WordPress e-Commerce Themes vs Plugins

Its not often that I’ll do an opinion piece. But in this case…

The first time I heard mention of an e-Commerce theme I thought how daft. That was a number of years ago and I still think the same way. Although that said I’m never 100% close minded – the door should always swing both ways.

I’m not just being biased. Hear me out, from what I can tell, a lot of people seem to think that e-Commerce is merely uploading some pretty pictures, adding a price and a buy now button. I even watched John Ford make a Custom Post Type application for Products once. The whole time I just kept thinking… In one years time you might have finished the advanced shipping modules for people selling tangible goods, you might have nutted out the coupons and discount system, you might have v1 of your Taxes implementation working for some of the world, you might may have nailed a couple of payment gateways, you might even have decent security precautions to protect digital downloads, but you definitely won’t have implemented things like price & shipping matrix’s. And to be honest the list just goes on and on and on.

Until I see otherwise my thoughts are that Plugins are better for anything really big. Is BuddyPress a theme? is bbPress a theme?. No. Matt Mullenweg talks about the benefits of shortcodes and template tags in WordPress and that is exactly the way WP e-Commerce has always worked. We don’t care what theme you use, providing it doesn’t do funky Javascript and break everything that moves, than WP e-Commerce will work in any standards compliant WordPress theme.

I think it is infinitely more wise for theme developers (and companies related to themes) to focus on themes and design, otherwise they might find their whole theming business model cannibalized by the hungry hoards demanding new features and support. I believe that they should be collaborating with people like us that have spent years learning the intricacies of the e-Commerce business. Heck 5 years on we still get people asking for certain “common” features. There aint nothing “common” about e-Commerce folks. So choose wisely when using your e-Commerce platform… is it a platform designed for growth like WP e-Commerce, or is it something new and uncharted, made by people who do not necessarily know all the ins and outs of this hugely complex industry.

Food for thought.

22 responses... add one

One of WP eCommerce’s biggest benefits in my opinion is how relatively easy it is to customize. WPEC has been well embraced by the WP community; the GetShopped forum contain so much knowledge and many plugins and themes already exist for it. It would take, as you said Dan, years to catch up with the marginal benefits of WPEC. Good luck with the upcoming 3.8 release!

Super good thoughts! I’m 100% with you on the themes vs. plugins debate. Even semantically, themes are meant to be front-facing design-focused elements of a whole site. Much like myself…they should impress you with their looks, not what they can do. 🙂

Separating look and feel from functionality is essential, imho. In application development, there’s usually at least three tiers of structure – the presentation layer, the business logic, and the database access. Keeping these layers as separate as possible yields the most flexible structure, for at each level modules can be plugged in as needed with minimum effect on the other layers.

My thought on eCommerce Theme versus a Store Plugin is this; I like to change the look of my site often but I do not want to have to reconfigure my eCommerce because the store is built into it.

I am using WordPress eCommere inside a Store Theme instead of the ones suggested by the theme writer and it works great!
I’m sticking with the Plugin for myself. If it aint broke, why fix it?

I can’t register for the forums. I’m getting an error telling me that I’m not passing the human test. There’s got to be something wrong. I know that at least 4 out of the 12 times I tried I was correct. Can you please help me register for the forums?

Makes perfect sense to me but, having said that, I have set up a directory website with a “theme” called DirectoryPress (by PremiumPress) and it worked out quite well. While not as complex as an e-commerce site, it does have a considerable amount of functionality built in. This particular theme functions more like a combination of plugin and theme and it contains sub-themes which can be customised. Using a “theme” instead of a “plugin” for a given type of website could actually lend itself better to an out-of-the-box solution dedicated to a particular purpose, although probably at the expense of flexibility. Interestingly PremiumPress also happen to do a shopping cart theme, ShopperPress, which I have no experience of but I can tell you that I was impressed with DirectoryPress and happy with how my directory site – http://webdesignpros.co.nz/ – turned out.

Yeah exactly, its not as complex, and like other posters have said, people like to change their themes once in a while, so while I agree that it is possible to do anything in a theme framework I think think it is not logical for the long term or for anybody serious about selling online. When I see BuddyPress and bbPress rolled into a single theme I’ll have to concede… but until that day.

Also I just tried your site using Chrome (new browser of choice) and the slider thing didn’t work – 1 point deducted from PremiumPress 😉

“There aint nothing “common” about e-Commerce folks.” You nailed it with that one Dan. Based on the customization requests we get, I wholeheartedly agree with you. There is now way themes could offer the same feature rich options as a full fledged e-commerce platform.

OK, I hear your views and yet, as a modestly competent user of wordpress who has been blogging for 5 years, and who has managed to master enough html and CSS understanding to tweak the look and feel of my blog and Arithmetic Village, I am struggling to get past first base in tweaking the look and feel of my E-Commerce plugin even though I have purchased the Gold Cart and installed it.

I now find myself on http://www.guru.com and google searching for someone who can help me modify the Style sheets so the shop page look attractive and widen the sidebar cart so when a buyer adds something the rows of text don’t spill out over its graphic boundaries.

Please tell me, have I overlooked some basic element? I need some help to get back on track, so I can get this shop up and running and can confidently promote this site.

PS: I’m jmsinnz on Skype.

Hi James. Arithmetic village looks promising. Purchasing Gold Cart won’t help you style your site though – it just gives your site additional features and access to additional payment gateways. No CSS knowledge included sorry.

Since you purchased Gold Cart you can post a question in the Premium Forums and if you provide all the information required somebody should answer your first question sometime Monday / Tuesday NZT.

You can see what other people have managed to achieve with WP e-Commerce in the Show Case (http://staging.getshopped.org/showcase/).


Agreed that themes should not have an entire WPeC system/plugin built into them. The plugin should definitely handle the vast majority of functions(framework) and the theme handles the display of WPeC data.

Agreed that the WPeC system is complicated and very versatile and it should be, users use the system for different requirements. I feel that the new version should be made simpler by using standard WP calls, themes should display only what the user requires, while conforming to WordPress standards and WordPress template tags to ensure a Global Community practice.
This way we can produce better products as a community.

The move to custom post & taxonomy types has opened up the possibility of simplifying the theming process in WPeC. We can bypass WPeC for grabbing data and displaying it in the theme/frontend. Ideally we want to use WordPress template tags for retrieving data.

Currently I feel there is to much outside contribution, resulting in a miss match collaboration of code, this is not a bad thing and I’m not slamming the developer of WPeC, I feel that more standard coding practices need to be implemented as Automatic do.


http://codex.wordpress.org/CSS_Coding_Standards – also follow CSS standards

http://codex.wordpress.org/WordPress_Coding_Standards – needs to follow WP coding standards

This way updating, developing and theming can be a universal standard that all community members can conform to.

Hey Justin (Great name, by the way 🙂 )

Definitely appreciate the input – the discussion regarding development path for the theme system in 3.8 is getting close to being completed. I assure you, myself and the other lead devs for 3.8 are uber-familiar with the Template Hierarchy available in WP, especially with regards to 3.0, as well as conventional coding standards.

A big ol’ part of me LOVES the idea of just using the WP theme capabilities, and if we were building the plugin from scratch starting today with 3.0 – we may very well have gone that route. Unfortunately, we have a massive number of users, people back in 3.6, 3.7, etc. to worry about. None of us (And “us” includes folks much smarter than I 🙂 ) have thought up a fantastic way to use WP’s theming capabilities exclusively AND maintain a nearly guarantee-able level of backwards compatibility. Unfortunately, when the war of idealism and pragmatism involves cash, pragmatism has to win out 🙂 That all said, you never know what 3.9 or 4.0 may bring 🙂

Hey Justin S

With WP 3.0 showing a large change in the way post types and taxonomies work, the plugin will always be running a fine line between backwards compatibility and major use of WP functionality. Maybe 3.9 or 4.0 will bring us an additional, stripped down version of the plugin strictly for WP 3.0 systems and newer.

Hey Warwick. With you on the team, anything is going to be possible 😉
A fine line is better then not being backwards compatible. And I value our existing users just as much (if not just a little more) as I value your future users. So. Small steps… together we’ll get there.

why we can not find the template as much as the templatemonster ?
this software for $40 should at least for 10 tempate such for shoes ,cloth,jewrely,phone ,software,toy …etc

i am still think we are need the best template for our website

Great post! And straight from a Developer perspective, why would you want to spend time reinventing the wheel? In the course of building out a site, you would have to theme your own e-commerce solution anyways, so why would you NOT just start with a great plugin like WP e-Commerce, and then just drop your own Theme on top of that? It’s hard enough getting clients to decide on Pricing / Shipping / Payment Methods, and to have to worry about building out support for all that as well?

I agree with Matt and with the article. The benefits are so great, and if you know css you own the design. At the beginning I did not understand quite well the plugins, but they are so useful and customizable, and I am using this GetShopped and even it has some limitations, the benefits are much greater.

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