This is the first part in a series of posts highlighting talks from WooConf. You can watch the talk or read some of the points below.
WooCommerce has been amazingly successful over the last five years. The plugin itself has more than 32M downloads, more than 3M active installs, and over 600 contributors to the open source project. We aren’t just a plugin anymore, we’re a platform with a thriving ecosystem.
Since we have been fortunate to have success, we now have influence. As they say,
With great power comes great responsibility
The WooCommerce team takes that responsibility very seriously. So we’ve been taking a really hard look at the platform as a whole and figuring out how we can make sure it is living up to its responsibilities.
Over the last year, we spent considerable time and energy making WooCommerce robust and sustainable for the long-term for our three user groups: store owners, store builders, and extension developers. I’d like to share some of what we’ve been doing, what we’ve learned, and a hint of where things are going.
A Focus on Design & User Experience
John Maeda joined Automattic a little over a year ago and his job is to make sure that we have great design and user experience across Automattic, and that everything we make is inclusive.
Philosophically, inclusion is incredibly important to us — after all, our mission is to democratize publishing and commerce for everyone. Practically, inclusion is critical because our work will always be better when it is informed by diverse perspectives — they help us be more thorough and exhaustive in our explorations to find the best way to solve problems.
Our mission to democratize publishing and commerce to everyone.
As part of this, we’re taking a lot more time to understand all of our users in deeper and more fundamental ways. We want to make sure that we’re executing on the right things so we can make the biggest impact for our users. We’re doing more research across the board, including interviews and testing with just about everybody we can.
We ran a very successful “product research lab” at WooConf where we were able to learn from a variety of WooCommerce users and get direct feedback on ongoing product work. We’ve also started an ongoing design feedback program.
We’ve learned so much this last year through this research, and that helps us make major improvements for every kind of stakeholder in our platform.
A Focus on Store Builders
Earlier this year we launched WooCommerce 3.0. The biggest improvements in this release are abstractions, like the new CRUD (Create, Replace, Update, Delete) classes, and the v2 of our REST API. The abstractions help separate what key parts of WooCommerce do from the underlying implementation, which is important for scaling and giving customers the ability to customize various parts of WooCommerce for their specific business needs.
It’s a major step toward a modern, abstracted, API-based approach to development that allows us to take advantage of everything that is great about WordPress while doing things differently for ecommerce-specific needs. It doesn’t serve the larger ecosystem to have everybody hacking away to get what they need for themselves every time — it creates upgrade and interoperability nightmares. We’d like to make it more systematic so there are less unexpected conflicts.
When we launched WooCommerce 3.0 it didn’t go smoothly. We spent a lot of time helping people who had issues. Kudos to our Happiness Engineers and the WooCommerce Core development team who did an amazing job responding to the needs of users.
We learned a lot from this experience and made important changes in our approach to developing WooCommerce. In particular, we learned that we need a much more reliable upgrade and maintenance experience. We’re dedicated to rolling out meaningful improvements on a regular basis. But we can’t roll out new features if people are afraid to upgrade.
We can’t roll out new features if people are afraid to upgrade.
And it’s not just our job, it’s also an important responsibility for our extension developers and store builders. We’re putting systems in place that help all of us work together to do this. We are committed to making the upgrade and maintenance experience rock solid.
We are committed to making the upgrade and maintenance experience rock solid.
Some of the things we’re doing at Automattic are:
- A regular cadence of releases – at least quarterly (we call them “release trains”).
- End-to-end and unit tests for WooCommerce core and all our extensions.
- Manual upgrading and testing on a diverse set of live WooCommerce sites before the release.
Hopefully you noticed that WooCommerce 3.1 and 3.2 caused far fewer issues, in large part due to our new approaches.
Some things to look forward to in the near future are:
- Faster database tables designed for ecommerce.
- New event queues.
- Improved checkout flows.
- Lots of work on data and insights — if a store owner can’t understand what’s going on their stores, then they can’t make decision about how to improve things.
Did you know, there is a Develop WooCommerce blog? Keep an eye on that if you’re interested in the roadmap.
The success of WooCommerce has led to success for our store builders, so many now have large and growing sets of clients. We learned that we need to provide more tools to help them manage large sets of clients and sites.
One thing we’ve done to improve this is change how extension subscriptions are managed. It’s not scalable or secure to have people copying and pasting subscription keys! We’ve created a more secure, one-click connection process — without keys. We’ve also started adding tools for managing this new approach to subscriptions, like the ability to share and transfer subscriptions to clients. We’ll be growing the set of tools over the coming quarters.
Focus on Store Owners
We put a lot of thought into how we can make it easier for non-technical store owners to get started. We’re doing this through a mix of new cloud services and a simplified user experience (UX). We offer all of these services for free as a way to help stores get up and running faster.
We can now automatically set up Stripe (and soon PayPal and others) without the need for API keys. Earlier in the year, we released a shipping service that gives live shipping rates and discounted shipping labels in the US and Canada for free. We just released a new tax service which gives stores automatic, accurate sales tax in the US, Canada, UK, EU, and Australia.
In WooCommerce 3.2 we rolled out a new onboarding flow, based on our cloud services — a new user can have payments, live shipping rates, and accurate sales taxes set up in about five minutes, before they’ve even added their first product!
We’re building these flows with the help of Automattic’s significant experience and infrastructure in cloud-based products. Rather than building and maintaining separate platforms, we’re combining all of our efforts to build more robust services and do it at a faster pace.
Earlier this year, we started the WordPress.com login for WooCommerce.com and for our cloud services because it was already more secure (two factor authentication), more flexible (social login, magic links, etc.), and had built in support for mobile.
We’ll also be making extensive use of Jetpack, which has a robust platform for delivering cloud services. We’re now working together with the Jetpack team to add features that address the unique needs of ecommerce. Expect to see more cloud offerings rolling out in the future.
Focus on Extension Developers
For WooCommerce extension developers, our main focus has been the WooCommerce marketplace. We’ve received many requests over the last year from developers who want to add offerings there.
We’ve also heard that our current extension developers want more direct interactions with their customers and more control over their product pages, documentation, etc. This makes complete sense: Developing extensions is a software business, and the success of a software business is usually directly tied to how much the developers interact with their users.
After a lot of exploration and planning we’re making some major changes to address these requests.
- We’ll be opening the marketplace to new extension developers in the near future — we’re just finishing up a few final details to help streamline and automate this process.
- We’re giving extension developers higher commissions.
- Developers now have more control over product pages, documentation, and other parts of the experience their customers have with their products in the marketplace
- Developers now have more direct access to their customers via support to build direct relationships and learn first-hand about their needs.
Another change in our marketplace this year was the change to renew subscriptions at full price (rather than at a 50% discount). When we made this change, there were definitely some negative responses. We made every effort to reduce the negative impact for any of our customers that contacted us and, again, I commend our Happiness Engineers for their empathy and diligence with these conversations.
It’s important to be clear that we made this change for the sake of our users and the sustainability of our ecosystem. The extensions available in the WooCommerce marketplace are premium extensions and are worth their price on an ongoing basis. We believe this pricing structure sets the right expectations for quality in the software and support, for both the users and developers of the extensions.
We believe this pricing structure sets the right expectations of quality in the software and support for both the users and developers of the extensions.
We also want to be clear that we reinvested any extra revenue back into the marketplace itself through higher commissions for developers and improvements to the support provided for the core WooCommerce plugin, which is done solely by Automattic. We’ve added live chat support and greatly improved our support response times.
In conclusion, and looking ahead
The last year has been a busy one for the WooCommerce ecosystem. The platform is evolving and strengthening, and the user base is growing. This is truly amazing and humbling to those of us fortunate enough to be sitting at the center of it all. We’re building all of this together, and that’s a true testament to the power of open source. From the team here at Automattic, we’re so excited about what we’ve all accomplished and to what the future holds.