A Tech Journey to WooCommerce with Jeff Daigle

Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
A Tech Journey to WooCommerce with Jeff Daigle

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When you call yourself an eCommerce problem solver, why wouldn’t you use WordPress and WooCommerce? Jeff Daigle has 20 years under his belt on the web, and shares his journey with us.

In episode 38 of our podcast, Brad Williams and I chat with Jeff from dbdc.com. Jeff lets us in on:

  • His journey in technology
  • When WordPress and WooCommerce came along
  • What he has learned from his clients
  • Thoughts on selling products from your WooCommerce site on a marketplace
  • His clients’ reaction to React

Jeff Daigle, an eCommerce Problem Solver

Jeff calls himself an eCommerce problem solver. He focuses on WooCommerce and likes to help his customers in those moments when they need something outside-of-the-box. Jeff explains this with an example of a client who sells organic seed potatoes all over the country.

Brad takes him through his journey of starting on the web more than 20 years ago, discovering WordPress and, lastly, WooCommerce. Jeff has had varying experiences over the years but always felt the pull of technology.

He shares what he has learned—the good and the bad—from working with clients for the last 5 years using WooCommerce.

Jeff has dealt a lot with the topic of selling products on additional marketplaces. Brad asks him to dig a bit deeper into that and I ask him if he finds there are enough solutions to integrate WooCommerce or if a lot of it is still custom builds. Jeff has some really good insights into selling on marketplaces.

As we get ready to talk about WooCommerce 4.0, Brad also asks Jeff about the focus on React driven and whether his clients care or even understand it, which leads into a deeper conversation around React and the WooCommerce admin plugin that’s going to be integration into WooCommerce 4.0.

Woo News

Where to find Jeff

The Conversation

Bob: Hey everybody. Welcome back to Do the Woo. BobWP here. We are on episode 38. I have my illustrious co-host Brad Williams.

Brad: Nothing if not illustrious… I'm glad to be here. It's February. What happened? I don't understand what happened to January, but here we are second month of the year already. Flying by.

Bob: Yep. Time does fly by, let me tell you. Well before we get into introducing our guests, I just want to make a little bit of an announcement. We are starting to get our sponsors in place. I have a new sponsor, but also kind of a premier sponsor. WooCommerce is joining us to be our community sponsor. They'll be hanging around here for several months helping support the podcasts, bringing transcripts to the show, plus a lot of other good stuff. I'm excited about it. They want to help our effort of bringing this community together, getting to know more people. And speaking of getting to know more people, this week's guest is Jeff Daigle. We've known each other for quite a while. Did I mutilate your last name?

Jeff: No, that was perfect.

Bob: Okay, I remembered it. Amazing. I didn't correct myself or check on that before we got on the air. Jeff has been in the WooCommerce space. He's done a few things. He's been on WooSesh, he's been involved with WooConf. He does a lot of WooCommerce stuff. I've just known him through various avenues. Welcome to the show, Jeff.

Jeff: I'm glad to be here, Bob. Thanks for having me.

Bob: What does Jeff do? You do the Woo, obviously, but what do you do with WooCommerce?

Who is Jeff Daigle?

Jeff: I am what I call a an eCommerce problem solver. The slogan I've settled on for my own consultancy is, What's your problem? I like to work with businesses that need something that's a little bit outside of the normal realm of setting up an eCommerce site. Between WooCommerce and other platforms, it's never been easier to set up an online store and sell your products online, whether they're virtual or physical. Where I come in is when you need something that's a little bit outside of the box so to speak. For example, right now I'm working with an organic potato farm in Northern Maine that sells their products to customers all over the country. They sell organic seed potatoes.

The challenge they came to me with was this: they are managing their inventory very carefully because they only grow so many potatoes and if they run out, they're not going to have any more until the next season. So they need to make sure they don't oversell. And since they ship all over the country, they're shipping live produce that needs to be alive when it gets to the customers. They need to be able to switch between insulated and uninsulated boxes, depending on when the customer requests that the order be shipped. So a farmer in Texas who's growing potatoes is going to need their potatoes a lot sooner than a farmer up in Minnesota. So when people place their order, they might place it in December, but they don't want those potatoes to show up until May.

So getting that system out of pieces of paper sitting inside a filing cabinet inside their barn where it's been for the past few decades and into a WooCommerce based online store was the challenge. I've been working on that with them and actually just launched their new site a couple of weeks ago. It's been going really well for them. So I'm the guy who comes in to help solve those problems that every small business has and those unique needs. It's a lot of fun because I get to work with a lot of interesting businesses and each project brings a brand new challenge.

Brad: Well who knew selling potatoes was so action packed? There are a lot of things you don't think about selling a product, selling a piece of food, selling a vegetable or fruit. But there are special considerations. Backing up a bit, I'm curious to hear about your story because you've been doing this, according to your website, for over 20 years in the web space. Obviously, WooCommerce and WordPress have not been around that long, so I'd like to hear a little bit about your journey. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like you're pretty laser-focused on eCommerce and WooCommerce, with that niche. And I always, I liked the stories of how people ended up there cause it wasn't the plan say 10, 15 years ago. It's just kind of where you ended up. And it's always a fun little journey. So maybe you can kind of walk us through how you ended up on WooCommerce.

Jeff’s 20-year journey on the web

Jeff: Absolutely. It's definitely been a fun journey. My career path has been pretty winding and nonlinear and a lot of people in the tech space share that. But as I started building webpages, as soon as my family got a computer and got online my first webpages were built in a text editor on MacOS or back then it was called system seven. And I just fell in love with being able to start typing and and create something that could be shared all over the world. At the time I thought I was going to be a musician. I ended up going to college and thinking I might be a writer and then falling in love with technical theater and got a degree in set and lighting design for theater, but realized I didn't want to do that professionally.

So the technology has always been computers and web development has always been the skill that I've been able to use as kind of a thread to connect all of my pivots. And after going through a few different careers, in web development for large software companies and software user interface design, I went back to school to get a master's degree in architecture, the building kind. My software developer friends were saying, yeah, software architecture. Nope, I'm going to go design buildings now. After going after a bunch of different jobs, I finally admitted to myself that I was unemployable, which is why I had been moving from job to job, to career, to career, to career over the years. About five years ago decided I would strike out on my own and looked at all of the skills I'd put together over the past two decades in varied careers and decided I wanted to help small businesses owned and run by people like me to create their own thing, to build their own business, not be working for someone else on someone else's dream.

That led to a focus on people making and selling products online initially. One of my first clients was a custom jeweler. That was also one of my first WooCommerce sites about five years ago. And I saw how much fun it is to work with small businesses, help them solve their unique problems and and help them succeed in doing what's most fulfilling in their own life.

WordPress, then WooCommerce

Bob: When did WordPress come into play? Had you started playing around with WordPress before you started working on your first WooCommerce site?

Jeff: Yeah. I think I got into WordPress in 2007 or so when I was still working for a software company. The development team wanted an internal blog set up and I said, okay, I've been meaning to learn this WordPress thing. I'll set that up. So that was the beginning. I'd been building websites and PHP and had worked with Joomla a little bit back when it was called Mambo. So moving into WordPress was a really easy transition. It was kind of like building my very first webpage. It was easy to put together a fully functioning content management system- based website. That was pretty cool to be able to spin it up on your own machine or put it on any host and just have it work.

The developer community on top of that was fantastic and, the ability to go in and do it, make the site basically do anything you could imagine it doing was exciting. And that's what's kept me involved in the community ever since. And WooCommerce? It was the logical choice for me when I started getting clients coming to me and saying, hey, I want to sell something online. In 2015, when I was starting to get into eCommerce, Shopify wasn't the colossus of eCommerce as it is now. And there were a lot of older legacy shopping cart products out there. Since I was already comfortable with WordPress and really enjoyed working with it, I got into WooCommerce right away.

What I loved about that, and I still love about it, is that it lets you own your entire online store. You aren't running your store platform on on a product or a platform that someone else is controlling. So it gives you that independence and control over the crucial, essential part of your business, which is being able to sell your products online. And it lets you make it what you want it to be. You aren't connecting your business with the fortunes or ideas of another company.

Brad: It goes back to that example you shared with the potatoes, right? Like trying to find a system, a hosted solution or third party system out there that's going to be that specific and meet the requirements you have and there may be systems out there that are that flexible. But when you start to get through very specific like ordering processes and workflows, and will they buy it today, but we don't want to ship it till a certain date and then it has to be at the warehouse and things like that, it gets much harder to find a tool that is that flexible. Whereas, you have WordPress that is built to be that flexible and obviously WooCommerce is built in the same way. So the sky's the limit, right?

Obviously it always comes down to like time, budget and things like that. But ultimately you can set up WooCommerce to do whatever you want, which in my opinion is one of its major strengths, along with the idea of owning your own content, which I've always been a major fan of. And that's another reason why I like open source software. You can own your data.

I'm curious. You've been doing WooCommerce for about five years now. What kinds of trends are you seeing when you consult with a number of different companies and different types of products and it sounds like a lot of unique products and companies and services as well? Are you seeing trends? Or you seeing mistakes people are making that seems like a commonality? Are you seeing things that people are doing that are trending, that are actually working well? I'm just curious if there are good or bad trends that you've seen over the past five years and where those are headed.

Trends and client experience from 5 years of WooCommerce

Jeff: I can only speak to the trends that I see in my own customers, but something I'm seeing that is happening to small to medium eCommerce business community-at-large is a trend toward integrating across different sales channels. More and more people are coming to me asking about selling online and in a physical store or selling on their own personal website and selling on an online marketplace or selling through fulfillment by Amazon or something like that. Because buyers are starting to expect that they're going to be able to purchase and access a company's products or services in the place that they feel most comfortable shopping.

It's a challenge for small or medium-sized businesses to be able to extend their eCommerce footprint across different channels and in different marketplaces in their online stores. So a lot of the people are trying to figure out how to make that work and make sure that they can keep their inventory all in one place or manage their data and all that.

The other piece is trying to figure out how to market yourself. It's the age- old question. For a while it seemed like we could just do some Google ad words or get on social media. But I think we're in the middle of another shift where social media is is where certain people in certain demographics are starting to get a bad taste in their mouth.

And this becomes so pervasive in terms of how businesses connect to their customers, what is going to come after that. If people are turning away from using big platforms like Facebook, people are starting to feel a uneasy about sharing so much personal information on Facebook or on other social media platforms, and combine that with people starting to lose trust in sharing their information online, how is that going to affect people looking to promote their businesses? Honestly what I find is my clients are going back to using referrals and expanding their customer base through email marketing and that kind of thing.

Brad: I like the the topic of where to sell your product. I think that's an interesting one. And it's definitely a challenge because, like you mentioned, Amazon's the place. Everyone feels like they need to be there. So while it's clear that when you sell on Amazon, the buyers are there, there are other considerations. Like keeping track of inventory and the markup you have to do to include things like free shipping. Because almost anything you find on Amazon, if you go directly to the store that sells it, it's cheaper. But then you have to weigh it like, well yeah, maybe it's $5 cheaper, but do I want to deal with them directly? I'd rather just deal with Amazon.

I think a lot of stores make less money selling through Amazon, but they make more sales. So it's a catch 22. It is very good for a lot of retailers, don't get me wrong. Those are important questions for people to ask themselves if they're looking to add their products to Amazon or eBay or some of the other sellers. To have a game plan going into it, to think about the pros and cons and then make sure you understand how you would manage something like that. Best case scenario, it works well, right? And you get a ton of sales. Well can you handle it, can you track that inventory? Can you sell that many products? Good problem to have, but certainly easier to think about ahead of time versus after the fact.

Selling with WooCommerce and on a marketplace

Jeff: I think another thing to keep in mind is what type of customers you are looking for. Not every business wants the typical Amazon customer. The Amazon customer is focused on lowest price, fastest shipping , and I think for a lot of businesses, that's not their key differentiator. Especially the type of businesses that I work with who aren't dropshippers. They aren't really selling commodity products. It's not going to be good for their business to be focusing on customers who just want the lowest price and the fastest free shipping because that's not where their strengths lie. So , Amazon is an enticing thing because they've got all the traffic. They've got a lot of customers that you can get in front of, but you really have to ask yourself, are those my customers, are those my ideal customers or should I be focused elsewhere?

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WooCommerce and marketplace integrations

Bob: Is WooCommerce keeping up with providing the integrations to be able to sell on these other platforms or are you still finding that there's a lot of custom work that you need to do?

Jeff: It depends. The virtue of WooCommerce is that it's open, but is also a challenge in this situation. WooCommerce has their own API. And a lot of these other platforms have APIs of varying levels of sophistication and access. At the moment there are a lot of different ways to connect WooCommerce to other different platforms. One that I've run into fairly regularly is connecting to the Etsy marketplace and trying to manage stock and prices in synchronized orders between WooCommerce and Etsy. There isn't really a one-size-fits-all solution. I have a client who has a very small number of products that they sell and there's this solution I've been using for them that works very well to synchronize the inventory between their website and their Etsy store.

I have another client who has over 2000 pieces of individual unique, one of a kind vintage pieces of clothing. And that solution I used with the client with a smaller product catalog just didn't work with her because it couldn't scale up to sync that number of products.

I've got another client who's got a similar number of products, but her business has a higher volume and higher margin, so she's able to justify spending a monthly fee on using a multichannel integration service. I think she's been using the Webgility platform for a few years. That's a completely different level of integration, kind of a built-for-you turnkey solution that can handle a lot in terms of products and sales.

On the other hand, it's a little more expensive than those types of service. It tends to start at around 75 or 100 bucks a month. So you've got to think. Are the savings in efficiency and the increase in sales volume going to offset that cost and make it worthwhile? And then there are some other integrations that have been around for awhile. Like the integration with Square that I think is starting to mature. The new version of the WooCommerce Square plugin just got updated to version 2 last year. That improved the reliability of the syncing and the overall robustness. I've been using that on a couple of different client's sites where they have a Square point of sale in a retail location, but the Square eCommerce solution just wasn't cutting it for them. It doesn't have the features that WooCommerce has. But it's really come into its own in the past six months or a year.

So, like I said, it depends on what your business is looking to integrate with and the scale of your business. The nice thing is, because WooCommerce is so open, even if there isn't an existing integration there's usually a way to get it to work. It's just a matter of the effort spent in time and funds and if that is going balance out. But but you can usually find a way to make it happen.

Customers react with React

Brad: I have one question and this is one I've been thinking about a lot. It actually segues into one of the news items we're going to be talking about, which is WooCommerce 4.0. But this is focused around React and seeing it with the new dashboard in WooCommerce.

Obviously the block editor in Gutenberg within WordPress is a biggie that comes to mind, but it's clearly a shift in the direction of development around WordPress and we're talking WordPress because that's what this show's about, right? But React is being used by a lot of people out there. I'm curious how something like that affects the type of work you do. Is there a major impact? No impact? Do your clients or customers even care or know what React is?

Jeff: I think most of my clients would just give you a blank look, and then ask, "it Reacts to what"? Most of my clients are not in technical or software driven fields, so they don't really care—if it's running or if it's a React- based interface. They just want it to work and meet their business needs. I think they are enjoying the results of some of the push to Reactify admin and the block editor. I know when WordPress 5 came out, I guess a year ago, on most of my clients sites where I had an active management role, I put the classic editor plugin on. So they wouldn't see anything.

But over the past year I've turned that off on most of those sites. Because the flexibility that the block editor gives nontechnical users has been has been great for at least my clients. And then the richness to the number and type of WooCommerce blocks that that have been coming out has also been great. The example a lot of people will think of was customizing the homepage for a WooCommerce-based site. If you're using a Storefront child theme or maybe a Genesis framework theme, you're trying to get the homepage to show what you want and that was never the most intuitive process. You'd have to either write some custom code into your child theme or find a third-party plugin or use a homepage control and even then it was an indirect way of figuring out what you were trying to get on the homepage.

But now with the block editor, you can start with a blank page and put in your favorite products or new products reviews, or any kind of WooCommerce content or other WordPress content that you want. And having that drag-and-drop simplicity right there in WordPress core and WooCommerce core has been a great thing for my clients. Because it gives you that type of flexibility and direct control over the page that previously you would've had to use a page builder to get—and the mix of good and bad that you get when you start involving a page builder in your website. At the very least, it's one more thing to learn how to use. But with the block editor being the default editor in WordPress now, it's just part of the core package people are already becoming familiar with.

Brad: That's good to hear. And I think people love that flexibility. Like you mentioned, there is that caveat; sometimes too much control isn't a good thing, but for most people I think they're cautious and map things out. But we'll see the direction that goes because we had Darren on the show, right, Bob?, a few months back and he's on the WooCommerce build team. He hinted at some things coming where they might integrate the block editor into the cart, into the checkout process. Which sounds scary on the surface, drag-and-drop cart and checkout process options. But there's a world where that could be absolutely amazing.

Jeff: Definitely, so that you don't have to find the visual hook reference every time you're trying to add some content to your cart page or your checkout page. Especially if your business has some complicated shipping rules or things that the customers need to be aware of. Being able to add some additional content in there would be great. As one of my grad school professors in architecture would always say, this could be quite good if done correctly. (I wonder what he means by correctly.)

One other thing, just to jump back to React and the WordPress and WooCommerce admin, there are huge opportunities for increases in efficiency in the back end using a React type framework. With a lot of my clients who have larger product catalogs or large order volumes, managing products in the back end and the current order screen or product screen, that can be a significant bottleneck when it comes to performance and keeping the admin portion of WooCommerce and WordPress responsive from a performance standpoint. So being able to get away from whole page refreshes and reduce the size of some of the queries that are involved in generating those admin pages will be something a lot of people will appreciate.

Bob: Well, that was a perfect segue into talking a little bit about the 4.0.

Brad: I'm professional, Bob.

WooCommerce admin coming to core

Bob: Yeah, you're on it. Last week, our guest did the perfect segue into the news. So I'm just sitting back and letting everybody else handle it. But yeah, 4.0 that's the next one up. And speaking of the biggest feature for that: the WooCommerce admin, which is now a plugin. I have it on my site, which is neither here nor there, because I don't have a ton of sales on my site, but I do run WooCommerce. Curious, have any of your clients use that as a plugin, Jeff? And have you heard any feedback on that?

Jeff: Yeah, since the plugin has been available, I've been enabling it on new sites I develop. The clients who've been using it have really enjoyed the new dashboard. It gives you a view of your shop at a glance. For people coming from other platforms, or coming from no platform, and they always ask, where can I see some shop analytics and statistics? Sometimes the built-in reports with WooCommerce have been enough, but a lot of clients want to dive down and see what's really going on in their shop. So that dashboard has been the feature that people have really latched onto the most.

My current clients are used to doing it the old way and they're not looking for something else. When I'm onboarding new clients, I still point them toward the existing order and product management. Because all of the tools and features that you expect are there right now. So there isn't any feature or tool where you're saying, well, you can't do that from this part of the site yet, and they'll say, well, I don't want to have to learn two different ways of doing the same thing, so I'm just going to use this one. It's the same cycle that people were in when Gutenberg first rolled out. There were still some things that you can't do yet, or you have to use a block editor or the classic editor. But as it matures, more and more people are getting on board. And I see WooCommerce and the new admin already on that same pathway.

Brad: I can't believe it already has almost a million active installs. The standalone plugin, that's significant. I think that 4.0 is going to include the admin, which is a major change. Anytime there's a major change in eCommerce software, people get concerned. And they say it's not a major release but, come on, you're changing the whole admin. So it is in my opinion and the fact that almost a million people are actively running it, that's the type of stuff that gives me peace of mind. It has been battle- tested and it is in a pretty good spot to roll into core at this point versus if they just kind of shoved it in and it wasn't actually a plugin and you have no idea how many people were using it. It gives us some numbers to help us feel better about it.

Jeff: Yeah. I don't know very much about the internal development processes of this piece of WooCommerce, but they were pretty aggressive about suggesting that people install the admin plugin early on. That combined with the fact that they didn't try to do too much all at once. It's been gaining features little by little, getting refined and getting bug fixes rolled in. That's what's allowed them to get to that point where you see a million active installs. And some people are already using it because it was easy to opt in and try it out, but also non-disruptive. It wasn't going to take your store down or keep you from doing things the way they're used to. So, I'd say it's a great example of a successful public beta process for this particular plugin and new features.

Bob: Yeah. It'll be interesting. Then there'll be those clients, Jeff, that you said are used to the old way. They're going to have to conform a bit when it comes to 4.0. So that'll be something that you can look forward to.

WooCommerce 4.0 beta testing

Bob: I'd like to mention one more thing. Just to let everybody know, WooCommerce 4.0 beta testing is starting. You can get that white-glove service where you can do some beta testing and they'll help you with some stuff. They also reward you with a $200 WooCommerce coupon. The actual testing has started and I think your chance to join ends in a week or two. So I'll leave the link. They probably are still accepting some people to join that. We'll add that to the notes. Other than that, I think we are good to go. What do you think, Brad?

Brad: Yeah, I think we nailed it. Great show. But let's wrap it up. So quickly I want to thank our sponsors. WooCommerce. Maybe you've heard of them. I hope. If you're listening to the show, WooCommerce is our new community sponsor, which is awesome. We thank them for that and definitely go check out FooEvents and the whole ticketing bundle they have. They're over at FooEvents.com. You can do custom attendee fields, multi-day seating, PDF tickets, calendar integration, free check-in apps. Pretty cool product if you're selling tickets to events and things like that. So we definitely want to thank them for sponsoring the podcast.

And as always, go on over to BobWP.com You subscribe to the show, sign up for Woo news, become a Friend of the Show and check out all the past amazing episodes that Bob and I and some other hosts have been been releasing. Some really great stuff over there, right Bob?.

Bob: Right.

Brad: And before we wrap it up, we definitely want to thank you for joining us, Jeff, and give you an opportunity to let people know where they can find you online.

Jeff: Yeah, and I appreciate you having me here. You can find me on DBDC.us. That's my website. That's the best place to find me online.

Brad: I like it. Well, Bob, anything else?

Bob: Nope. I think that'll do it. It's been a good show. So thanks everyone for joining in and we'll be back next week with more Do the Woo.