(This article comes this week instead of our regular “recommended plugin” feature – though we do recommend WooCommerce!).

The growth of WooCommerce has been amazing – it’s not just WordPress’s most popular e-commerce plugin; it’s now the Internet’s most popular e-commerce solution (around a 20% market-share, last time I saw it mentioned). WooCommerce powers updraftplus.com, and has done since we first launched a dedicated UD website in February 2013.

The latest major WooCommerce update has just been released – the 2.3, “Handsome Hippo” series. In WooCommerce version-numbering, a change to the second part of the version number indicates a major release. So, this is the first major release since 2.2, back in September 2014.

What do you need to know?

1. You very likely don’t want to update yet

This really is the first thing that should be said with a new major WooCommerce release… whatever is in it, or is not in it – wait before upgrading (and then be careful)!

Why? The WooCommerce team don’t have the same outlook upon major updates as the WordPress core team do.

With WordPress core, the developers make it a goal to make sure that all plugins remain compatible with new releases. Nothing that’s correctly written for a previous WordPress release ought to break with a new one, if at all possible. This isn’t 100% achievable in reality of course – there are around 35,000 WordPress plugins out there – but their track record is very good.

However, this is not a goal of the WooCommerce developers. They have a different view: that developers of WooCommerce extensions should track WooCommerce development as new versions are being created, and be ready with new releases of their extensions in time for the WooCommerce release, if one is needed. WooCommerce developers are more relaxed about making changes that can break extensions – their view is that the extension authors, and shop owners, need to make sure that they have compatible extensions – i.e. don’t update your website until you do.

WooCommerce releases also tend to come fairly quickly after the first announcement of beta and “release candidate” versions. In practice, not all extension authors will have their extensions tested and ready before the WooCommerce release. Even if they do, the time they’ve had to do so may be more limited than they’d have liked. Bugs may remain.

Which approach is best (and for who!), etc., is not the point here. We’re interested in what it means in practice, if you’re running a shop. In practice, it boils down to this:

  1. Certainly don’t update WooCommerce until you’ve checked out whether your extensions are compatible with the new major version. (Either that they have a release that is marked as compatible, or that the extension author has stated that the existing version is already fully compatible).
  2. You’d be wise to wait at least a couple of weeks before updating WooCommerce at all. The rapid pace of development (which is great – we all love new capabilities and new ways to sell more and better!) means that new WooCommerce releases are likely to have lots of bugs that will be ironed out in the coming days. The changelog for WooCommerce bears this out – and in fact, the 2.3 series has already had two releases with multiple bug-fixes in the 24 hours since 2.3 came out.
  3. You really ought to (and WooCommerce always recommend this) making a clone of your shop, and updating that and testing everything on it, before you update the live shop itself. There’s a great backup/clone/restore plugin we recommend for doing that! 😉

Our sister company produces a few WooCommerce plugins. These are all tested and the current releases (new releases were made for some) are all compatible with WooCommerce 2.3 (and 2.2 and 2.1 and 2.0!):

2. So, what’s in WooCommerce 2.3?

Why update anyway? Ultimately, of course, future security issues will only be fixed in the current WooCommerce major series – you’ll want to make sure that if a security problem is found in WooCommerce (as they are, from time to time; again, see the changelog), that you can make a simple minor update within the series instead of needing to be thinking of all the issues of a major update instead. And, extensions you buy in the future will be most tested (if not only compatible with) the latest WooCommerce release. But, beyond that – what are the goodies in WooCommerce 2.3?

The major elements are…

Design

The “Handsome Hippo” contains a front-end and back-end design refresh. The new design is intended to go along more with current “flat design” trends. If you have a dedicated WooCommerce theme, then this may not affect you – but it likely will if you’re using the default WooCommerce theme. So, be aware that updating might make a significant change to the look-and-feel of your shop.

There are some other minor design and usability tweaks – e.g. making it easier to remove items from your cart, and a way to “undo” if you removed something you didn’t mean to.

Geo-location

Shoppers can now have their location detected (via their IP address), and have taxes shown appropriately for their location. This is handy for people selling digital goods to EU buyers, who have taxes that vary according to the buyers’ location. (This will be true for physical goods also in 2016). This is not a complete EU VAT compliance solution – but it helps. (To get a fuller solution, use something like this plugin).

Coupon and tax changes

WooCommerce’s previous “apply coupon after taxes” feature, which complied with no known tax law anywhere in the world, is now gone. (There might have been some clever uses, such as combined with store credits, where it might have been compliant). Unfortunately, this used to be the default setting… but happily, you’ll never be able to use it again!

Also, sales reports charts now separate sales from taxes – so that you can compare your sales without needing to also look at whether the increase in sales was actually just because your customers paid more taxes today and not a real increase (again, this is more likely to affect you if your taxes vary, like in an EU digital VAT situation).

The rest is mostly under the hood

There’s other minor stuff… but that’s not a hugely exciting list of changes, is it? The reason is that there’s been more stuff “under the hood” that will get developers interested, and pave the way for new ways of interacting with WooCommerce (think: better mobile apps and integrations with third-party services). All that stuff is in lead developer Mike Jolley’s post, here.

3. Executive summary, please!

  • WooCommerce is still growing and moving forward. It’s a great solution for a lot of people, and the they’re still building for the future.
  • Major releases can break things. Wait, then update carefully, and check the compatibility of your add-ons and test on a cloned site first (use UpdraftPlus!).
  • There are some design changes (so, be aware that your shop may look a little different in places), and other minor tweaks – nothing earth-shattering.

David Anderson (founder, lead developer, UpdraftPlus)

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