CGC Update: Replacing WooCommerce with MemberPress

After the bad experience I had last week with WooCommerce that caused me to delay opening early access for Conscious Growth Club, I decided to drop WooCommerce. I know it’s a hugely popular platform, but I don’t see how I can trust it going forward. I find the platform too fragile to use and poorly designed from a user perspective.

I think the problems I encountered stem from the fact that WooCommerce uses a hub and spoke model with one core plugin and lots of extensions to add functionality. You could easily find yourself needing 6-10 extensions to get all the functionality you need, some free and some paid. These extensions are created by different teams, and they seem to easily fall out of sync and cause conflicts with each other. Even after going back and forth with WooCommerce support multiple times, I wasn’t able to remedy the problems that popped up after version 3.0.0 was released. Those problems might have been fixed eventually, but I was already having doubts about the platform before that incident, and this was enough to conclude that I should switch to something else. I gave myself a week to think it over since I had a conference to attend last week anyway. I revisited this decision when I got back, and after weighing the options, I still felt that dropping WooCommerce was the wisest choice for the long term. Fortunately I was still within the refund period for the WooCommerce extensions I purchased, so I got those refunded.

This week I started fresh with another option, which is to use MemberPress for the CGC membership site. That’s been working out so much better. I still have more work to do on the implementation, but it’s been going smoothly so far. I especially appreciate that the MemberPress team replies to their support emails about 3-5x faster than WooCommerce. I often felt stuck waiting for replies from WooCommerce support, only to receive an email asking for more info instead of offering a solution.

With MemberPress I’m just using one key plugin for all the functionality instead of several (okay two plugins with a simple MemberPress add-on for email list integration). It makes a big difference when all the functionality is designed and implemented by a single team. The unified vision of MemberPress really shines through when compared to the kludgy mess that is WooCommerce.

I do feel that the hub and spoke model can work. After all, it’s what WordPress uses, with tens of thousands of plugins available. But for whatever reason, I don’t feel that WooCommerce has pulled this off well enough to provide a stable platform I can trust. In particular they have a bad habit of releasing backwards-incompatible updates that break previous functionality. Maybe in a few years they’ll have a stable enough platform that this won’t be necessary, but I’d like something that works today.

I’ve been working down a 6-page checklist to configure MemberPress to open up CGC for early access, and this week I’ve completed 4.5 of those pages. All the core functionality is working well now. Most of the remaining work includes configuring the emails and styling the pages, so it’s mostly cosmetic. I also need some time to test the platform after all the setup is done.

Initially I had ruled out using MemberPress since it was missing a key feature I really wanted, which was the ability to offer an 8-month payment plan for a 12-month membership (or longer than 12 months with the early access period). But it turns out that the MemberPress team intends to add this feature, probably this year but possibly next year. And in the meantime, with the help of their support, I was able to work out an alternative solution that can allow us to offer this payment plan, although it requires a little more manual work behind the scenes. All in all this is a minor issue compared to the headaches I had getting WooCommerce configured.

The only real downside to using MemberPress is that we won’t be able to support Bitcoin for payments – just credit cards and PayPal. That’s likely to upset one person, maybe two, who said they wanted to use Bitcoin for CGC. For those people, I’m sorry we can’t offer Bitcoin support since MemberPress doesn’t support it, and I totally understand if you won’t be joining CGC because of that. I doubt most people will care though. We accepted Bitcoin for all four of the 2016 workshops, and not a single person used it, so it was ridiculously unpopular as a payment method. Another issue with Bitcoin is that it doesn’t support recurring payments, so we couldn’t have used it for the payment plan option anyway. And by not offering Bitcoin, the checkout process is a bit simpler, which I think is the better way to go.

I don’t anticipate any major issues getting MemberPress up to speed. If the setup work keeps going smoothly, we might be able to open CGC for early access sometime next week. Don’t hold me to that though since it’s hard to predict how long things will take with a new platform that I’m still learning.

Right now I feel pretty relieved to have found a platform that looks to be a much better fit for our needs going forward. It’s important to choose a solid platform from the beginning since switching platforms down the road would be much more difficult. Lately I’ve been seeing some pleas for help from member site owners who are currently trying to flee the Rainmaker platform, for instance.