iThemes Exchange was released only a few months ago, but they’ve been iterating quickly. As I shared then, they released Exchange without support for physical goods. Now they’ve not only added support for physical goods, but memberships (recurring and non-recurring) as well.
My experience with Exchange
I used iThemes Exchange for the first time about a month ago. It was a relatively basic digital download store that needed some custom theming, but not too many programming customizations. Out of the box, Exchange delivers quite well. It did exactly what I wanted it to do for digital downloads, and was a very simple and intuitive interface, which is a huge bonus for client work.
My struggles with Exchange were more in terms of developer grade documentation and understanding some of the verbiage and structure for modifying the plugin’s output and default behavior. Exchange is super flexible, and I could tell that, but being new to the product and on a tight deadline, better developer documentation would have been awesome. However, I know iThemes knows that’s important, and I think the plugin will only get easier to modify and extend in the future, as the bones necessary to make it so are definitely there.
I will also say that when I asked them a question, Exchange’s lead developer Glenn Ansley gave me a super thorough and excellent summary of how to do what I wanted to achieve in an email.
Framing Exchange amongst other options
Making shipping and physical goods available is a good thing, and inline with Exchange’s “competition,” namely WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads. I put that in quotes because I’ve used all three plugins on client projects, and they each have pros and cons and determining which product to use depends on the project requirements.
However, the membership functionality iThemes is adding is really interesting to me. Membership is not the easiest thing in the world. If you’re interesting in membership plugins, Chris Lema has a slew of them you should peruse. He’s probably dug in deeper than anyone I know on this topic, and I look forward to seeing him dig into how Exchange compares to the solutions he’s already compared.
I think iThemes has potential to create a real market with Exchange. Easy Digital Downloads and WooCommerce have found a great deal of success with add-ons, both those made in house and by third parties. I think a key for iThemes is to really draw developers to build for Exchange.
You can see a run-through of the Membership add-on on iThemes’ blog, and it’s available for purchase starting $97. Recurring payments pricing starts at $80. The physical products add-on and shipping add-on are free and built into Exchange. Cory Miller has written a tutorial of setting those up as well.
But really their Pro pack is kind of a no-brainer at only $197 for all Exchange add-ons.
To really get competitive with physical products, they’ll need to release some more options than free or flat rate shipping, but I’m sure those will be available in time. I’ll note though, setting up shipping for eCommerce can be really tough when a store owner simply doesn’t know what’s best for them.
I’d recommend they really spend time writing out a number of potential shipping setups, along with use cases for when a storeowner may benefit from such an option. In fact, I’d love for all eCommerce plugins do that.
I’m intrigued by iThemes Exchange. The current product and documentation are really great for end users that want to get a store up and running really easily. For developers, the jury is still out. I personally found the more mature Easy Digital Downloads and WooCommerce options to be easier to extend and better documented both in their online docs and in the code. However, I’m sure iThemes will be working on this in the future.
Definitely keep an eye on Exchange, and maybe give it a run on your next site where the client wants something quick and will be happy with an out of the box solution. iThemes’ interface and UI is quite good in my opinion, and requires little effort to get started.