Recently an issue became apparent on a client’s e-commerce website that was pointed out by a customer. The plugin was designed to give a variable discount based on the volume of products purchased: buying 5 of the products should give a 20% discount, buying 10 of the products should give a 30% discount and buying 25 of the products should give a 35% discount.

But something was causing inconsistencies in the prices¬† in the checkout process. This meant that under certain circumstances customers were being charged incorrectly for what they bought. Also the behaviour wasn’t consistent – sometimes it was OK, sometimes it wasn’t.

When I started looking into it, I discovered the plugin had not been updated for 9 months – which suggests that it was no longer an active project. So if any bugs were discovered it is unlikely they would get fixed.

After some searching around I found a replacement plugin that offered the same functionality. It offered free and pro versions of the plugin (the free version offered what I needed) and importantly, it had been recently updated.

I installed and tested the plugin on a staging server and everything seemed to work perfectly. After some more testing I installed the plugin on the live server and all was well.

My advice is to approach free plugins with caution. Of course there are some great ones around, but generally I would say they are less likely to be updated and less likely to offer support. What is the incentive for the developer to keep working on a plugin if they aren’t making anything from it?

If you use a free plugin, you could find you spend significant amounts of time diagnosing and repairing problems, which really is false economy.