Finding Just-Right Plugins

I met with a client recently to troubleshoot her ecommerce website. We quickly made certain that she still likes the look, that her traffic is good — up 41% compared with the old website — and that organic search is in fact bringing most of her traffic. We walked through a few checkout scenarios and changed a couple of configurations to solve some of her frustrations. We talked about some ways to sway customer behavior, and let her get some anger about shipping costs off her chest.

Then we came to one of the things that really irked her. She couldn’t print invoices the way she wanted to. She showed me one of her printed invoices and described her preferred workflow and spoke passionately about how badly the printed invoice worked for her and the humiliation of sending customers such a badly designed invoice. She shook the paper fiercely.

I reminded her that one of the guys at WordPress Meetup had, when I shared her concerns and asked for suggestions, recommended Shopify. She had tried it, she assured me, and it was if anything worse than Woocommerce.

“What do you do when you print invoices?” she asked as I poked around Woocommerce settings, trying out different configurations.

“I don’t,” I admitted. “We don’t use paper. When we have a client who needs to be able to print things out from their website, we set up PDFs.”

Hearing the word come out of my mouth, I immediately looked for PDF invoice printing plugins and found a bunch. Including one that would print out the invoices in Italian. This is usually what happens when you look for a plugin: there are plenty of options.

With no prior experience of this type of plugin, I chose one that had been recently updated, and which had a large number of ratings and five stars. I made sure the website had been backed up that day, installed the plugin, configured the settings, and got pretty excited about how well it worked.

My client did not agree. “Look at that!” she said. “You tell me what’s wrong with that!” It was a challenge, but our discussion up to that point allowed me to guess correctly.

“It doesn’t show the price per unit, just the total!” she confirmed. My client’s eyes were flashing at this point. “Why do they do that? Everybody wants to see the price per unit!”

The company co-owner was with us, too. “Can’t you just call somebody at Woocommerce?” he asked.

“Oh, I called them,” my client assured him. “They just say, ‘That’s what we have.’” I could tell what kind of conversation that had been.

“Market forces,” I suggested. “You want something specific that’s different from what most people want–”

Wrong thing to say. My client made it clear that “most people” were just wrong.

“In a perfect world,” I said, “Woocommerce would print out proper invoices with the price per unit, but in real life… Aha!”

I had been trying out plugins as we talked, and had found one that would allow the client to print out good-looking invoices, customized with her logo, and to attach them automatically to the customer emails. It also showed the price per unit.

Rosie pointed out that clients aren’t usually around for this part of the work. They don’t watch us trying out multiple plugins until we find one that does just what we want and is also compatible with the rest of the website. They don’t see us configuring stuff and trying out various options.

We don’t find this frustrating. We’re used to it and we can do it pretty efficiently. I rather enjoy it, and sometimes I blog about all the different plugins I’ve tested in the course of a project. For our client, it’s just maddening that the shopping cart doesn’t work the way she wants it to. I didn’t tell her that most companies hate their shopping carts, having determined that this kind of information was not satisfying for her.

Instead, I made some suggestions about the care and feeding of her new plugin. These suggestions will make your search for the just-right plugin easier, too:

  • Try the plugin out and test different configurations and make sure it does what you want. If it isn’t just right, try another. There are plenty of fish in the sea, and plenty of plugins that do roughly the same thing.
  • After installing the plugin, check to make sure that the rest of your website is working correctly. Refresh pages and click on things. Plugins can cause problems because of incompatibility, and you might not notice them immediately, so poke around a bit. If one plugin causes issues on your site, remove it and try another plugin.
  • If you decide to try another plugin for any reason, deactivate the first one. Once you find the just-right plugin, delete the ones you tested. Don’t try two at once, and don’t leave excess plugins sitting around your website.
  • If you can’t find a just-right plugin, you can probably hire someone to build it for you. The cost may be significant, but you can get exactly what you want.

My client felt better at the end of the meeting than at the beginning, though she still thinks Woocommerce is doing it wrong.


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