Today is the 5th anniversary of the release of Woocommerce, the eCommerce platform the engine behind almost 40% of online stores and the one I recommend for artists, makers, and businesses selling products online. To celebrate five years of empowering people to start their own, independent online stores, I’m writing a 2016 in Woocommerce Review. Let’s take a look back at the highlights of past twelve months because age certainly isn’t slowing Woocommerce down!

A year ago when Woocommerce turned four, it had been downloaded over 10 million times and was the platform behind over 30% of all online stores. Today it stands at 16.9 million downloads and 39% market share—which translates to over 1.5 million websites all over the world using Woocommerce to make their businesses succeed.

Better Support for a Better Product

With growth like that, the Woocommerce support team was beginning to feel spread a little thin, and in December Woocommerce announced their plans to expand their support resources through adding more people to the support team, improving support staff training, making their ticket tracking system more efficient, and improving the quality of their knowledge base articles to make it easier for users to help themselves.

As an free open-source project, Woocommerce’s revenue and staffing model has meant that tech support has always been a mix of official Woocommerce support and users helping each other on online forums, Slack channels, and blogs. But with Woocommerce’s growth both into larger businesses and in small, DIY stores better access to Woocommerce Support is a welcome improvement which put is at the top of my 2016 in Woocommerce Review.

Connecting Online Stores with Offline Selling

Woocommerce has made building your own independent eCommerce store easier than ever. But until this year connecting that store to offline shops, be they a booth at an art show or a full-fledged storefront, has meant wading into the waters of third-party plugins and unpredictable hardware support. Over the past twelve months the situation has gotten much better, which puts this second in my 2016 in Woocommerce Review.

Woocommerce made the situation much better in 2016 with the release of not one but two plugins that allow inventory synchronization between Woocommerce and established POS players Lightspeed and Square. Now, instead of maintaining two different sets of product descriptions, photos, specs, variations, and prices, you can keep your Woocommerce catalog in sync with the catalog your POS uses, all automatically. And a great cheer was heard from artists, makers, and small businesses everywhere.

Speedy Stores with Dashing Dolphin

Another perennial item reappearing in my 2016 in Woocommerce Review is performance. Woocommerce is, at its core, a WordPress plugin, and WordPress does is magic by using a database to store site data and PHP scripts to assemble pages from data and html on the fly. With Woocommerce, the size of the datasets can grow huge, especially for a store with hundreds of variable products.

To address this, January 2016 saw the release of Woocommerce 2.5, code named “Dashing Dolphin”. Version 2.5 was focused on making Woocommerce a faster, and more efficient database user, which in turn allows it to scale up to even larger stores.

Keeping Your Store Secure

Online security becomes more important every year, especially for websites that accept payments. The PCI Security Council has a roadmap for tightening its requirements for security on online stores, and Woocommerce certainly hasn’t been falling behind.

In June 2016 Woocommerce 2.6, “Zipping Zebra”, was released, and with it came changes to the default payment gateways bundled with Woocommerce. Woocommerce now uses Stripe for credit cards and bitcoin, and PayPal powered by Braintree as an alternative. Crucially, both of these payment gateways use tokenized transactions to send credit card information.

This means that the customer’s payment information is encrypted even before it leaves the customer’s computer, and is sent directly to Stripe’s or Braintree’s servers where it is decrypted for processing. This means that Woocommerce stores using these gateways don’t need to be fully PCI compliant as they never store or transmit unencrypted financial data.

PCI compliance is still a good idea for online stores, and some hosting companies like SiteGround offer packages that are PCI-compliant out of the box. But Woocommerce’s use of tokenized payment gateways takes risk off the shoulders of small online stores and earns it a spot in my 2016 in Woocommerce Review.

Foundations for the Future

Not all of the big news this year has resulted in new features or products for the typical Woocommerce user. For example, May’s announcement of Woocommerce Connect makes possible a future where services like shipping rate lookups could be provided by a hosted service offered by Woocommerce, rather than by stand-alone plugins each requiring separate configuration for every Woocommerce store. Whether the promise of Woocommerce Connect will be realized soon will be a topic for next year’s birthday review.

We Find out What’s in a Name

If I was writing this article four months ago, it would have been full of references to WooThemes, the company that started as a Theme developer before releasing a little plugin called Woocommerce. In July, WooThemes officially changed the company name to Woocommerce, reflecting how that little plugin had grown to be so central both to the work of the company and the businesses of millions of companies all over the world.

Happy Birthday to Woo

Five years of success is a major achievement for any business. Five years of success on the internet is doubly impressive. In their announcement of their name change, Woocommerce had this to say:

“eCommerce has been driving our business for years. Continuing to lead the charge in changing the way people do business online is what makes us tick. We remain committed as ever to open source, the open web and being a business that enables other businesses to thrive.

With the promise of Woocommerce Connect, the infusion of resources brought by their 2015 acquisition by Automattic (the corporate steward and development lead for WordPress), and an ever-growing community of developers, designers, and customers, I can’t wait to see what the next five years of Woocommerce brings.