A full calendar is the ultimate dream for any bookings-driven business owner. Whether you run a hair salon, restaurant, or chiropractors, emphatically selling out all available appointments is a great stamp of approval for your business. It means there is a demand for your services, your business is operating at full capacity, and you’re bringing in the dollars.
Just a decade or so ago, many companies would have taken their bookings the old-fashioned way – pencil and paper. Today, however, people expect to make bookings entirely at their convenience. This means the flexibility between in-store, a quick phone call, or, of course, via your website.
These days, the majority of savvy consumers will research a business using the internet. And, if you don’t offer online bookings via your website, your business will look amateurish and behind the times. Hardly the best first impression, is it?
If you want to take bookings and appointments from your WordPress website, you’re in luck. Today, I want to introduce you to four of the very best scheduling plugins. These plugins are complete booking solutions so that you can centralize all aspects of your appointment-taking process.
BirchPress is a complete appointment booking solution, developed for time-short business owners in a variety of industries. Essentially, it allows you to manage an all-in-one appointments “hub” directly from your WordPress website. Visitors can access your website and book appointments directly from the front-end, or staff members can input appointments at the back-end. This means you can collate your online, in-store, and telephone bookings in one place.
As you’d expect from a scheduling plugin, BirchPress allows you to configure a relatively complex set of appointment variables. For a start, you can list all the different services you offer, plus your customers can specify their preferred staff member and location. You can also set the length of each service, plus configure variable prices – for example, a separate peak and off-peak price.
You can fully customize your front-end booking form, too. Streamlining your booking form so that it only includes the fields you really need is a sure-fire way to increase bookings. These booking forms are clean and tidy, and visitors will find them intuitive to use. You can add them to relevant posts/pages on your website using a simple shortcode.
BirchPress’s calendar functionality prevents double booking, too, to ensure your business runs smoothly – if a time slot is taken, visitors won’t be able to select it. You can also block out holiday periods when staff members will be unavailable.
You can choose to sync your bookings on your preferred calendar – with Google, Outlook, iPhone, and Android calendars supported – plus you can access your bookings in a calendar view from the WordPress back-end. You can even write notification emails for your customers, and BirchPress will automatically send reminder emails as an appointment date nears.
A Personal BirchPress license will set you back $75, which includes one year’s support. If you want additional functionality, consider upgrading to a Business ($150) or Business+ ($200) license. The premium functionality upgrading gets you includes:
- Appointment rescheduling
- Color coded appointment calendar
- Page redirection after booking (great for cross-selling your other services!)
- Collect PayPal payments prior to the appointment
- Group bookings
- Auto-assign staff member
- WooCommerce integration (Business+ only)
- Collect card payments via Authorize.net integration (Business+ only)
Appointments+ is one of the top-rated WordPress scheduling plugins. Part of the popular WPMU Dev stable of plugins, Appointments+ is a feature-rich bookings plugin, coded to the highest possible standards.
Appointment+ lets you manage all aspects of appointment management from within the WordPress back-end. You can create links between your services, locations, and staff members, from which visitors can select their preferred combination. You can add staff member bios, too – a novel feature that gives you an opportunity to talk up your staff’s expertise.
The focus of this plugin is usability. From the front-end, visitors can select their preferred time slots from a stylish, color-coordinated calendar. You can, of course, customize the colors to match your branding. Unavailable time slots (including holidays) are blocked out, to avoid double booking. The plugin will even adjust available time slots dynamically to minimize downtime between clients.
Visitors can make a booking in as few as three clicks, ensuring there is minimal buyer friction. This includes a handy social login feature, with visitors able to confirm their information via their Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ accounts. Repeat customers can use this feature to auto-fill the required fields – another useful time-saver.
Visitors can also make a payment upfront, using an easily-integrated PayPal checkout – an effective way of reducing no-shows. MarketPress users (WPMU Dev’s eCommerce plugin) can collect card payments via any MarketPress payment gateway.
The individual Appointment+ plugin is available for $19/month. However, if you want to access WPMU Dev’s entire collection of plugins (with well over 100 available), membership costs $49/month.
Checkfront is the most powerful scheduling plugin featured in today’s list, and as a result, it comes with the heftiest price tag – prices start at $49/month and reach as high as $499/month. This ensures this booking solution is targeted at larger, better-established businesses, with small business owners priced out of using it.
Although Checkfront isn’t exclusive to WordPress, a dedicated plugin can sync your WordPress website with Checkfront. The plugin uses an intuitive shortcode generator that allows you to add the Checkfront booking portal to your site. This booking portal is fully customizable, enabling you to change your portal’s design and style.
Checkpoint was built primarily for three types of businesses: tours and activities, rentals, and accommodation. However, it can theoretically be used for any appointment-driven business. With Checkpoint installed, visitors can log onto your website, and choose their preferred service and time. You can also collect payments directly from your website, with over 30 payment gateway integrations – including Stripe, PayPal, and WorldPay.
Talking of integrations, Checkfront has over 60 extensions, all available for free with your Checkfront subscription. These extensions include:
- Google Analytics
- Google AdWords/Facebook Advertising
- TripAdvisor Connect
My favorite thing about this service is the partner accounts feature. This allows third-party partners to view your available times and refer customers directly – Checkfront will even handle any commissions due. If you run a vacation activities business, where customers often book all excursions from one vendor, this system is ideal.
Now for a more cost-effective solution, for those of you working on a restricted budget. Allow me to introduce CodeCanyon’s most popular scheduling plugin: Bookly. Developed by Ladela, Bookly has been downloaded over 5,000 times and comes with a $46 price tag.
The Bookly booking forms look stunning on your site’s front-end. As well as being fully responsive, they’re stylish and modern, plus you can customize the text and color scheme. Best of all, however, visitors will find the booking forms incredibly straightforward to use.
Visitors will see a four-step booking form, walking them through the booking process. First, Bookly will ask them to select their preferred location, service, and service provider, plus they can select the days and times they are available. After this, Bookly will return a list of available time slots that meet their criteria.
Visitors will then be required to fill in some personal information. These fields are fully customizable, so you only need to ask for the information you absolutely require – name, contact information, etc. Finally, the customer will be able to make an online payment to reserve their slot. For such an affordable plugin, Bookly offers a good selection of payment gateways. Six are supported in total, including Stripe, PayPal, and Authorize.Net.
Details of all bookings can be found and managed via the WordPress back-end. Individual staff members can log in and view their rota – plus schedule any breaks and holidays where they will be unavailable. You can also visualize all bookings across your business by viewing the beautifully color-coordinated calendar view.
So there you have it: four excellent plugins for taking and scheduling customer appointments via a WordPress website. Although features and functionality vary from plugin to plugin, all four are comprehensive solutions and come highly recommended.
Which is best? Well, that depends. My tip: Take a look at each plugin’s website, as you’ll be able to access a demo for each. Try to get a feel for how the plugin looks and works at the front-end, plus try out some important back-end features to get an idea of how you might use it. If you choose any of the four plugins features today, just know that you’re in safe hands!
Do you have a favorite appointment scheduling plugin? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below!