How to sell digital downloadable products with WooCommerce

Today we take a deep dive into how to sell digital downloadable products with WooCommerce. We go from the basic definition of digital products and its usefulness for many business types. Then we check how it can be used as a revenue strategy, and how it differs from physical products. Following our job is to set up our digital products in WooCommerce. In addition, we see how to set up more complex and advanced digital products. And finally, we go over the security and licensing details, and how to protect your products.

The digital revolution is here to stay. Many products vanished from the shelves to be in our hard drives. Books, music, photos. In addition, many of our old appliances became apps. Calculators, watches, spreadsheets, notebooks. Even services or entire experiences are digital as well, such as courses or chatting with friends.

Clearly, the businesses were affected as well. You’re wondering if it’s worth creating digital products, or if they even have a place in your market. And it’s almost certain that this is the case. Not just because many products are downloadable now, but also because customers are expecting it. And they are willing to pay for the convenience. As Steve Jobs discovered by creating the iTunes store, convenience is very much worth it.

woocommerce digital downloads

Now you may be thinking that the entire structure for building an online store is too much. Thankfully, we have WooCommerce virtual products as an option. WooCommerce itself is a great plugin to turn a WordPress site into an online store. But it has by default digital products options, which can be used for a quick deploy of your digital store.

Let’s see how we can do this.

What are WooCommerce virtual products

We restrict the definition to WooCommerce, as each software has its own naming structure. Inside of WooCommerce, your products can be

  • Regular products – They have shipping
  • Virtual products – No shipping
  • Downloadable – Could be regular or virtual, adds download files to your products

Therefore, you have in fact 4 options when building products:

  1. Regular & not downloadable
  2. Regular & downloadable
  3. Virtual & not downloadable
  4. Virtual & downloadable

And these options are controlled by the checkboxes you have next to the product data:

Thus, when you create your products you have the option to add shipping details and download details. This means that you can have downloadable products on top of physical products. For instance, you could sell your latest album, and along with a physical CD, you can send a download link. The same goes for posters, books or even instruction manuals.

On the other hand, this means that you could sell virtual products that are or aren’t downloadable. Non-downloadable products are usually services, memberships or even pre-sales. Additionally, the virtual products can be used for donations and crowdfunding campaigns. As for virtual downloadable products, they are the pure digital products.

If you want to sell digital products in WordPress, it may be a good idea to make them feel tangible.

In terms of business strategy, downloadable products are a hit. Their marginal cost is almost zero. This means that the production costs for one copy or a hundred copies or an eBooks is the same. All your efforts are focused on the two ends of a sale, production, and marketing.

This may seem like a small distinction, but when we cut out the logistics costs, your reach is unlimited. No matter where your customers are if you can provide them value, you can sell your product.

However, often digital products work well as part of a bigger strategy. Apple sells apps, songs, and tools for their own ecosystem. There are many WordPress plugins, themes, and tools you can buy. Free products could come with paid upgrades. There are success stories on each strategy, and it all begins with the development and sale of a digital product.

Working with WooCommerce: Downloadable products at ease

Let’s quickly create our first downloadable virtual product with WooCommerce. Go to WordPress Dashboard > Products > Add new. Add your product details and make sure to check the virtual and downloadable options.

Then add your product details, such as price, download limits (if any), expiration date. You can add as many download files as you want for your products.

If you want to sell digital products in WordPress, it may be a good idea to make them feel tangible. For instance, you could add a 3d style box for a software. You could add a nice cover design for your eBook. Even something as simple as a thank you note in your downloads can give customers a better feel. The more countable items (even if digital) they get, the better.

Complex WooCommerce Downloadable Products

Occasionally, we may need to sell different variations of the same product. For instance, let’s say you sell digital media online, such as music. It’s very common to need different licenses or different variations of your product. If you want to sell the physical and digital versions, for example, you could do that.

This is done using the WooCommerce variable product. When you create a variable product, you can, in fact, have multiple products inside of it. You can even have digital and virtual variations of regular products. When you are creating your product, select Variable product in the Product data tab.

Then, under the attributes tab add the different versions you have for your product. You can use Licensing, media type, packages, and many other variations. Make sure to select the “used for variations” box.

And then, under the variations tab add the different variations you want. When you create a new variation, you can select the attributes of a simple product for it. This means that one variation can be virtual and downloadable, while others aren’t.

Digital services and memberships

Likewise, if you want to sell digital products in WordPress that are purely virtual, this is possible. Often these are created using membership sites and subscriptions. We have a guide on how to sell your services with WooCommerce, for an in-depth view. But the short version is that the right approach depends on your business type.

You could use WooCommerce, WooCommerce Subscriptions or even other plugins for membership and booking features.

Licensing & Copyright – Allow access to file URLs only when needed

Specifically, with downloadable products in WooCommerce, protecting file access is crucial. You are selling your knowledge. Unfortunately, some users may try to abuse this by downloading the files directly or using it beyond its license.

In particular, for the case of downloads, we came a long way. Previously, file downloads had no protection at all. In some cases, it was even as simple as guessing the download folder or the private page URL to get access to everything. Then we started randomizing file names, which was a great evolution. But once a user got the actual link they could simply share with others.

Then we came to one of the solutions that are used nowadays. Some servers use PHP to force file download. This is a good fallback option and should work fine if you don’t have large files. The problem is, once you use just PHP to serve the file you may exhaust your server resources.

That’s why the best way to serve files now is via the X-Accel-Redirect/X-Sendfile module. This is a module that is included in a lot of hosting providers. With it, you have the safety and performance. Only authenticated users can download, and yet your server won’t be exhausted. The downside is that if this tool isn’t available in your shared server, you can’t install it on your own.

But why are we going into much detail about the files download? Well, you need to know this in order to configure your File download method. This is done under WooCommerce > Settings > Products > Downloadable Products

Conclusion

Today we looked into how to sell digital downloadable products with WooCommerce. We went from the basics of your strategy to the actual implementation. By the end of the day, you should be able to create your products and even set up licensing restrictions.

We hope you enjoyed, and see you again next time!