Note: This is a guest post by Katie Keith from Barn2 Media.
As the world’s biggest e-commerce platform, WooCommerce is now used for over 37% of online shops. It has been downloaded more than 14 million times and is rapidly growing in popularity.
Its growth is set to continue after WooThemes – the company behind WooCommerce – was bought by Automattic – the company behind WordPress – in 2015.
With so many users, WooCommerce is designed to meet a huge range of business needs.
This creates fantastic opportunities for anyone wanting to create an online store in WordPress – even those with unusual or niche requirements.
One such requirement is the need to create private WooCommerce stores, with a unique set of products available to each individual customer.
Here are some examples of when you might want to use WooCommerce to sell customer-specific products:
There are many other scenarios where online store owners need to sell different WooCommerce products to different customers.
Below, we will outline some solutions which can be used to meet any of these business needs.
The free WooCommerce plugin lets you password protect individual products, in exactly the same way as you can password protect pages and posts.
This is the simplest way to sell customer-specific WooCommerce products. It can be achieved using a basic WooCommerce setup with no extra plugins or custom development.
The main downside of this option is that it’s only really suitable if you have 1 product for each customer.
Yes, you can create multiple products for each customer – but this isn’t very professional because the customer will have to enter a password to view each product (even if you use the same password for each product).
Another downside is that you won’t be able to have a main shop page or a widget listing all your products because this would include your password protected products. If you also have a public shop, then this might be a deal-breaker for you.
By default, it’s not possible to password protect product categories in WooCommerce. However, you can easily achieve this with a handy WordPress plugin called WooCommerce Password Protected Categories.
WooCommerce Password Protected Categories does exactly what its name suggests. It lets you create private product categories and assign a single password to the entire category.
The category page (and its sub-categories, if there are any) and all the products within that category are automatically protected by a single password.
Once a customer enters the password, the whole category is unlocked and they won’t have to enter the password again for the next 10 days.
This plugin is ideal for online stores selling customer-specific products because you can give your customers a link to their category page and a single password.
Once you have purchased and installed the WooCommerce Password Protected Categories plugin, it’s very simple to create customer-specific product categories:
The plugin has some other neat features that will help you to create private customer-specific products and categories.
It has an option to hide password-protected categories and their products from your main store page and other public locations such as product widgets and the navigation menu.
This allows you to have a public-facing WooCommerce store, plus hidden customer-specific categories that no one else knows about.
Your password protected categories will only be visible to people who have the link – and they need to enter the password in order to view or order the products within the category.
With a membership plugin, you can create a separate membership level or group for each member. You can then place any customer-specific products within the area of the site that only that customer can access.
If you need a membership plugin for other reasons – for example if you have a private members’ area as well as your customer-specific products – then this might be a good option for you.
However, we think it’s overkill if you simply need to create customer-specific products or categories. All membership plugins will significantly add to the complexity of your website.
This can slow down your page load times and make the site more difficult and expensive for you to maintain in future. For example, things will be more likely to break after a software update.
Membership plugins are also quite tricky to set up. Creating a user-friendly navigation structure is the hardest part.
It would be quite time-consuming for you to create and maintain a separate group or membership level for each customer.
Most membership plugins provide shortcodes which let you insert dynamic content into a page, for example, to display content which only that member can see. However, some bespoke coding is usually needed to get this working exactly how you want it, and there’s quite a steep learning curve.
So yes, you can use a membership plugin to create private areas of your WooCommerce store for individual customers but it feels like a clumsy solution and is not really what membership plugins are designed for. They are designed to restrict access to groups of users, not individual customers.
Our advice is to only install complex plugins like this if you have a genuine business need which can’t be achieved using a simpler method.
As we have seen, there are several ways for WooCommerce users to create private areas of their online shop which are specific to individual customers.
If each customer has a single private product then we recommend keeping it simple and password protecting the products. This can be done using WooCommerce as it comes, with no need for extra plugins.
In case you have multiple products for each customer then WooCommerce Password Protected Categories offers an easy-to-use, professional solution.
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