WooCommerce has launched Woo Express, a new managed hosting product that uses WordPress.com’s infrastructure and relieves store owners of the responsibilities of hosting and maintenance. The company soft-launched Woo Express in early March with a small selection of visitors but has concluded that phase and opened it up to the public.
Woo Express provides a selection of extensions already installed and professionally-designed themes but is built with the same open source platform that allows store owners to install any plugin or theme. Merchants can use WooCommerce Payments or any other payment gateway they choose. The plans also include automated backups, security scanning, and a custom domain and SSL certificate.
At WooSesh in October 2022, the company announced it was working on a hosted WooCommerce solution just as GoDaddy had launched an open access preview of Managed WooCommerce Stores to US-based customers, and Bluehost launched its WooCommerce offering a month prior. The drive to provide a more customized, user-friendly onboarding experience beyond simply having WooCommerce pre-installed, is getting more competitive.
Pricing for Woo Express’ hosting plans comes in slightly more expensive than GoDaddy’s introductory $20.99/mo pricing (renews at $29.99/mo) for the most basic plan, but cheaper than GoDaddy’s mid-tier and upper-tier plans which start at $99.99/mo and $149.99/mo.
Bluehost sits at the budget end of the WooCommerce hosting spectrum with plans starting at $9.95/mo (renews at $24.95/mo) and an upper end plan at $12.95/mo (renews at $39.95) that adds the ability to manage product inventory across Etsy, Amazon, and eBay from a consolidated dashboard via Ecomdash.
Comparing plans across managed WooCommerce hosts isn’t straightforward as they all offer different features for a variety of stores at different pricing tiers. One major differentiator is the extensions bundled with the plan.
Although WooCommerce may be late to the game in offering a managed hosting solution, the makers of the e-commerce software have a clear advantage with their position in the WooCommerce ecosystem and a marketplace of more than 800 products. Woo Express has launched with a compelling set of commercial extensions bundled into the hosting plans, including product add-ons, product bundles, gift cards, min/max quantities, back in stock notifications, brands, product recommendations, subscriptions, in-person payments, shipment tracking, and more. Storeowners who were to purchase all of these extensions individually would spend far more than the annual cost of Woo Express hosting.
Woo Express Goes All-In on Block-Based Stores
WooCommerce is still working through the process of “blockifying” all aspects of store templates, and Woo Express is ready to carry the standard with a block theme as the default when customers sign up.
“One of our goals for Woo Express is to give new merchants the best of everything WordPress offers — the site editor and the blocks we’ve built for WooCommerce mean you can create a beautiful site to express your brand without coding knowledge,” WooCommerce COO Warren Holmes said.
“Woo Express ships with Tsubaki as the default, a modern, commerce-focused, block-based theme. We’ve made it easier for new merchants to get started with this theme by creating default content powered by our blocks. That includes the new cart and checkout blocks, which provides a more delightful experience for shoppers and better conversions for merchants.”
A few other commercial themes Automattic designed for Woo Express include Amulet, Zaino, Tazza, and Thriving Artist. Store owners are also free to install any theme from the wide world of WooCommerce themes, not just the ones included in the hosting plan.
Woo Express has a 14-day free trial so prospective hosting customers can try out the bundled extensions, themes, and the environment to see if it will fit their needs. The onboarding experience was designed to be friendly for merchants but developers still have access to everything under the hood.
“With every managed WordPress.com environment, you get access to a native GitHub integration, you can run WP-CLI commands, check server logs, access to DBs directly and set up your workflows through SSH and SFTP, and much more,” WooCommerce developer advocate Stephanie Pi said in a post outlining the new product on the company’s Developer blog.
As WooCommerce has become the most used open source e-commerce software, powering 23% of the top million online stores, managed hosting products have the potential to drive this growth even further. Users have an expectation that things will just work, but the reality is that much of WooCommerce’s open source ecosystem has grown up like wildflowers in a field. There are many great solutions out there but they don’t all work harmoniously together, which can drive people to proprietary, turnkey e-commerce solutions.
On a recent Do the Woo podcast episode, WooCommerce Head of Engineering Beau Lebens discussed how curated solutions like Woo Express bring some uniformity to the WooCommerce ecosystem. Putting a bunch of disparate solutions together hasn’t always provided the best experience for merchants, and it introduces complexity that can drive users away.
WooCommerce announced its intention to collaborate with hosting partners in October 2022 with WordPress.com as the first to pilot the new managed hosting solution. At that time Lebens said “details like different versions and white-labeling are still under consideration” but WooCommerce is interested in making customization available to suit the specific needs of hosts and their customers.
Holmes said his team is also currently in the process of evaluating an affiliate program to enable developers and the broader community to spread the word about Woo Express.
When asked about the status of other hosting partners offering Woo Express on their own infrastructure, Holmes said WooCommerce is still evaluating the possibilities.
“Many merchants experience WooCommerce with the help of one of hundreds of amazing independent WordPress / Woo hosts around the world, and we regard that as an indispensable part of Woo’s success and place in the e-commerce landscape,” Holmes said. “We’re hard at work on a way to expand our collaboration with hosts in the future through Woo Express. At the moment we don’t have anything specific to announce, but we do currently have multiple teams looking into this.”
Launching a managed hosting product puts WooCommerce in a unique position to tailor the core software to better serve the needs of store owners and hosting partners that are furthering its adoption, benefiting all who are using WooCommerce and building products for it.
“We’re very much using this as a way to drive improvements on the merchant experience in WooCommerce Core,” Lebens said on the Do the Woo podcast. “So that will be available to everyone, including all other hosts.
“But it also means that, as a package, we can start to say, because we do partner with other hosts, we work with them very directly, and we can say, ‘Hey, look, this stuff works better.’ If you bundle all of this together, if you offer this with a free trial, if you keep your pricing in this range, whatever it is, the learnings that we have from doing this ourselves, absolutely we intend to share this with hosts and work with other hosts to implement this for the whole ecosystem.”