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Custom solutions and custom development for WooCommerce comes with both blessings and curses. Before we dive into the difference, let’s define what a custom WooCommerce solution is:

Anywhere on a website where custom code has been written in place of downloading or purchasing software to achieve a desired function is technically a custom solution.

Custom solutions are often necessary as an ecommerce store advances in what it requires to service its customers and align with its business practices. Here at Mode Effect, approximately 75% of our customers are running custom solutions on their ecommerce stores.

Custom Ecommerce Solutions and Business Value

The biggest advantage with custom solutions is in the business value they offer:

  • Increase Cash Flow
    • Custom solutions are often focused on aligning technology to support staff. In the case of sales staff, technology can help to support the sales team, resulting in shorter sales cycles. This can result in less working capital needed to run the business and more profit.  
    • Technology can help a sales person perform better. With the right assistance, your sales person could go from $100,000 in sales per year to $300,000 in sales per year. You can pay that employee 20% more in compensation, while they sell 300% more than the industry average. 
  • Reduce Overhead
    • Smart custom solutions will allow you to get ahead of your customers’ needs and reduce the human  capital needed to manage them and run the business.
    • Examples include: Building processes around automated exception management and digitally measuring your team’s performance and automating steps in the workflow process. 
  • Smooth Scaling
    • Staffing shortages are a challenge all businesses face — in some economic times more than others. The right solutions can help alleviate this issue, allowing you to do more and grow smarter with the well trained team you have.
    • Examples include automating processes (as mentioned above), but also cutting unnecessary bloat from your already working software processes to get more out of your system. 

Because they came to a point in their store’s evolution where they needed to orchestrate a series of actions to get a specific desired outcome that simply can’t be configured through one or multiple plugins. This is a great reason to turn to custom WooCommerce development

The Pros of Custom WooCommerce Development  

When it comes custom WooCommerce development, there are three primary areas where it often makes sense to go the custom route:

WooCommerce Themes

The area where we work the most with our clients on custom ecommerce development is around themes. Oftentimes an off-the-shelf theme works great in the early days of an ecommerce store, but over time the needs often exceed what a theme is capable of achieving. The theme, essentially, can only get you so far with what you want. This is where a lot of our customers find us. They have a need or a problem that their theme can’t address.

What we often end up doing is creating a constrained custom theme that provides our client with the functionality they need and still adheres to brand standards for the ecommerce storefront. We may create custom theme blocks to help our clients build content and save time. We may do customization to create new functionality that the theme lacks. Or, like with our client Countryman we will custom program to create a higher performing storefront.

For several years before coming on board as our client, Countryman was experiencing an increasing number of challenges and instability with its website, which includes an online store that houses 35,000+ product SKUs for highly configurable audio equipment products. Every time they made the smallest change to the website, it would crash the site. With their website being a core marketing force, the situation had become urgent. We worked with them to rebuild their theme, customizing it to their specific needs and optimized it for performance and user experience.  

WooCommerce Performance

Ecommerce performance is another area where custom development is often necessary. One of our clients Red Headed Hostess had a performance issue that was significantly impacting their customers’ user experience. Their site routinely had times of high traffic where customers would come to the store to locate and access their digital assets (content) on the site. This additionally created more work for the company’s customer service team in dealing with customer inquiries when they struggled with finding their assets. We coded custom account screens for their customers so that they could quickly and easily find their assets. We took what was a 3-click, 3-minute customer experience down to a few seconds. This reduced both their customer service burden as well as greatly improved customer experience, engagement and retention.  

Red Headed Hostess is a great example of how custom WooCommerce development can help to align a company’s products to its customer experience. This example also dovetails into our next area where custom solutions play a role – alignment with business processes.

Aligning Business Processes to Ecommerce  

In the case of Red Headed Hostess, the custom solution we created perfectly aligned to the company’s products and how its customers purchase and engage with them and their products. It also alleviated customer service time during peak traffic times of the month, where several customers would be accessing the site simultaneously.

Let’s take a look at another example whereby custom development improved and aligned with business processes. We worked with a business whose product is corrugated metal roofing. They have entire systems that customers purchase where there are rules for the purchasing process (i.e., if a customer selects a particular roofing system, that choice dictates all of the other supporting products for that system). Their old shopping cart listed all of their products together and did not align with how and what customers needed to purchase based on the roofing system they selected.

We built custom screens that walked customers through this process in a natural flow and mobile friendly way, leading them from one decision to the next. The end result was a customized real-time quote that could be accepted immediately. While we designed this for web-based purchases, the company found the most use for the new custom interface in the field for its tablet-based sales team. The sales team was able to develop rich quotes in the field that customers could accept immediately. Thus, significantly streamlining the sales experience for both employees and customers.

Other examples of custom WooCommerce development to align with business practices include:

–   Creating customer interfaces that create exception management with rules engines to fulfill orders to business processes. This type of custom development is especially valuable when there are advanced custom rules that need to be processed quickly for customer experience.

–   Creating custom screens for each employee involved in the order fulfillment workflow process to be completed before the order can move to the next step (i.e., any order over $2,000 for next day shipping gets flagged for potential fraud).

Essentially, a lot of the work we do in the area of custom WooCommerce development and business processes is about aligning the software interface (WooCommerce) with the human interface (employee workflows, customer experience). It’s often worth the investment to do this kind of work as it will result in happier customers and improved customer retention as well as reducing the workload and time it takes for employees to complete work. The more you can align your business operations and processes to your ecommerce storefront, the better!

The Cons of Custom WooCommerce Development  

While there are many advantages to custom development in WooCommerce, there are some things to be aware of if you choose to go down this route with your ecommerce store.

Your Needs May Be Simpler Than You Think or Your Money May Be Better Spent Elsewhere.

There are hundreds if not thousands of features and tools built into the default WordPress/WooCommerce stack. If you can get by with the out of the box experience. If your products you are selling are not complex and do not require more than a picture, title, and price to sell it. If processing orders is easily done through the existing admin. If you manage your marketing and sales where 5% error in processing your orders isn’t an occurrence that happens daily then it is best you actually avoid custom solutions and creatively solve issues through manual processes. At that rate it is typically cheaper than custom code. Such non-nuanced products with minimal issues in receiving and processing orders are signs that you haven’t gone deep enough into the investment

marketing your business or you haven’t developed products that can be highly tailter to your customer’s needs, to be ready for the benefit of custom code.  Your money would be better spent into the attraction stage of your customers journey with your products and brand. 

You’re Committed to It 

It is true that once you go down the route of custom development for custom solutions that you’re committed to it. What this means is that you are no longer primarily using an off-the-shelf theme or out-of-the box plugins – although you may still be using elements of both in combination with custom coding.

With customization you’ll get a much richer high performing site uniquely suited to your business needs, processes and customers, but you’ll have to have a strong development partner to maintain it. 

The Buck Stops with Your Developer 

The upside to having a development partner and customization to your WooCommerce store is that the bucks stops with your ecommerce developer. No more pointing the finger on where the problem lies among the plugin developer, theme developer or host. With custom solutions, the developer is always responsible.

The Bottom Line When It Comes to Custom Solutions

Customer WooCommerce solutions can lead to several benefits:

–   Better integration with external applications

–   Improved security for your storefront

–   Better user experience, notably during the checkout process

–   A higher performing streamlined site

–   Alignment with your ecommerce store and business processes

Ultimately, custom solutions are all about making our client’s ecommerce stores work better for them and their customers.

We like to tell a story of one store owner who had to press a button at 11pm every night on his site to trigger a critical process. We easily automated the process for him so now he gets an email each night at 11:01pm letting him know the process was completed successfully. The manual button is still there, should our client want to still have that control (just in case), but more important he now has control of his life – no more sitting by the store at 11pm each night waiting to press a button.

When you find yourself in need of WooCommerce custom solutions, we invite you to reach out to us and tap into our rich expertise as WooCommerce engineers and ecommerce experts.

Cody Landefeld

co-founder at Mode Effect. ECommerce consultant. Coram deo.

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