, since the content and software is so deeply integrated into WordPress. It’s hard, or impossible, to do a true staging environment. Please try synchronizing your database from your ad-hoc staging server to your production server, while preserving your Gravity Forms and a zillion other plugin data on production, after complex plugin dates. Go ahead, just try that, I dare you!
Taken together, what all this boils down to is the following. WordPress is awesome if you’re already deeply familiar with it; if you’re doing a content-first strategy; if you’re small and intend to stay small, like if you’re a niche site; if you’re a control freak and don’t like your site being in the hands of a random company or like tweaking every thing possible with no limitations beyond the feasible; if you prioritize long-term stability.
But these tend to be the edge cases. What’s much more common is everything that is just not on the previous list: you expect your store to grow and scale. You don’t want to deal with the hassle and cost and white hairs of hosting it yourself. You want world class A/B testing functionality. You want to do really complex but serious-for-sales things like show different versions of the site to different people. You have the budget so you don’t need to use the free templates and lowest cost developers — and all the challenges and limitations that come with both. You’re willing to pay not upfront but as a percentage of sales. With these cases, and with a tear in my eye, I would recommend Salesforce Commerce Cloud above WordPress. Give me a hug, I need one.