Selling digital products is a profitable business and a relatively risk-free way to tap into your entrepreneurial side. Getting started with a digital products business isn’t just easier logistically but it’s also very accessible given the many SaaS and open-source store builder solutions.
Most digital commerce entrepreneurs choose WordPress to power their digital product stores. It’s an intelligent choice as, unlike SaaS eCommerce platforms (that come with a monthly subscription fee), WordPress (being an open-source platform) is free to use.
These users often default to WooCommerce for selling their products. You can understand why: WooCommerce is the most popular WordPress plugin for building online stores. But while it is so, it’s not the only option when it comes to selling digital products on WordPress. There are better and simpler alternatives like Download Monitor for selling downloadables.
If you, too, are considering WooCommerce to set up your digital downloads store, this article is for you. In it, we’ll see how WooCommerce works as a digital products store builder and how it compares with Download Monitor.
Selling digital products via a WooCommerce digital downloads store vs. Selling via an alternative like Download Monitor
Both WooCommerce and Download Monitor are WordPress plugins that you can use to sell downloadable items. You can access the basic versions for both for free. The WordPress community is also available to help you with both, just like with other free WordPress repository plugins.
But while both of these plugins let you create a digital products store, they are fundamentally different.
The main differences: WooCommerce vs. Download Monitor, when it comes to setting up an online digital product store
Setting up a WooCommerce digital downloads store:
WooCommerce is the go-to solution for building eCommerce stores that sell physical products. It comes with exhaustive settings for shipping and logistics, inventory management, taxes, and even point-of-sale setups.
Sure, you can use it to sell digital products — but it’s just another use case in the case of WooCommerce. As a result, you don’t get a clean, lean setup process, even when selecting your product type as digital. Also, your WordPress dashboard feels bloated as the several dozen settings and options that don’t apply to you still live on it.
Plus, you’ll eventually need a host of WooCommerce extensions to power your digital product sales.
If you ask us, the choice between opening a WooCommerce digital downloads store and selling digital products via a plugin like Download Monitor really comes down to how much you can invest in maintaining a bulky infrastructure of which you use, say, just 20% or less. You get the drift.
Selling digital products with Download Monitor:
Download Monitor is a lightweight plugin that does just one thing — help you sell digital products — and does it well, without overwhelming you with functionality, features, and settings that you simply don’t need.
With Download Monitor, you can start selling your downloads in three easy steps and a few settings. You don’t even have to open a full-fledged online store like required by WooCommerce.
It’s an alternative to WooCommerce, but for users who want to exclusively sell digital products. You can think of it as a lightweight digital products-first online store solution.
Since Download Monitor is made from the ground up for selling digital items, it offers several digital sales features, including:
- IP address tracking of the users who access your files
- Monitoring of the number of downloads of each of your digital files/products
- Tracking of the visitors’ country, among other details
In contrast to WooCommerce, Download Monitor focuses exclusively on digital/ downloadable products.
So what can you sell via a WooCommerce digital downloads store or Download Monitor?
Both WooCommerce and Download Monitor let you sell all kinds of digital offerings, including:
- Digital files (digital art, music, PDFs, etc.)
- Digital products like courses
So how do you decide which is the best solution for building your digital products business?
Choosing the best solution for selling your digital products
Though built originally as a store builder for physical goods sellers, WooCommerce supports digital goods sales, too. You can set up a WooCommerce store and start selling your digital products on this platform.
However the many settings available within WooCommerce — that are related to physical items — can be pretty distracting. You’ll be saddled with an infrastructure and a dashboard that has an overwhelming number of options.
In contrast, with an alternative like Download Monitor, you get a clean interface for powering your digital sales. Just upload your digital products, manage them (versioning, setting access and download limits, etc.), and enable easy purchasing and downloading — and done.
If you’re still keen on opening a WooCommerce digital downloads store, keep these evaluation guidelines in mind.
Evaluating WooCommerce for usability
There are three parts to assessing a WordPress digital products store builder for usability. Here’s a look at how WooCommerce and Download Monitor measure up on the usability front.
1. Setting up your store.
Here you’re concerned with how easy or difficult the initial product setup is.
Being a complete online store solution, WooCommerce comes with dozens of initial configuration settings. Also, if you read the docs to set up a WooCommerce digital downloads store, you’ll find that you need to get your hands dirty with some PHP coding as well.
If you want to use your cloud storage (like Google Drive) to host your files to deliver via your WooCommerce digital downloads site, there’s additional setup and configuration to do.
On top of it all, you might be forced to go with a WooCommerce-compatible WordPress template to set up your WooCommerce store. In its getting started tutorial, you’ll see that choosing a WooCommerce theme for your WooCommerce store is one of the first five customization steps for setting it up.
But you aren’t done just yet.
You may find as you set up your store that you need to add extensions to make up for the digital selling functionality that WooCommerce misses in the core plugin.
With Download Monitor, on the other hand, you don’t have to set up a store at all! You can start selling your digital products directly on your WordPress site in a few simple steps and some settings.
2. Stocking it up.
The next important thing usability-wise, is how easily you’re able to add new products to your store.
With a WooCommerce digital downloads store, adding a new product is like adding a blog post. Adding product pages works the same way even with Download Monitor, but it’s more straightforward as Download Monitor only deals with digital downloads.
Both the plugins treat products as custom post types. And both let you bulk import products to your online store.
3. Managing your store.
Managing your store includes not just managing the core plugin and the customizations you do to it, but also the whole ecosystem you build with it. In the case of WooCommerce, this means managing your WooCommerce products, all the extensions that you use, your WooCommerce theme, and hosting (if you use a specialized one).
If you go with a plugin like Download Monitor, all this is simplified as you’re only adding a lightweight plugin and a bunch of extensions to your website.
Looking at WooCommerce’s out-of-the-box functionality (for selling virtual products)
Again, because WooCommerce is primarily an eCommerce solution for selling physical products, it lacks some of the key features that make digital product sales easy.
For example, WooCommerce doesn’t offer out-of-the-box functionalities like tracking the number of file downloads or creating ‘Members only’ or ‘Subscribers only’ downloads that require users to be logged in to download the files. This is something that Download Monitor offers even in its free version. And this is just one example.
WooCommerce offers a lot of ecommerce capabilities, but Download Monitor offers a lot of digital product sales capabilities. With Download Monitor, you get to display download links on the frontend using shortcodes, link to files hosted on Amazon S3, serve expiring download links, among others.
Because Download Monitor is a focused digital product sales solution, it’s a lot cleaner and lightweight. As a result, it doesn’t generate a lot of caching or impact your website’s loading time and performance as much as running a full-blown WooCommerce store does.
Reviewing WooCommerce for updates and new extensions
WooCommerce comes from the WordPress family and powers millions of online stores. It’s an actively maintained plugin. WooCommerce also has a huge marketplace with extensions to help you add more functionality to your WooCommerce digital downloads store.
Different companies and independent developers offer these marketplace extensions. So while they’re vetted for quality, compatibility issues can arise. You might also experience some struggle to get everything to work together.
Likewise, even Download Monitor is an actively maintained plugin.
At Download Monitor, we don’t just develop our core plugin and add more functionality to it but also actively release new extensions based on our users’ feedback. Since our users comprise just digital sellers, we only invest our bandwidth in developing stuff that makes the lives of digital sellers easy.
For example, with Download Monitor’s extensions like Amazon s3 and Google Drive, you get to host your files on your preferred storage solutions. The Terms & Conditions extension lets you enforce terms before your users can download your digital products. The Page Addon enables you to showcase all your downloadable files with their categories and tags and create a beautiful “Downloads” page.
If you subscribe to Download Monitor’s Core Extension Bundle, you get access to all the existing extensions and the future ones as they get released; you don’t have to buy them one by one.
Assessing a WooCommerce digital downloads store’s viability price-wise
The core WooCommerce plugin is free. But to add specific payment gateways (other than the free ones like PayPal and Stripe), subscription services, inventory management features, etc., you’ll have to purchase extensions. Each extension can cost you anything from $29 to $79/year. Depending on the functionalities you need, you could be looking at 4-5 extensions to run your WooCommerce digital downloads store.
Just like WooCommerce’s plugin, the core Download Monitor plugin is also free. If you happen to need several extensions, you can purchase the Core Extension Bundle. Download Monitor’s Core Extension Bundle subscription doesn’t just give you instant access to all the existing extensions but also to all the future ones that get developed. Licenses are yearly subscriptions, and you can cancel at any time.
The final word: Opening a WooCommerce digital downloads store or using a plugin like Download Monitor
As a digital goods seller, you don’t need the hundreds of functionalities WooCommerce comes with. Instead, you can use a plugin that lets you do what you want to do — sell digital products — without overwhelming you.
Wrapping it up…
WooCommerce and Download Monitor are both great plugins that let you sell digital products. But if you want to launch a purely digital products store, Download Monitor is the better option. And it’s so because it’s built for just that. It doesn’t come with the bells and whistles that WooCommerce comes with, simply because you don’t need them as a digital seller.
When you try setting up both the plugins, you’ll realize this for yourself. Selling digitally with WooCommerce needs you to build a full-blown online store. Whereas with Download Monitor, selling digital products is as simple as uploading your files and doing a few settings.
That said, if you think that you could eventually expand to a hybrid business and physically ship products as well, you might want to start with WooCommerce.
It comes down to your unique needs.
So if you’re clear that you want to start a business selling digital products and stick to digital goods only, start right. Get going with Download Monitor — a lightweight plugin that’s easy to set up, use, and maintain. And when you’re ready, get our Core Extension Bundle.