I just spent the last 3 days in Porto with another 2,300 WordPressers at the first in-person WordCamp Europe since Berlin 2019. I had a blast, held a nice (yet long) workshop, spoke to many, but got tired too soon.
Later on, I realized that that tiredness was something more serious – in fact I tested positive against COVID for the first time in my life, and I’m now in self-isolation hoping it won’t last long… Another 7 days without my kid – send help!
Anyhow, what really struck me at WCEU 2022, and based on various chats and some data that I’ll share below, is that the WooCommerce ecosystem is in trouble.
A nicer way to put that? WooCommerce is not moving forward as fast as it should, and unless some key issues are addressed right now, in a few years time we all may pay the consequences.
Please note, this is not a rant. It’s a proper analysis, full of actionable information.
@ WooCommerce team - if you're reading this - my plan is to give you constructive feedback and tell you what the community (really) thinks, needs and wants, so that you can get a better picture of the current situation. I know you've already started working on this, so this is just a recap/reminder and a way to get the whole community realigned.
In this post, I will share my worries, my fears, the current WooCommerce issues, some data I collected at WCEU 2022 and then a list of actionable solutions that may be implemented in order to clear the backlog and get back on track – asap. Enjoy!
WCEU 2022 and WooCommerce
Once again, I can’t speak highly enough of the incredible work that was put in by volunteers, organizers, sponsors and third parties. Surely, 2,300 attendees went back home happy (some of them are still living the dream in Porto, alright).
Yet, no event is 100% perfect. You can’t win them all. The post-event survey will be a super useful tool for some valuable feedback, and therefore I’m already looking forward to WCEU Athens 2023.
But back on the WooCommerce topic:
- There were 20 tables at contributor day. WooCommerce wasn’t one of them.
- There were 45 talks and workshops. Not a single one was about WooCommerce (I later found out thanks to Darren Ethier that there was one – “The future of commerce in WordPress with Full Site Editing”. Yet, this is still not enough. Read on to understand why)
- I pitched 3 talks for WCEU: two were about WooCommerce, one was about creating online courses. And for the first time ever I was selected as a speaker! But guess which one was picked…
- The closing talk, “In conversation with Matt and Josepha” (which was not as controversial as in the previous years), and unless I fell asleep due to incoming COVID, didn’t feature a single question/answer re: WooCommerce
There is also a very bright side:
- WooCommerce was one of the sponsors and had a physical presence at the conference
- WooCommerce held an evening meetup to get the community together, and I managed to have very good chats, especially with brand new employees
- WooCommerce hired, on top of the others which I didn’t know, my friend Ronald Gijsel. And that makes me feel so optimistic about the future of the plugin
TLDR: there is a need to keep talking about WooCommerce, to keep listening to the community, to keep developing it together. Let’s do it. Here are 10 solutions by yours truly to get started asap.
A public WooCommerce roadmap
As WooCommerce users/developers, we need to know what’s in the works. Thanks to the roadmap, we can also schedule our work around the future changelog.
Here are my honest 2 cents on the latest features:
- WooCommerce Admin should have not gone to core and stayed as a standalone plugin (in fact, same as “Classic Editor” and “Classic Widgets”, “Disable Bloat for WordPress & WooCommerce” plugin has become very popular recently)
- WooCommerce Blocks for Gutenberg integration was not urgent, given the amount of current issues (performance, mobile, backend UX, frontend design)
- WooCommerce Payments wasn’t really required but I understand it’s a good opportunity for Automattic. But at least it should not be “advertised” in the WP dashboard
I feel that new features were added without looking at fixing some major issues first.
In regard to the roadmap, there is a “Roadmap and release process” page indeed, but it was last updated in 2017: https://github.com/woocommerce/woocommerce/wiki/Roadmap-and-release-process – this contains a link to a public roadmap: https://github.com/woocommerce/woocommerce/projects/3 – which unfortunately gives 404 error. Besides, the first piece of content is completely out of date now that WooCommerce development has switched to monthly releases.
With a roadmap, we can see the vision, the direction, and once again we can see what’s in it and what’s missing, so that we can be part of the WooCommerce project if feedback is needed. Without a public roadmap, are we really open-source?
“WooCommerce Ideas” – worth a quick note – is a website full of spam that used to be the go-to place for requesting new features. I won’t even link to it as I risk to give it additional SEO reputation.
Each post of the website has now multiple spam comments, so I guess it’s not even moderated. Please remove the spam and install Akismet (lol), or drop the site completely (which based on what I see, it’s not used any longer).
TLDR: a public WooCommerce roadmap, please! And let’s kill “WooCommere Ideas” spam, please.
Let’s get WooConf back
I mentioned earlier that there was basically no coverage of WooCommerce during the entire WCEU 2022. That’s a pity, as the ecommerce market completely exploded in 2020-2021 and I was very surprised about that.
But maybe, that’s the right thing to do? See, WooCommerce has become so big that maybe it needs its own conference (back).
Before COVID hit,
WooConf – our official event for the WooCommerce community – has taken place three times over the years in San Francisco (2014), Austin (2016), and Seattle (2017).
For 2018, we won’t be putting together another WooConf. We haven’t made any decisions beyond this year, but for now, we’re focusing on the growing and changing needs of our community and our customers rather than investing in a conference.
Which is a pity, because we need to talk about WooCommerce. And in person, now that we can. And often.
I never attended WooConf, but from what I know one year it was a developer-only conference, another year it was for store owners, while I don’t know anything about the third one. Overall, they were events with approximately 300-400 people, a similar size to local WordCamps.
I see many issues in there:
- target market (developers or users? Easy: both! Each one can have its own track for talks & workshops)
- size (so far the 3 events were held in the West of US. According to BuiltWith, US has 653,846 active WooCommerce stores and leads the rankings…. but if you combine all of Europe and UK for example, you get to at least 1,600,000 stores. So maybe a WooConfUS and a WooConfEU would make the travelling cheaper and reach wider audiences. Let’s also do WooConfASIA and we cover almost all timezones)
- “but for now we’re focusing on the growing and changing needs of our community and our customers” – I accept that, but ongoing conferences aimed at developers + users can really help with that too
- in the same announcement you see above, we find this: “We are also committed to providing you a State of the Woo update towards the end of the year, and are thinking through the best format.” – as long as I know, I haven’t heard of a single State of the Woo since then?
Besides, local meetups are great but it’s very difficult to reach a decent number of attendees. It’s already difficult with WordPress, so with Woo is even tougher.
Instead of giving the money to Meetup LLC for hundreds of worldwide meetups that can barely reach 10 attendees per event, why don’t you save $240/year/meetup, and organize a proper WooConf at least once/year with those savings? $24,000 (supposing there are 100 meetup groups) could help put up a great conference.
TLDR: let’s bring WooConf back! Or at least, let’s have a dedicated WooCommerce track at WordCamp EU/US/ASIA. That’s the only way to get developers, users and WooCommerce employees together and exchange valuable feedback.
Overstaff, and move faster
I met and spoke to many new Automattic/WooCommerce employees at WCEU 2022, which is always nice to see. There are much more that weren’t there, also.
The thing is, if WooCommerce needs to move faster than the competition, you need staff. More staff. If you invest now, it’ll pay back in 5-10 years time, as people won’t switch ecommerce platform (because all current issues will be fixed quickly).
The problem is – once a WooCommerce user switches away, they won’t come back. Ever. And for every user who abandons WooCommerce, there is a risk that they spread the word out to another 20-30 people.
We all need to avoid that.
I don’t really think Automattic has money problems, so this is the right time to scale. Many people I knew from WooCommerce left recently. Why? Have they been properly replaced? The new employees, did they ever install, test and ran a WooCommerce site? Do we know who they are, is there an about/team page? Nope.
- About page: https://woocommerce.com/about/ – no mention of the current team
- Careers page: https://woocommerce.com/careers/ – no mention of current team (but they’re hiring!)
- Team page: https://automattic.com/about/#filter-name – I guess that URL parameter was meant to filter Automattic employees by company i.e. WooCommerce but doesn’t really work
So, the only way of knowing who works in WooCommerce is by… meeting them in person! One more point for WooConf or a dedicated track at WCEU/US/Asia.
Putting a face on people can help us help you. For example, who is responsible for trademark guidelines? I’d need a direct contact without having to rely on non-Woo people. And the same applies to all the other sub-teams.
Finally, if we compare the changelogs of WooCommerce and other competitors, we can honestly say we’re moving too slow. Can we just hire more people and get everything done now, please? Matt, I’m talking to you.
How long did it take before addressing database performance issues for example? Here’s some of that story: https://dothewoo.io/woocommerce-custom-order-tables-databases-and-performance – yes I agree that’s it’s better now then never, but over the last few years many people left WooCommerce because of this issue alone.
TLDR: we need to know who is behind WooCommerce, and their exact roles. Maybe have a point of contact for each team. Also, we need to move faster than the competition, or we lose.
Let’s stick with the mission (maybe)
This is the WooCommerce mission:
WooCommerce is committed to democratizing commerce and putting you in control of your own livelihood. Our core platform is free and open-source, empowering anyone to sell anything, anywhere.
I highlighted 3 keywords:
- in control
While we all agree that this is a great mission, I really feel that lately WooCommerce hasn’t been really democratic. I already said the roadmap is not public anymore, and that some features were released without addressing much more important ones first.
I didn’t think they’d follow the same release path of Gutenberg into WordPress core (objectively, that was done way too soon), but with WooCommerce Admin that happened again. On top of that, WooCommerce Admin is JS based, so it cannot be customized with hooks, and for a developer that’s a killer. “Disable Bloat for WordPress & WooCommerce” it is, so.
Recently, and finally, WooCommerce reopened the WooExperts program, which is a way for them to recommend registered and vetted developers to their users. For now, this is for US developers only. That’s not very democratic either, is it?
Besides, does WooCommerce put you in control of your livelihood? Maybe. But the more you scale, the more stressed out you get.
Everyday, I deal with successful WooCommerce owners that spend more time thinking about moving to Shopify than enjoying their life. That’s not good. Definitely, there is no control. Here, it’s up to Automattic/WooCommerce to get things right.
Question for WooCommerce employees: can you give me the tools to convince 1M/year users to stay with WooCommerce? Because there are none at the moment.
Finally, the best of all – free. WooCommerce is free, yes, but I don’t know a single store that doesn’t use a premium plugin, premium theme, premium hosting and a premium developer 🙂
So, while WooCommerce is free, it’s important to understand that WooCommerce users invest a big amount of money on their stores. On the other side, we talk about $29/month all inclusive (hosting, testing, performance, security, translations, 24/7 support, etc., plus payments and other fees of course).
If we are to move forward, we need to stop thinking that “WooCommerce is free”. In that way, we can focus on one major issue, maybe the biggest one: 24/7 support.
TLDR: I feel we’re forgetting about the WooCommerce mission. It’s up to Automattic/WooCommerce to show us and give us the tools to demonstrate WooCommerce is the best ecommerce software out there.
A single support channel
When your main competitor offers 24/7 support, there must be a reason. And that reason is quite simple: in ecommerce, a single minute down and you may be losing tens of thousands.
WooCommerce needs to step up its game and get a proper support system in place.
First of all, how do we get support?
- https://woocommerce.com/my-account/create-a-ticket/ – for WooCommerce marketplace premium plugins
- https://wordpress.org/support/plugin/woocommerce/ – for WooCommerce plugin
- slack channel “WooCommerce Community” – not sure if this is helpful
- https://www.facebook.com/groups/advanced.woocommerce – Facebook group
- https://github.com/woocommerce/woocommerce/issues – for WooCommerce developers
- and maybe more channels e.g. Twitter, Insta, https://developer.woocommerce.com/, https://github.com/woocommerce/woocommerce/issues
This is quite confusing.
Most companies have just 2 channels: live chat, and tickets. By giving WooCommerce users and developers access to multiple support platforms, instead, we risk of wasting WooCommerce support team time: what if I copied/pasted the same question on every support channel, to increase my chances of getting an answer?
I don’t think that’s working really well to be honest. Premium plugins that offer premium support and have a WordPress.org presence with their free version, clearly state that support is provided on their own website only. That’s an example of how you can communicate what the only way of getting support is.
I envisage it like that:
- turn off WordPress.org, Slack, Facebook, Github, etc. for support
- use only https://woocommerce.com/my-account/create-a-ticket/ and on the same page, enable live chat 24/7 (I know you have enough staff over several timezones so that shouldn’t be a problem)
- a dropdown will ask if the problem is related to a WooCommerce.com plugin, to the WooCommerce plugin, to a third party plugin, to the theme, to “other”
- on top of sharing the “system status”, also ask for the list of recent website changes/updates
- the message is forwarded to the correct team (because there must be multiple support teams, right?) and anyone from the team tries to give a first answer within 1 hour
- if the team is a third party vendor, it must be agreed with them that they must provide support 24/7, otherwise they can’t join WooCommerce.com (sorry)
- drop the answer in a public FAQ page or blog post, so that it can help others
That would make a huge difference.
Over the years I also noticed a serious slowness at addressing tickets – remember, we’re in the ecommerce world – a broken checkout can make a business fail. There are currently 1268 open issues on Github plus I don’t how many more in each support channel. That’s a lot.
Also, telling users to get a dev is not the most loved reply – are we sure you’re doing your best to know more about the user’s website, what they recently installed, what was recently updated, what website changes were done lately? The “system status” won’t really say that.
TLDR: WooCommerce is free, but should be treated as premium, as it’s the base of multi-million dollar stores. In ecommerce, time is money. And support is key.
Focus on documentation
“Is this possible with WooCommerce?” – the most asked question, agree? It’s evident they can’t find the answers.
First important note: documentation is only available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. A democratic plugin needs to do better than that, but I’m pretty sure they’re working hard on it, as these Spanish/Portuguese/French translations have been added pretty recently.
Secondly, basic data is missing. Take https://woocommerce.com/documentation/plugins/woocommerce/getting-started/migrating-to-woocommerce/: are we sure that we want just Etsy users migrate to WooCommerce as opposed to helping Shopify, Magento, BigCommerce, 3DCart, EDD users achieve the same?
Besides, most docs require some work. Notice anything here? https://woocommerce.com/document/customizing-woocommerce-best-practices/
These are just 2 examples, and the documentation team is at work. But it’s important to always think about that question before writing (or revising) each doc:
Is this possible with WooCommerce?
Also, I’m not enthusiastic about the new “3 columns layout”, hopefully that was split-tested before release. Hopefully.
Besides, from my own experience, people use different media channels to “read” content. Written content. Video. Audio. Screenshots. Slideshows. If Automattic wants to do a better job at documentation, each page should have all possible formats.
If you do a screencast:
- you have the video ready
- you can generate an audio-only file
- you can get it transcribed
- you can save frames as images
- you can add subtitles in multiple languages
So, WooCommerce documentation should change to “video first“, it’s as simple as that.
I have no time to go over the whole documentation, but both the layout and the content need a full revision, and fast. Otherwise, we risk that more and more users go to the other side, where they don’t really need technical support.
TLDR: the only way for support to get better is if documentation is excellent. This is the number one problem with WooCommerce at the moment. Hold on, maybe it’s the second.
Mobile or not mobile, that is the question
There is mobile-first. And there is mobile-last.
Open the single product page on a mobile phone, and maybe compare it to other competitors. Notice anything? Yeah.
WooCommerce Admin, Gutenberg, WooCommerce Payments… but most people are moving elsewhere because WooCommerce comes with huge problems on a small screen.
Third party developers were able to come up with sticky add to cart buttons, reduced text areas, more swipe- and touch-friendly links… but that should be looked after by WooCommerce itself.
Also, has enough been done to make the official WooCommerce App https://woocommerce.com/mobile known to the public? Does it work? I don’t know, I never used it.
Ah, maybe that’s because you need Jetpack. But really, even if I don’t know how app auth works, that shouldn’t be required. So, please, rethink about this and let’s develop an app that doesn’t require any other plugin, ok?
TLDR: WooCommerce needs to go mobile-first. It’s not too late. And better late than never. Also, let’s put a full team on the official App development, and let’s turn it into the best possible ecommerce store management app.
When I said that documentation was the second problem, and mobile the first, well, you see, these things keep coming before WooCommerce Payments & co.
Are we sure we’re looking at the right issues and giving them the correct priority?
No, because, try creating a variable product.
Select product type, eventually see the attribute tab, add existing or new attributes and values, save, go to the variations tab, click on “link all variations”, click on ok twice, wait for the variations to appear, fill each one by toggling each variant on and off, and repeat.
Can we say that stores that sell variations (the majority?), all hate this UX? It’s clear that this must be changed asap.
- global variations, in case a group of products use the same variations
- drop the attribute/variations tabs
- in the general tab under Product Data, show a table with the following columns: enable, image, attribute terms, price, sku, stock, format (dropdown, swatches, buttons, etc)
Can you please, please, fix this major issue?
TLDR: the WooCommerce backend has many problems, but the major one is the creation of variable products. This requires immediate attention.
Let’s beat our competitors (without copying them)
What’s WooCommerce real market share? With real I mean by looking at $ in sales and not at the number of stores. In this way, we have a better picture of our competitors.
So, while I wait on WooCommerce to give me this data, let’s talk about competitors. We know who they are – actually, who it is, and I also know personally that hundreds of store owners are migrating away from WooCommerce.
We’ve got to stop this.
Unfortunately, WooCommerce has been in “reaction” mode for several years now, as opposed to leading the change and arrive before everyone else.
I feel that, sometimes, we forget that WooCommerce is ecommerce software. Apart from the TikTok, Affirm, Pinterest and so on partnerships, what got WooCommerce in the news? Not much. And that’s because there is no news worth sharing.
Ecommerce trends change every month. Think of “local pickup” during the pandemic. We already talked about “mobile commerce”. Omni-channel, subscriptions, complex shipping, green/sustainability, AR, VR, voice commerce, AI, crypto (maybe not right now…) are just a few trends that weren’t there a while ago.
So, we need a team dedicated to the future of WooCommerce. We need to get there first. Or if second, we need to do an incredible/awesome/amazing job which can be picked up by a major online publication.
TLDR: the future of WooCommerce is about making our competitors willing to copy us, not the other way around. Let’s get there first, or second, as long as we do an amazing job.
Last but not the least, let’s chat about official WooCommerce themes.
If Automattic/WooCommerce has a team capable of releasing 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 themes (I used numbers instead of the more correct “TwentyTen”, etc, sorry), then why WooCommerce is stuck with just Storefront (from 2014)?
We can’t rely exclusively on free and premium themes sold by third parties.
I personally dislike that your marketplace sells “Storefront child themes” because then, uhm, you’d need to create a grand-child theme if you wanted to customize it?
So, first and foremost let’s turn those into standalone themes. If that’s not a good idea in your opinion, that’s ok too – but at least 1 new free theme every 2-3 years is highly recommended.
For you, so you take up more room in the WordPress repo.
And for us, so we have a wider range of light-weight themes that can be safely used because… they’re made and supported by WooCommerce.
Sounds like a plan?
TLDR: a modern WooCommerce theme every 2-3 years, please!
Writing this with Covid hasn’t been easy, but at least I had plenty of time while I self-isolate. I’m clearly asking and looking for feedback, this is just a starting point and would love to get some WooCommerce folks to participate in this conversation.
Other than that, I’m just doing my best.
As a WooCommerce user, developer, and manager of my own WooCommerce clients, I believe we should do more, better, and faster.
And this is my way of helping out.