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4 Simple ways to sell digital products on your WordPress site

Philipp Steinweber
Written by Philipp Steinweber

4 Simple ways to sell digital products on your WordPress site

I feel very practical today. Maybe that’s due to the practical activity of barbecuing yesterday. Or simply the change (that I always adore!) from writing some more theoretical things during the last few days. Anyways, today is hands on:
You want to sell digital products on your WordPress site?
And don’t want to mess around with overly complex e-commerce solutions?
Welcome to this post!

E-commerce vs. just selling

If you ask some web design studios for a website where you can sell stuff, they get those large shiny eyes and send you a quote with a 5 or 6 digit number on it. And they might be right. If you need an inventory control system, customer management, and have thousands of products, be prepared to pay thousands of dollars every month for the software alone.

Our typical client requires something else: a buy now button which allows them to receive an instant payment, after which a digital product of whatever kind is delivered. Or a workshop or coaching call is scheduled. And, possibly they’re not based in Germany*. That’s something that’s pretty easy to set up.

Below we share our experiences with various services that we’ve used previously for achieving exactly that: taking payments and sending out digital goods with as few clicks as possible.

The options

A note before we get started: We’re focusing our review on services that are targeted towards end users rather than developers. Some of them are compatible with, or even built on payment providers like Stripe and PayPal. However we don’t look at the PayPal “buy now” button or Stripe Checkout per se here, because they’re not optimized for automatically sending out a digital product.

Gumroad

gumroad-logo-bigGumroad is a relatively new kid on the block, but already developing in the direction of becoming an indie industry standard. At least they’re being praised by famous publishers like Nathan Barry, without having an affiliate program.  And a complete rethink of publishing and selling digital products seems necessary, when we look at how dusty old players like PayPal feel.

Gumroad offers the full service a publisher would think of when it comes to selling ebooks or other digital media formats:

  • Receiving credit card payments and forwarding them to one’s bank account
  • Hosting and delivering the digital product

And it is incredibly simple to use, for both the creator and consumer. The checkout process works via an overlay over their own website, which is nice as it gives a very integrated feeling.

However its simplicity has a downside: it might not be the right thing for you if you want to sell a product which can not be rendered into a media file, like a complex workshop or a consultation session. Or at least you have to find some kind of workaround.

The fees are reasonable and per transaction; that means there’s no monthly fee that has to be paid. This makes it very suitable for Bootstrappers and side projects. Note that the transaction fees from Stripe are quite a bit lower (2.9% + 30c in the US), so a custom developed solution might be worth it for larger volumes.

Receiving payments Native integration, accepting credit cards
Payment delivery time Weekly on Fridays
Hosting digital products Yes
Collects email address of buyer Yes, CSV download possible
Subscriptions possible Yes
Affiliate tracking possible Yes
Proper invoices with VAT No, only receipts
Ease of setup
Fees 5% + 25c per transaction

We like Gumroad for its simplicity. Everyone can get started with it within minutes. For larger volumes it might be worth looking for a solution with lower fees.

Go to gumroad.com

 

SendOwl

sell with send owlSendOwl is similar to Gumroad when it comes to ease of setup. It’s also  similar in regard to being a full-feature solution, including hosting and delivering the products. The main difference is the pricing model:

While Gumroad charges per transaction, SendOwl charges a monthly fee. This starts as low as $9 for up to 10 products. Subscriptions are available in higher priced plans, but quite limited in their amounts. Even the highest plan offers only 3 different subscriptions.

An interesting SendOwl feature, one that Gumroad only offers via nerdy workarounds, is the possibility of affiliate tracking. Another plus is that payments are forwarded instantly.

There’re not many cons with SendOwl. It is not as famous as Gumroad yet, therefore we’ll have to keep an eye on it to see if it’s sustainable in the long run. Their plans sound solid though.

It wouldn’t be the solution of our choice for heavily subscription based businesses, but it’s incredibly convincing for selling a small number of high volume products.

Receiving payments Native integration, accepting credit cards and PayPal
Payment delivery time Instantly
Hosting digital products Yes
Collects email address of buyer Yes, plus Mailchimp integration (+others)
Subscriptions possible Yes, but limited in amount
Affiliate tracking possible Yes
Proper invoices with VAT No, only receipts
Ease of setup
Fees monthly plans from $9 – $39
Go to Sendowl.com

Easy Digital Downloads

edd_sittingLet’s transition away from fully hosted solutions to WordPress plugins that allow us to achieve similar goals.Easy Digital Downloads is one of those plugins that we can’t skip in a review post like this. It does exactly what we’re looking at. And it’s free. So how does it work?

As usual with WordPress plugins, they have to be installed via the backend. This is slightly more techy than registering for an account somewhere, but very well manageable. That tech guy you know and trust is very capable of helping out in case it’s too tough.

Once installed you’ll find it in your WordPress backend. That’s charming, because that’s the place where you spend a lot of your time anyways. You don’t have to leave to check your reports.

If you know your WordPress backend, handling the plugin won’t be a huge challenge for you. Every product feels like a post, with some additional fields below the description. Those fields allow you to set the price, upload the product, and more.

Further settings like the checkout process and payment gateways are in a dedicated settings area for the plugin.

As mentioned, the whole thing is totally free! This should ring some alarm bells, because as a business owner you should be looking out that your business is based on other financially sustainable businesses. But they’ve got this covered: they offer extensions upon payment of additional fees.

Those include things like: additional payment gateways (PayPal basic is included, Stripe and Paypal Pro/Express cost extra), subscriptions, Mailchimp integration, PDF invoices, Affiliate tracking, etc..

Those costs can add up if you require a lot of those plugins. As quite common with extensions for professional plugins, you can use them forever, but you only get support and updates for a year. Renewal required!

For example: let’s say you want to use Stripe as a payment gateway, offer subscriptions, and want to tie the whole system to your Mailchimp:

  • Stripe extension, 1 site: $29
  • Mailchimp extension, 1 site: $29
  • Recurring Payments extension, 1 site: $83

This makes $141 in the first year, and ~$99 in the following years (due to a 30% discount for renewals). Plus transaction fees from the payment gateway itself, Stripe in this case. Not so free anymore huh?

Receiving payments PayPal basic (free), many more available as paid extensions
Payment delivery time Depending on provider
Hosting digital products Nope, they’ll be on your own server
Collects email address of buyer Mailchimp and other integrations available as paid extensions
Subscriptions possible Available as paid extension
Affiliate tracking possible Available as paid extension
Proper invoices with VAT Available as paid extension
Ease of setup
Fees Paid extensions + Payment provider fees

So really, what counts are the exact requirements you have, and the volume that you’re selling. The “free” product can end up costing more than products that charge a monthly plan.

Go to easydigitaldownloads.com

WooCommerce

woocommerce_logoI promised we wouldn’t bother analyzing complex e-commerce systems, and now along comes WooCommerce which can do all that. So while a WooCommerce site can be a store with physical goods (we suggest no more than 50), invoicing system and all that – it doesn’t have to be.

We do enjoy using it, because they still manage one thing: keeping it simple. If you don’t need certain features, there’s no need to use or even see them. A lot of these are considered extensions anyways and you don’t even have them referenced in the default options.

Their business model is the same as the Easy Digital Downloads above: free basic structure, paid extensions. Will all the upsides and downsides already mentioned.

A very interesting thing about WooCommerce, which really distinguishes it from others, is the possibilities the extensions open up.  For example they recently released a bookings extension, which allows super easy scheduling for coaches or other businesses that are based on “appointments” .

Generally their extensions are really professional, but also pricey. The bookings extension is currently on sale for $149 – its normal price is $249 (for one site!). Keep in mind: also here you have to renew it on a yearly basis if you want upgrades and support. You’ll get a 50% discount in this case.

Given the ease of other products, we usually use WooCommerce when we require one of those more complex use cases. Another one they are good at: selling things on the German market. E-Commerce regulations in Germany are quite a bit different from the rest of the world’s. There’s a structure you have to follow when it comes to accepting the terms and conditions and the checkout process. WooCommerce offers (third party) extensions for the German market, which is quite a rare thing to find.

But anyhow, if you’re a German business selling primarily to Germans, you should talk to someone who knows the regulations. No DIY solution recommended!

Back to WooCommerce:

Receiving payments PayPal basic (free), many more available as paid extensions
Payment delivery time Depending on provider
Hosting digital products Nope, they’ll be on your own server
Collects email address of buyer Yes, Mailchimp and other integrations available as paid extensions
Subscriptions possible Available as paid extension
Affiliate tracking possible Available as paid extension
Proper invoices with VAT Available as paid extension
Ease of setup
Fees Paid extensions + Payment provider fees

WooCommerce’s usecase is very similar to Easy Digital Downloads. With a bit more space above for more advanced solutions, but at the same time a slightly higher technical entry gate, simply because it’s made for all kinds of ecommerce applications.

If you want to be highly flexible in customizing and tracking the checkout process, this is the weapon of your choice.

Go to WooCommerce

Nutshellized

So the first thing you should consider when selling a digital product is: doing it via a service that is exactly dedicated to that, or doing it via a WordPress plugin.

The first approach (hosted versions) is easier but more limited. If it does exactly what you want, feel free to go for it. Just make sure to select the appropriate pricing model for your vision. Gumroad if you want to avoid monthly fees, and SendOwl if the monthly fees don’t bother you but you want to save in the high volume areas.

The second approach (self hosted WordPress versions) is slightly more complex to set up and maintain, but more flexible and extendable, i.e. you or your developer have access to the code and therefore you can customize a lot. WooCommerce for the more ambitious who want to customize the checkout process (or are based in Germany), or sell something slightly more complicated than a PDF. Easy Digital Downloads for quick and easy selling of your product.

About the author

Philipp Steinweber

Philipp Steinweber

Philipp is the founder of Metamonks and Omooni, and passionate about personal growth. On Soulful Hustle he open-sources the strategies and insights learned from his projects.

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