WooCommerce Subscriptions and PayPal Standard Don’t Mix Well

We have been using WooCommerce Subscriptions on WordPress sites for quite some time. It has generally served our clients quite well and is relatively easy to implement, especially if you are already using WooCommerce. However, we have discovered some significant drawbacks to using the default PayPal payment option. You may want to reconsider using it when building a new WooCommerce Subscriptions site.

Why use PayPal?

It may seem quite logical at first to use the default PayPal payment module. For starters, it is included with WooCommerce subscriptions so no need to research or purchase additional plugins. PayPal has been the standard for secure payments since the early days of the Internet and gives an extra layer of legitimacy to a site. Since the PayPal payment method directs the customer to PayPal’s site to enter in payment details, PCI compliance is already taken care of. Finally, as long as you have a standard PayPal business account it will work out of the box.

How does the Standard PayPal module work with WooCommerce Subscriptions?

When a customer purchases a subscription via WooCommerce subscriptions and uses PayPal as the payment method, a subscription is created within PayPal for an initial start date, a period of recurrence, and a number of periods for the subscription. For example, a site may offer a subscription configured in WooCommerce Subscriptions to renew at $50 per year indefinitely, with the payment occurring exactly one year from the initial purchase date. Everything is handled on the PayPal site, and the PayPal subscription does not communicate with the WooCommerce Subscriptions site unless a subscription is cancelled or suspended.

Issues with using PayPal as a payment method on WooCommerce Subscriptions

This may seem like a good scenario at first glance. PayPal is doing all of the work, and you can “set and forget” these subscriptions. However, you’ll soon encounter serious problems should you decide to change existing subscriptions for any reason.

Subscription Price and Term Adjustments Not Possible

Take into account this real-world scenario we have encountered: a select group of annual subscribers are to be rewarded with three free months of membership. This seems like a reasonable action, but PayPal makes this impossible to accomplish. For starters, the annual payment date is set solidly in stone. There are no ways to change this; even pleading with PayPal support will get you nowhere. Not only is the annual date unable to be altered, but the subscription period is likewise fixed. An annual subscription cannot be changed to a monthly subscription for example. Not only that, but the subscription amount cannot be adjusted should you decide to give the subscribers a financial break instead.

The only way to handle this scenario is to cancel all existing subscriptions, give them a new subscription for a few months, and then require the subscribers to resubscribe a few months later. That’s hardly a convenient or user friendly solution, and there is a good chance some subscribers may never come back. There are even more limitations to PayPal for WooCommerce Subscriptions on top of what has been described.

Creating a more flexible WooCommerce Subscription system

Fortunately there is an easy way to avoid the inflexibility of PayPal: use a different payment gateway. Almost every other payment gateway uses a completely different method to handle subscriptions. Stripe, for example, will use the WooCommerce Subscription’s renewal date to generate a new payment. It essentially creates a new order automatically on whatever date and for whatever amount is associated with the subscription. Thus, a particular subscription can have a three month extension at a reduced rate relatively easily, and there will be no need to force the customer to do anything. Customers who desire to pay with PayPal can do so through the use of the WooCommerce BrainTree extension.

WooCommerce offers a very handy guide to help you choose the best payment gateway for WooCommerce for your needs.

In short, there is no real reason to use PayPal Standard for WooCommerce subscriptions, and its lack of flexibility could very well cause major headaches down the line. If you need some additional help setting up a WooCommerce Subscriptions site in a sustainable way that will be easy on customers and help build your business, give us a shout – we’ll help get you there.

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