Quite often in the WooCommerce world you'll hear “make sure you use a good host” which sounds helpful but when you don't define what a good host is it becomes meaningless. And for many first time store owners how are you supposed to know what you need and if a host has those features?
With Gutenberg getting closer and closer to being merged into WordPress core lots of plugins are thinking about ways they can take advantage of the new interface.
WooCommerce has been preparing for Gutenberg since last year. They're replacing the old [products] shortcode with a Gutenberg block and overall it looks great. If you want to display a specific set of products on a page the interface is phenomenal.
This is a great place to start and store owners can play with that functionality the day Gutenberg comes out. While this is a great place to start it's no where near where it's going to end. Gutenberg gives site builders so much control over their blog posts & pages. And eventually I'd like to see that same control applied to product pages.
One of my favorite parts of my job is asking people “why?”.
When it comes to conversion rate optimization for e-commerce we use a lot of heuristics (aka rules of thumb). Things like:
Use short forms
Don't make people login to checkout
Have the add to card button above the fold
There are thousands of pretty widely held heuristics. And CROs swear by these as a good starting points. And while many of these are important they're not the holy grail. These rules can be broken and you can still make sales as long as you have the right product.
Sharing a Joke
Earlier this week I sent an image I found on Pinterest to my friend who loves Moscato.
A shirt you can wear and point at when you want a refill
And a few hours later she asks me which color should buy. And a few texts later she purchased the shirt.
Not How E-Commerce is Supposed to Work
This is not at all how experts say e-commerce works! There's supposed to be consideration, price comparisons, reading reviews, and then getting stuck somewhere in the checkout.
Let's go through the problems any CRO would point out.
1) No Website
The first issue is that she wanted a particular joke. But didn't know where to find it. And she has particular needs. She doesn't like typical crew neck shirts. She wanted a tank top. So she did a search.
Search engine results page for “Hakuna Moscato”
She finally ended up on lookHuman which was the 5th result on Google. She had to scroll past or explore 2 Etsy links & 2 Amazon links to find the right site.
Not to mention all of the sponsored results. There were similar products all over the place and she navigated to the 5th site.
Everything was done on mobile. Which I find fascinating. I find it incredibly frustrating to type on the mobile keyboard and god forbid entering checkout information.
But for my friend speed was exactly why she decided to use her mobile device instead of a computer.
I had my phone with me. I hardly ever use a computer anymore. So I would have had to start and login to my computer which would have taken several minutes including walking downstairs. I did have several tablets handy, but they are devices I share with my husband and kids and don't have autofills options like my email for PayPal saved in. So it would have been slightly slower and more steps.
She used mobile knowing that there are some fields her phone will auto-fill instead of going downstairs to use the computer.
And she used PayPal. I've used the PayPal app on my phone and that makes checking out with PayPal much more convenient. So I assumed she also used the app.
But she didn't she manually typed in her PayPal account & password. I don't even know my PayPal password! 🤯
I've done a lot of transactions through PayPal and like their buyer protection and customer service. And not having to enter in my shipping or billing address is convenient. Not as big as a difference nowadays with autofills and such, but those don't always fill in correctly and using PayPal I don't feel like I have to double check everything several times to make sure it's right. It's what I'm used to using so I'm more familiar and comfortable with it which helps me make a faster transaction.
It is nice to hear from users that they do like the buyer protection on PayPal. It reduces risk and it's much easier to use than canceling a charge on your credit card.
4) Too Much Chrome on Mobile Device
On the mobile site there's a lot of “chrome” or useless interface. The URL, the social icons on the bottom (which I partially cut off), and the annoying chat button that covers up the product description.
The actual screenshot she sent me asking about colors.
And there's things you can even see without scrolling down.
Add to card button
These are important considerations on a product page and I'd make sure to put them above the fold. The color especially since as you choose a new color the product page changes you can see what you're going to purchase.
The worst aspect is that you don't know you're missing information. There's no indication that there's more information and you should scroll. On mobile you'd have to scroll down to see the different color options, select one, and then scroll back up.
That's a lot of work to do on a mobile device. And my friend did all of this, followed by taking a screenshot of each color, and sending me three screenshots. That's a lot of work on a mobile device. I constantly have to google “how do I take a screenshot on my mobile device”.
The biggest lesson is that you don't need a perfect site. If someone wants to buy something they'll figure out how to do it. They don't even have to be that motivated. If someone tells someone a joke they might want to buy a t-shirt with that joke on it.
In this specific case:
Brand didn't matter
SEO didn't matter (other than getting on page 1)
Advertising didn't matter
A mobile optimized site didn't matter
Cluttered product page didn't matter
Only having one product photo (per color) didn't matter
Reviews didn't matter
Free shipping didn't matter
Typing a password to checkout via PayPal didn't matter
To be clear: I believe all of these things do matter to an extent. But more important than all of these is:
Having the product the user wants
If so, the rest will help you get a step up on your competition but they aren't necessary. Store owners need to focus on quality products first. Then work on branding, SEO, mobile optimization, and everything else.
Working in e-commerce is being a part of two worlds. The retail world & the online marketing world.
In the online marketing world every few months you see an article about how SEO is dying or already dead. After a few years of this you realize it's not dying it's just changing.
In the retail world we have the exact same thing. Every few months you see a big brand close some stores and everyone screams that retail is dead. And just like with online marketing – it isn't actually dead it's just changing.
Experiences Over Stuff
One of the biggest factors is how millennials spend their money. Millennials by and large prefer experiences over stuff. They're far more likely to spend their money on travel, good food, and unique experiences:
As our demographics change our retail industry should change to reflect that. And it's a hard change for stores. They have to throw away everything that worked for the previous generations and start experimenting all over again.
And our current retail industry is all about stuff. Most brands can't offer an experience so millennials spend their money elsewhere. We buy stuff on Amazon. Sell us something different or unique in a store.
Retail Can Be Advantageous
You don't know the advantages of retail until you work in e-commerce. Retail let's you chat with your customers. You can learn about customers & more importantly solve any problem they have instantly. They don't have to spend 30 minutes searching for the right product (what's the name again???) they can ask someone in store and they'll direct them to the right place.
It's also a richer medium. Online stores have live chat at best. A face to face chat gives you 90% more information just from reading body language, tone, and facial expressions. We inherently trust those conversations more than a text chat.
If you want an example of who is doing it right look no further than Apple. Apple makes a killing in their retail stores (more than $5,000+ per square foot). And they do this by employing people who actually use & love the products they sell. Any question you have they likely had the same question and they can help you find that solution because they're genuine fans of the product.
You can also go in for minor troubleshooting at any point and they'll usually help you for free. Anecdotally – I went in with a charging issue and they cleaned the lint out of my charging port and sent me on my way in about 5 minutes. That builds a lot of trust for them.
And lastly, many Apple products are an experience. I went into an Apple store just to look at the Apple Watches when they came out. It was fun to look at them even if I don't want to spend the money on them right now.
They're a store that sells stuff. And you get get that stuff on Amazon or eBay for the same price if not cheaper.
You don't get any special care when you go into the store. The employees are minimum wage workers just trying to get a paycheck so they rarely know anything about the products. And if something breaks you probably just order a new product online you don't take it back to the store.
They didn't offer any compelling reason to go to the store instead of buying the toy online. So people did just that. They stopped going to the store and they started ordering online.
If they evolved from a place to buy toys to a place to play with toys. They already had a video games section. Why not make a mini arcade where kids could pick a game and console, play it, and then buy it?
And this is something that could have moved the needle. Be a place where parents could bring their kids to play. And everything the kids play with can also be purchased to take home. This could be done with video games or even regular toys.
I'd charge $4 per kid. And that entry fee can be used as a deposit towards a toy at the end of the day. So you'd make money whether the kids just played or if they used that downpayment to buy a toy.
This is something Amazon or any other online retailer can't compete with. They might beat you on price. But you provide an experience parents & children love and a unique advantage in that kids can play with the toy before they buy it.
We've Invested Too Much In Stores
I want to bring up one last point. More retailers will close. Don't be afraid by it. It's what happens when you over invest. Which is precisely what the US did.
We've spent so much money on stores and all of that retail space takes money to operate. Unless we spend 3-4X as much as Japan & France there's no way we can maintain that square footage. We'll either have to up our spending or more likely let stores fail and recalibrate after that.
In the meantime if you're in retail make sure you offer value. If you just sell stuff and it's not the cheapest price you're probably not going to last long.
I've been thinking a lot about how we learn. And more and more I find value in experiential knowledge (things you learn by doing) over academic knowledge (things you learn by reading). For example…
I learned how to skydive from someone who has skydived thousands of times.
I've talked with parents about their experience raising their kids – rather than reading a book about raising kids.
While preparing for a marathon I read a ton of blog posts about running and the advice I really appreciated was from people who actually ran marathons.
I want to learn computer science from someone who has participated in computer science projects. Not someone who just repeats what their professor told them.
I practice acro yoga and when I want to learn a new pose I do so with people who have done those poses before – not with people who just read about them.
When I moved to Denver I decided to move and live in the city for a year and see how it went. Worst case scenario I would move back to Wisconsin. I looked up all of the stats before moving (crime rate, weather, cost of living, etc.) but ultimately I just couldn't understand that information until I actually experienced it.
You can consume a thousand articles, blog posts, books, videos, and conversations with people about a topic. But some topics are so big that you really can't understand it until you live it – like moving to Denver. I could pull up every metric about Denver (and I did make a spreadsheet), but I could never imagine what it's like living downtown in a big city versus living in Green Bay, Wisconsin (a much smaller city with very different values).
Denver is surrounded by gorgeous mountains
This isn't to say academic knowledge is useless. It's incredibly useful. Using academic knowledge I realized the Denver has way more sunny days than Portland & Seattle which is why Denver made it to the top of the list. Now, I can't fully imagine what it's like living in Denver surrounded by mountains but I was at least able to narrow down the list of cities based on some really useful data. And from there I had to experience Denver to know if it was the right choice for me.
It's the start of a new year. And I've been thinking about the new year for the past 2-3 months. I love looking back and seeing what I can improve in the following year. There are some things that went really well last year. And some things that I'm disappointed with. I'm writing them here so I can hold myself accountable and I hope you can get something out of them too.
Black Friday is the day where you're make so many sales your store goes from in the red (owing money) to in the black (making money). To do that you need to make a lot of profit. The keyword there is profit not revenue. If you aren't making enough profit on each sale you could still be losing money.
Getting people in the door is easier said than done. To draw the crowds you have to offer discounts and those discounts start eating away at your profit. So it's a balancing act to offer the right discount to draw people in and still make enough profit.
The good news is that you don't have to run a Black Friday promotion like everyone else. You can give tiny discounts, freebies, or you don't have to run a promotion at all if you don't want.
Learn how to schedule a USPS pickup at your house or business.
When I'm talking about WooCommerce, Shopify, or some other eCommerce platform one of the most challenging aspects is fulfillment. Store owners always want to know how you can efficiently and affordably ship products.
USPS is one of cheaper options, and with both WooCommerce & Shopify you can get live shipping rates during checkout. And you can print out the shipping labels on your home printer. This automates a lot of the boring work.
The last step is scheduling USPS to come by to your house (or business) to pickup the packages. And the best news is that it's easy, free, & you don't even have to get out of your PJs.
I talk about the features about eCommerce platforms all the time. But I don't often talk about related but important concepts. Every store owner has thought about security and how to keep their store safe both for their customers and so they don't get sued. When it comes to security there are two things you need to worry about.