The short story:
- Gumroad is for people who want to sell stuff right away, easily.
- WooCommerce is for people who want more power and control,
and are willing to spend a lot of time managing their store.
Now for the longer story,
starting with my background.
I’m a data professional: I help companies make their Microsoft SQL Server databases faster and more reliable. In my work, I sell training videos, live webcasts, and online service subscriptions at BrentOzar.com.
I leverage that online store in my in-person events, too: when I teach a class at a conference, the students often get a free product like my Recorded Class Season Pass. That perk helps drive my ticket sales – students like it, conference organizers like higher ticket sales, and it doesn’t really cost me anything (since it’s digital content anyway.)
I’m a little unusual for an online store user because I do database work for a living, so I look at the products through a pretty technical lense.
WooCommerce & WordPress’s database back end make me nervous.
Back in 2017, in light of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), I took a fresh look at the WooCommerce & WordPress database & code, asking questions like, “Is personally identifiable data encrypted?” For example, when someone comments on a blog, the data includes the commenter’s name, email address, and IP address. Furthermore, when that data is backed up, are the backups encrypted? Where do they go?
I came away pretty disappointed.
Then I talked to my attorney, and I had a boiling pit of acid in my stomach.
It’s going to be pretty hard for a data professional with a WordPress site to look a government official in the eye and say they’re really GDPR compliant. Furthermore, I don’t just wanna smile and nod and say, “Oh yeah, we’re technically compliant with the letter of the law,” and not really be compliant with the spirit of the law. I wanna set a great example, not a fly-by-night example.
With that in mind, I stopped selling stuff to Europe. It was a relatively small percentage of my income anyway, and I wanted to minimize my risks. (All of us with WordPress blogs still have a lot of work to do on that front, sadly.)
In January, I launched our Consultant Toolkit, an app for Microsoft SQL Server consultants to gather data about their clients’ servers. When the preview launched, I got a lot of requests from EU consultants to be able to buy it. Then when the pricing came out, I got even more requests, so I rolled up my sleeves late one night and said, “How can I make this happen?”
I turned to Gumroad,
an online store-as-a-service.
I knew Gumroad from a few online artists. You sign up for Gumroad, upload what you want to sell (app, video, PDF, whatever) and set the price. They take care of the rest, including VAT, invoicing, refunds, customer data, permissions access, all kinds of stuff.
I was stunned by how easy and fast it was to set up a Gumroad store, and…it just worked.
One of the more painful issues I’d dealt with, VAT, just simply goes away with Gumroad. They collect it, they file it, they deal with customer questions about it, end of story. It just doesn’t matter where your customers live.
Their GDPR story isn’t quite as elegant as I’d like: in section 11.6 of their terms, you have to email their support to get their Data Protection Addendum. I’m kinda surprised it isn’t shown publicly on their site.
But dang, letting Gumroad deal with that political stuff sure is easier than rolling it yourself with WooCommerce.
Drawbacks with Gumroad? If you want a feature they don’t offer, that’s the end of that. Gumroad just doesn’t have a lively plugin or extension ecosystem like WooCommerce’s. There are hundreds of WooCommerce plugins to do stuff like add custom product attributes like student names/emails, bundled products, team pricing, social media sharing for a discount, I could go on and on.
Two really big showstoppers for me: Gumroad doesn’t let you offer products with free trials, nor do they have really powerful coupon systems – like building custom one-off totally-free coupons to print as conference handouts. Those are both tools I rely on pretty heavily, and they really do produce results.
Verdict: I’m sticking with Woo,
but using Gumroad for EU sales.
Gumroad doesn’t allow you to sell tickets to live events over time, so that’s a non-starter for me. Plus, I just love the power and flexibility of Woo, and our sales volume is high enough that it merits the admin overhead of dealing with third party plugins. I’ll stick with selling our training through WooCommerce.
However, Gumroad gives me the ability to easily sell smaller items like the Consultant Toolkit – things that stand on their own, with minimal web pages & content involved. We made $5K in our first 4 days on Gumroad, so I’m happy with that, especially given the limited amount of work that I had to put into it. (We signed 64 Consultant Toolkit subscriptions in WooCommerce in that same amount of time, or about 3x, which makes sense – most of our readership is non-EU.)
If you have a day job, and you just want to dip your toes in the market of selling a zip file with your slide decks, e-books, or training videos, Gumroad makes a heck of a strong case – especially if you have international clients.