Downsides of Using a WooCommerce Shopping Cart for Free Downloads

In my last post, I offered 7 Reasons to Handle Free Downloads with Your WooCommerce Shopping Cart and ended by saying that there are some downsides to consider as well. Let’s dig right into those along with some solutions.

Free Items Throw Off Your Reports

The first downside is that the free items throw off your Sales by Product reports. WooCommerce reports don’t currently differentiate between free and paid products. So if you have a lot of free item “purchases”, those products will dominate your top-seller list instead of showing your actual paid products.

Update: As of WooCommerce version 2.3, the Sales by product report now moves Top Freebies into its own section and doesn’t include those items in the listing of top sellers.

A partial solution is to look at that report by Top Earners rather than by the default Top Sellers. To do so, simply find and click the Top Earners section tab at the bottom of the report’s product list.

I created a GitHub issue at the WooCommerce repository to start some discussion about reporting on free and paid products. I like the ideas presented so far about splitting out the reports. Hopefully, the discussion will lead to a long-term solution.

Update December 2015: In WooCommerce Office Hours Episode 23, Daniel Espinoza explains how to hide free orders from your order list. If you have a lot of freebies it’s a great way to reduce clutter so you can focus on paid orders.

No One Likes Giving Away Personal Information

My friend Steve summed it up nicely in his tweet:

I personally believe in having a good balance between my needs and the customer’s needs—probably weighted more toward the customer’s side of things. That’s why many of the reasons from my last post were of benefit to the customer, such as more reliable downloads and allowing re-downloads of a past items.

There’s a lot of resistance to having to fill out your name, address, phone number, and e-mail, for a free download. And rightfully so! Most of us don’t need so much information in exchange for a free download so it’s understandable when asking for it causes mistrust and suspicion. I know, I’ve received the angry e-mails and found myself agreeing with them.

My solution is to simply not ask for so much information. WooCommerce will happily create an account or process an order for virtual items with only a name and e-mail address. Here’s a small plugin I created to remove all the other checkout fields when an order has a zero total and all of the items are virtual:

Update 2015/08/21: How to Simplify Free WooCommerce Checkout by Beka Rice on the SkyVerge blog presents similar code but not limited to virtual items. It has the nice addition of removing the coupon and customer notes fields.

In addition, the customer doesn’t even have to create an account if you set WooCommerce not to require it. I recommend doing that for customer convenience and to reduce cart abandonment for regular purchases. However, I like to add some explanation to my checkout page explaining the benefits of creating an account, for example:

Creating an account is optional but recommended—An account allows you to view your order history and re-download any digital items you have purchased. Simply create a username and password below.

This can be accomplished by editing an override copy of woocommerce/templates/checkout/form-billing.php placed in your theme.

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