Behind the Scenes with a WooCommerce Product Lead

Do the Woo Podcast Guest Gary Murray Episode 160

Do the Woo - A WooCommerce Podcast
Do the Woo - A WooCommerce Podcast
Behind the Scenes with a WooCommerce Product Lead

As we continue our conversations with people inside of WooCommerce, Gary delivers with a lot of insights on how the wheels turn within the organization.

Connect with Gary

  • @garysmurray

Highlights of the chat with Gary

  • A typical day for Gary at WooCommerce [00:45]
  • Splitting his time between three areas of focus [02:40]
  • Woo Blocks, the beginnings, the product and the next steps in both community and internal feedback [04:06]
  • Bringing the community on board with the WooCommerce internal ideas [08:43]
  • The changes to communication within WooCommerce as it has grown [14:47]
  • So many departments, so many people. Who is who? [21:21]
  • Learning and growing within WooCommerce [25:22]
  • Sharing ideas internally at WooCommerce [29:10]
  • Sharing the short-term and long-term vision [34:02]
  • The bumps in the road [36:52]
  • The friction of the marketing site and the eCommerce site [39:05]
  • Gary listening to music while he works, yay or nay [43:46]

Thanks to Our Pod Friends

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Ronald: Welcome, everybody, to another episode of Do the Woo, episode 160. My name is Ronald. I work for YITH, and together I have cohost Zach Stepek, who is the CEO of Mighty Swarm, a company focusing on Woo performance. And, Zach, we have somebody here from WooCommerce. Why don't you introduce our guest?

Zach: We do. So we're joined today by Gary Murray, whose official title is the Director of Merchant Marketing for Channels & Online Store Design, but I think we can summarize that by saying you're a product lead, right, Gary?

Gary: Yeah. I think that's probably the title that most people would understand.

A typical day for Gary at WooCommerce [00:45]

Ronald: And I think there's one burning question and that's the question we always ask everybody who comes on this show. What do you do at WooCommerce? And describe a typical day of some of your tasks, and who do you connect with?

Gary: Yeah, thanks for having me on the call. Essentially, what do I do would be, at its highest level, essentially, we have a few focus areas in WooCommerce, where we've tried to group ourselves around what it is that our merchants are doing at various times in terms of their experience building the e-commerce business, and, as such, we've created these focus areas.

And then, so I function essentially as a business or a product or a focus lead, within WooCommerce. It's a fairly broad range of things from sort of our channel marketing integrations that we have that are helping our merchants to be able to market their stores, to the sort of online store design experience, which traditionally would be in the theme space, but definitely in the direction that WordPress is moving in from the Gutenberg perspective, it's more now looking at things from the blocks perspective, and then coming out of the blocks. What started off, essentially, as a project and is slowly basically turning into more of a product, was I worked to actually convert what was the short codes for the Cart & Checkouts to actually be fully functioning blocks, which we spoke actually about on the Do the Woo podcast probably about six months ago. I think we had a call with myself and Darren, the development lead, and Bob, but we actually spoke through what we were doing on the Cart & Checkout blocks itself.

Ronald: So is that taking up most of your time now still, six months later, on converting these shortcodes, is that your main project right now, or do you have other focus areas?

Splitting his time between three areas of focus [02:40]

Gary: I split my time probably equally between those three things. So at any given time, I'd be potentially working with Google or Pinterest or Facebook from a channel marketing perspective, I'd be working with a team that's sort of more singularly focused on sort of full site editing experience, or what we term in store design experience. And then the Cart & Checkout blocks are definitely a dedicated area as well that needs dedicated attention.

In terms of where we were the last time we were on the call, we have definitely continued to make progress. We recently launched what is internally referred to as our second iteration, essentially, of the checkout block, but it basically took what was our monolithic one singular approach to creating the checkout block for a MVP perspective and sort of broke it down into inner blocks. So now the checkout block is made up of inner blocks. It adds loads more flexibility and extensibility for our developer community, and we've done the same thing now, essentially, with the cart block and that'll be coming out soon, and alongside that we're continuing the work to actually integrate more and more extensions with it and making sure that we are adding the extensibility points where needed to be able to just make sure that the checkouts and the cart block will be able to replace the short codes eventually.

Woo Blocks, the beginnings, the product and the next steps in both community and internal feedback [04:06]

Ronald: Great. So if we sort of stick to this project of blocks, obviously it starts with an idea. Somebody has an idea, is like, "Oh, wouldn't it be great if we use this technology and extend it within WooCommerce?" So could you describe the process or the progress of when that maybe started, and how that then forms into a product, and then, also, how does the feedback mechanism work of the community or internally, and maybe then, where we are now looking into the future, what sort of the next big steps are of that process?

Gary: Yeah, I mean the cart and the checkout block, definitely a good project to look at it from that perspective, because if I recall back to the beginning of the project, essentially it started out pretty much as: we wanted to be improving the conversion rate for our merchants, how could they actually improve the conversion rate for their stores? And so it was at that stage that we essentially went away and we looked at: what did we currently have from a Cart & Checkout experience on WooCommerce, and what would we actually want that experience to become if we were to actually rebuild it, essentially? So we didn't look at it from a perspective of: how do we convert it from being short codes to being blocks? It was looking at it from the perspective of: how do we create the best checkout experience for our merchants?

And then at that stage, once we had essentially designed what we wanted it to be, then we looked at it and we said, "Is this essentially, the way that it's built within WooCommerce? Or is there an opportunity for us to be able to rethink the way that the cart and the checkout is actually built in WooCommerce to be able to move it forward and improve it for the future?"

And it was at that point that we made the decision to not try and build the improvements into the short codes themselves, but actually to rethink the way that the cart and the checkout experience worked on WooCommerce and come up with something entirely new. And at that stage, then, based on the fact that everything is moving in the direction of Gutenberg, it made sense for us to essentially build that using blocks. I mean, "building blocks" is what it is at the end of the day, but it was like that was the underlying piece upon which we've built it is the Gutenberg technology.

Zach: And I think the best part about that technology isn't just the fact that we have this higher converting checkout experience now, but the fact that it's given us more customizability without code. So with the new versions, the ability to shift those blocks around and move them into new configurations gives store owners flexibility to experiment with what might improve conversion for their audience. And I love that. I think that that is the direction that we need to move in for other parts of the WooCommerce experience as well, from the product category templates to the product page templates as well, because every merchant has different needs. And if we can serve those needs by giving them this set of building blocks to play with and to adjust to the needs of their audience, we're going to better serve those merchants. So I think it's a really good initiative and I've been really excited about it for a long time.

Gary: One of the exciting parts from our perspective as well is that, like you explained there, is we can give merchants the ability to essentially go in and potentially make a lot of customization to the cart and the checkout for instance, or in the future to, say, for instance, the product page. But what it also brings to the developer community is that someone who's essentially developing and building the store for a merchant, the way that Gutenberg works, they can also, if they get to a configuration that works for that store, they can lock it down so that then they can prevent the merchant, for instance, from actually going in and doing something to their cart and checkout that actually potentially breaks, decreases the conversion rates, or add something to the product page that actually creates issues. So it's like the best of both worlds, essentially, where we're able to give merchants a huge amount of customizability and flexibility, but then we're also giving the ability for that to be curtailed in a way that's a better user experience, ultimately, for both our merchants and for the builder community.

Bringing the community on board with the WooCommerce internal ideas [08:43]

Ronald: That's a really interesting example. And I suppose that's part of the feedback, where you had developers with concerns saying, "Oh, but hang on, this is all great that you provide these tools, but I also need to make sure that it works well." And also what Zach is saying of: it's great to have all these tools and to play around with, but I can see it's quite a brave thing, right from the beginning, to have this vision of: Ah, wouldn't it be fantastic if we do this? But you re-imagine something that's so classic, so set within e-commerce, and to bring everybody on board with your vision of your end goal of where you think this is going to be. And even then, along the way, you probably have had doubts if it's the right thing. What is your approach to bring the community, however big, whether it's developers or the wider WooCommerce user community, how do you bring them on board with your idea? Do you have a certain pattern, a way of doing things?

Gary: It was definitely to get to that point of having what we term the MVP, essentially, of something that we could essentially put out there that showed the working concept of what it was that we were wanting to move towards and why we felt this was going to be a better experience to what existed now, so that, as soon as possible, both merchants and our developer and builder community would be able to see this is the direction we're moving in, this is the reason we're moving in this direction, and this is the improvement it's going to be able to make to WooCommerce as a product at the end of the day.

The approach we've taken works because it's built in the feature plugin. It allows us to be iterating on it continuously as we're working towards getting to the final solution. So it wasn't a case of us trying to build something and then shipping it and saying, "Here it is, we're replacing the short codes with this new checkout," and then we haven't actually taken into account enough feedback from, be it merchants, be it from our builder community or the developer community, and to be able to actually understand the needs of our entire ecosystem to help us actually move forward towards getting to our goal which is to make something that does improve the conversion rate. That's the original goal, like I said at the start, we wanted something that improves the conversion rate. We weren't just trying to replace the old checkout with a newly designed checkout that looked better. We wanted something that was actually going to work for our entire ecosystem.

So that's the approach we've taken, basically, is faster iteration on things to be able to keep working on it, and then we've also internally, to make sure that we're not just building something that suits our needs, essentially, we've always tried to make sure that as we've built new extensibility points in the checkout block, for instance, that we are testing that against extensions that we have in the marketplace, that potentially we own ourselves as WooCommerce, to make sure that what we build in works for our developer community, and then getting feedback from the developer community, like we've had some payment partners who've been able to build their extensions or convert the extensions to work with it.

So we're continuously basically open to feedback and making the changes that we need to make sure that the ultimate thing that we're going to have one day that's going to be able to replace the short codes. It may never be able to work for 100% of every extension that's potentially existed out there that integrates with the current short code, for instance. So there may always be a case where there may be some use cases where they would prefer to use the short code, ultimately, because of some legacy feature that they built eight years ago that we maybe now deem could be addressed in a different way and isn't suitable for what we're trying to build in the new version of the Cart & Checkout.

Ronald: Yeah. So, Zach, did you experience the sort of the rollout of the announcements and getting developers to come on board with the bigger vision, how did you experience that?

Zach: I saw some of the first blog posts about the project and got the feature plugin installed in my local dev environment pretty much right away, did a presentation about it for the Chicago WooCommerce meetup, just because that's how I learn best is by teaching, so like to throw things into presentations as quickly as possible so that I reinforce them for myself. Talked about what the future might be like in that presentation, so I got to kind of do some of the same vision casting that I'm sure that Gary and the team have done, just what the experience could be like in the future. So that was really my experience diving in, and then as the new releases have come, keeping the feature plugin updated and keeping track of what work has been done, and testing it constantly in my local environment. Now that's been the basic experience.

Ronald: Interesting. I did a similar sort of thing for my meetup in London, I just do a live demo and sort of explored it together, it's like, "Oh! How about this? Actually, you can make a lot of changes and already, even from the early versions, you could drag in some blocks to do some upselling, for example, so that's really great."

Gary, how long have you been working at Automattic, at WooCommerce?

Gary: I joined really just before the acquisition, so it's a bit tricky, I can't remember exactly what year the acquisition happened in, but I think it's probably about five or six years now, potentially, that I've been working at Automattic. Yeah.

The changes to communication within WooCommerce as it has grown [14:47]

Ronald: So my next question is then sort of related to that, because the team at Woo has grown enormously, and I can imagine that back in the earlier days, and this is just an assumption, that communicating with other departments to drive something forward, whether it is with the developers on code or with the marketing team to create your vision. For instance, now, where the team at WooCommerce has grown quite significantly, has it become easier or is it more difficult to make changes? Maybe that's also part because WooCommerce has become much bigger and widely adopted.

Gary: Yeah, I think, I mean, a good example of actually the impact of the way that the WooCommerce as a company has grown as a division of the inside of Automattic. I've related it recently, when you go off on AFK, at the beginning, you could go off on AFK . So in terms of, if not everyone on the call knows, AFK is essentially taking a few days' holiday, essentially. And in the early days, you could take a few days, you could take two weeks' break, and you could come back and you didn't feel completely swamped when you got back with all the notifications and the stuff that had been happening, and how quickly certain projects had moved in the period of the two weeks that you were away. Now, you can take two days' vacation and you come back and it just feels like you almost come back to a different company again, because so many things are just moving into so many different places and everything keeps moving forward.

So there definitely is way more stuff happening within WooCommerce now than there was when I joined. That's definitely for sure, which, I mean, it seems logical at the end of the day that we should be at that point where there is so many more things happening, as the company is growing, as WooCommerce's product, the product usage is growing and stuff, so it is great. But it definitely does bring with it those kind of challenges of trying to make sure that you essentially are communicating across the company to the various divisions that you're working on, to make sure that you're not potentially working on something where two teams could rather be collaborating, as opposed to you may have two teams that are potentially building things in isolation of each other. So you've got to make sure that there's enough cross-collaboration, which is definitely something that we brought into effect when we've...

What I was talking about earlier with this business-focused product lead-type role was to ensure that we had people who, at that, so I guess not necessarily level in the company, but at that area of the company, are actually making sure that we are cross-communicating, for us to be able to understand what each focus area is working on, so that we can find the areas of collaboration, that we are communicating well between myself, for instance, in my area, and working with the product marketing team to make sure that our requirements of them are going to be met at the time that we need it.

So there's a lot of cross-collaboration that has to happen across the company now, which is definitely very different to how it used to be. I mean, we've always been a remote company, but definitely in the early days, it was one of those situations where you felt like you knew everyone. If we were in a real-world environment, you would imagine swinging around at your desk and just tapping the person on the shoulder and saying, "Hey, we're working on this project, it's going to launch in two days' time, can you help with the launch?" Whereas now, it's not a case of that, you got to definitely be two months in advance talking to, making sure you're finding the right person that you can talk to about the product that you're working on for that you want to launch, to be able to make sure that we don't get to the point where we're ready to launch and our product marketing team is like this is the first time they're hearing about the fact that we're working on this, for instance.

Ronald: That's such a good insight.

Zach: Yeah, I've definitely seen that change myself over time. I live not far from Andrew Wikel, so we talk a lot about the team and the team structure and how support has changed after acquisition and throughout the growth, and even just the way that Automattic is structured internally has changed over the last couple of years, with Paul basically taking a CEO-type role over WooCommerce, rather than just being the Director of WooCommerce under Automattic. It's feeling like things are becoming more autonomous in the various working groups inside Automattic, which is cool to see as time moves on as well.

BobWP: Hey BobWP here and I’d like to take a moment to thank to of our Pod Friends for their support of Do the Woo.

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And now let's head back to the show.

So many departments, so many people. Who is who? [21:21]

Ronald: So with the different departments, how do you communicate with each other? Is this done through a P2. Because you must have a directory to find out who's who and who's responsible for what, because you just shared that earlier, and I thought, "Wow, yes, if you have a couple of hundred people working there, in a company, and then moving departments, it's quite a task to find out who's who."

Gary: Yeah, we do. I think that's probably definitely one of the benefits of having been at the company since the acquisition, essentially, is that you're more aware of all the people that have joined and what all their roles are, as opposed to, potentially, every person who joins now that I would have a call with, for instance, it's one of the first things I say to them is, "I do feel sorry for you joining the company now with the amount of people and the amount of information that you essentially need to try and navigate your way through to understand who's who and who does what within the company and which projects are currently happening."

So that's a big challenge, I mean, I think about it. I don't have the exact numbers now but I think when I joined, so we used P2 internally, basically, which is like a super-powered blogging system essentially, for us to be able to communicate internally across projects and things that we're working on. And if I recall correctly, there were probably about 300 P2s when we were acquired. And I don't know, I would definitely probably say there's probably over 1000 P2s now that are within the company for various things. I mean, that's obviously across the whole of Automattic, but it is definitely one of the challenges that you face is trying to make sure that you know who's responsible for what, but as we've grown over the years, we've definitely tried to put in place...

At the end of the day, I mean, we are a software company, so we can sort of build these tools that we can use for us to be able to understand who does what, who's experienced in what, who has knowledge in different things, so that if you are looking for certain specific insights into who worked on this project, or who was responsible for this thing shipping, or who made a decision that we were not going to build this feature, we were going to build this feature, we are able to find that information very easily using what we essentially with something we use in the company.

One of the things, if I just go, when you join Automattic, we default to communicating via text. So if you had the option between actually writing something as a P2 post and then discussing it in comments versus jumping onto a video call to discuss it, we would definitely defer to putting it on a P2 so that we can have the discussion there, because written text is searchable versus a video call is not searchable. And that allows us in the company to always be able to find information, where decisions were made, why a decision was made, to be able to get the context behind the people that were involved in something.

I mean, I've been working on WooCommerce, since I joined, WooThemes moved across to Automattic, haven't moved to anything else, but say, for instance, I had shifted and was now working on Jetpack, for instance, someone would still be able to find that at some point, maybe in 2016, Gary was responsible for this decision. They could still come and find me and go, "What were the reasons behind why we didn't do this, or why we did launch this feature or didn't launch that feature?" So that enables us to be a lot more aware of who's in the company and who's been working on different things over the course of the years.

Learning and growing within WooCommerce [25:22]

Ronald: But that's a really good lesson for anybody, any business that's sort of scaling up and we have team members coming in and out and moving around, to have a record of many years, so to say. Another question for you, maybe personally, but also maybe as a sort of recommendation you have for new team members joining the Automattic and WooCommerce family, is: how do you learn, and how do you learn new skills when it comes to the wider e-commerce, and educate yourself for what the trends are, what you need to focus on? Do you take feedback? Do you read? What's your way of progressing?

Gary: Yeah, I think that's so broad in terms of what you could be looking at it, but an example: I think you basically got to stay inquisitive to finding out the information related to whatever area that you're currently working in. For instance, literally just before this call, I was watching a video around our Google listings integration that we built and launched earlier this year, and it was a promotional piece that's been done by a third party, and I was just reviewing the video that they had. And in the video, they essentially shared a slide in it with some insights that they were using to sort of validate why you would essentially be wanting to use the Google integration, why you want to have your products appearing across the Google network. And you see the slide, you see the bar, you see the graphs and stuff and it looks interesting, but what I did at that point was paused the video and looked at the slides it was referring to and looked at the bottom, at the little source of where were those graphs actually coming from?

So I found the report, Googled it, went and found the actual report to actually go and dig deeper into where were these insights that he was sharing coming from? Was there potentially more that I could be learning from that little bit of information he shared? Maybe there's a whole lot more stuff I could potentially be gathering from that. So that's where I would say is the area in which you're interested in, is to stay inquisitive within that area, essentially, and as you start to dig deeper within trying to find information, you often will find them in... You could term it a rabbit hole, for instance, but you definitely end up heading off in different directions, which then essentially extends the information you have, extends the knowledge you have and potentially shows that... or broadens your interests, and you might find, hang on, hang on, there's another thing here, potentially, that's sort of tangentially related to this thing that I'm working on, but maybe the two things sort of do align, potentially.

So that's how I've sort of worked throughout my whole career, essentially, is just trying to make sure that I stay inquisitive to the area I'm working on. And just from my perspective, I think it sort of leans into the mix of sort of the different... the skillset I have is definitely from a data side, I'm very hungry for data, if I can find the information on things, the reasons why people are making certain decisions, how that potentially can be extrapolated out, what you could infer from data, that's definitely the kind of stuff that gets me up in the morning, essentially, is to go and find that kind of information and how we can essentially then bring that back into the WooCommerce product.

Zach: And it's really interesting to hear a bit of how the process works, really, and get that kind of behind-the-scenes look at exactly what your role entails and how things move through the organization. It's really cool.

Sharing ideas internally at WooCommerce [29:10]

Ronald: What you said, Zach made me think of something. Gary, you've been working there for a very long time, you have a role that's sort of well integrated, you have all the context, but if you're fairly new to the company and you have this insight, whether this is a report or a book you've read, and you want to share that with the company, is that possible? How do people do that?

Gary: That's the great part about the way that it works is. I actually saw this recently and I was going back out of interest and I was like, "I wonder, what were the first P2 posts that I put up when I joined the company? What did I actually share when we were acquired by Automattic, what was I thinking about back in those days?" And I went back into the history and I went to go find out what they were. And literally to what you're talking about is I was just sharing the stuff that I was essentially reading in the evenings, because if I came across an interesting report or a couple of interesting insights, I would write a P2 post. At that stage, obviously, like I said, there were fewer P2s. But you got to find the one that makes most sense, so if you're trying to communicate to a specific team, you would try and find that team's P2, and potentially, anyone can.

So someone who doesn't necessarily work on, say, my focus area, and they're working somewhere else in the company, but they read something or find something that's of interest potentially to my focus area, they can come and they can post on our P2, this is what they read, this is what they thought was interesting from it, and just share it with us, for us to be able to read. And so there is no blocker to you essentially being able to share any information within the company. You can argue it's equally a good thing and equally a bad thing, in that the signal-to-noise ratio could essentially be biased in a certain direction.

For instance, if everyone is just sharing every single thing that they're reading and they're thinking is super-important, the ability to then sort of get past what is the noise and actually find the important information is tricky. But I think in general we rely on, probably, self-censorship as such, essentially, for you to be able to go. And that's maybe where you could probably say, in terms of what gets shared on Slack versus what gets shared on P2, for instance, is that if you're potentially thinking that something has value for the whole of the company, and has value for it to essentially be something that is a little bit more permanent than just a passing message in Slack, you would put it on P2 so that, essentially, you could have a conversation there on a P2 about it.

But if it's just some passing thing, which you read, which you're not 100% sure if it's that applicable, but it's just something vaguely of interest, you could definitely share it in any one of the Slack channels, and then you could get a conversation. I've seen, for instance, things that have been shared in Slack that, six or seven messages down in the thread, someone will say, "We should P2 this." And then, essentially, it'll shift from being a Slack conversation to a P2, find its way to the right P2, and then the conversation carries on there.

Zach: Yeah, that's a really interesting point. I've always, on the teams that I've run, considered Slack to be a temporal tool, right? It's there only for the conversation that's happening in that moment and you should expect that nobody will ever remember what was in that channel. So we've always treated our project management tools as our source of truth for everything. So whether that be Jira or ClickUp in recent months, it's interesting to hear that P2 kind of becomes that source of truth inside of Automattic.

Gary: Yeah, I mean, it's almost impossible. Every morning when I wake up, if I open up Slack, if Slack was supposed to be the definitive source of where I was gathering all my information and trying to follow up on the status of various things, it's almost impossible to do it, because so much stuff in the course of the time between when you log off to when you come back, so many conversations could potentially have happened, you have no way of knowing which of those were important, which of those led to an important decision being made, for instance.

So, 100% agree. Even if a conversation starts on Slack that potentially ends up in a decision, the decision moves to P2 and gets put onto a P2 post around: Here is a conversation that happened on Slack. It resulted in this decision. We documented the decision that we made and the reasons why we've made that, based on whatever conversation, and we can link to the conversation that happened in Slack, but the actual recording of the thing happens on P2, essentially.

Sharing the short-term and long-term vision [34:02]

Ronald: There's a lot of lessons you can draw from this conversation, I think. If you're scaling a business or project management, there are some very good parts in this. Gary, if I may focus a little bit on the future, maybe you can give us a flavor of what's sort of coming out in the short term, but also looking long-term ahead, if there's anything that you'd like to share with the builder community that maybe keep an eye out on this, or start focusing on a particular area? I think you probably have such a good insight of things that are really worthwhile sharing with the community.

Gary: On the builder side, it definitely would be more on the sort of store editing and all our work around the blocks and our work to essentially make WooCommerce compatible with full site editing. That's definitely the most exciting area of opportunity, I would say, for our developer and our builder community, and the area for people to essentially keep watching out. Our work, essentially, on getting WooCommerce compatible, or WooCommerce ready, for full site editing is ramping up, so we're definitely making big steps there, and you should really start to be able to see the change that'll be coming in that area in 2022 and beyond, essentially, as we actually are doing the work to make sure that we're going to be ready for full site editing, again, like the blocks work that we've done, adopting very much more the NVP approach to how we essentially do it.

And that is also learning and iterating based on feedback that we've got in the company to how we could essentially evolve WooCommerce to be ready for full site editing. We had an approach which we were adopting. We recently pivoted and we're going to take a different approach to it, which will be able to allow us to be ready sooner in certain ways. So that's definitely an area for our developer and builder community to stay aware of.

Definitely, in terms of our Developer Blog, that would be the place to be following, to be able to get the information in terms of what we're doing there. We did recently post a roadmap specifically to the cart and the checkout blocks, and essentially what we're going to be doing there next, now and later, essentially, more than likely we'll be doing a similar thing from the full site editing in the store editing perspective,. We want to make sure that our developer and our builder community in that regard is not left in the dark, and hear about things when we've got to the point where we think we are far enough or something, and then we're going to let you know about it.

We want to make sure that everyone can actually be aware of what we do in the stages we're working towards, so that we can essentially bring everyone with on the journey, as opposed to, rather, just telling them when we feel we've got to the end of the journey, essentially, again.

The bumps in the road [36:52]

Ronald: Yeah. Is this a lesson you've learned in the past? Maybe there was something where you thought, "Ooh, we should have handled that a little bit better." And this really proactive approach of bringing the community along with blog posts, with updates, roadmaps, it's a very nice way of, like you said, to bring everybody along with you.

Gary: Yeah, I don't know. I don't know if I specifically can point to one thing that I've looked at as an example of an area we maybe didn't communicate well in or something, but it's definitely, just in terms of my time at Automattic, I've definitely felt like that is one thing we can be doing better is to be making sure that we are actually bringing our community with us along the journey and explaining to them, why are we making decisions? Because at the end of the day, if we want the community to be aligned with the work we're doing and understand our motivations behind it, if we can explain our steps along the journey to getting there, it makes it much easier for our community to be able to see why we're making these decisions. But if we just come at the end and we go, "We've made this decision," then our community has no understanding of the context behind the decisions that we've taken to actually get to that point.

So that's definitely an approach that I've wanted us to use specifically, and we've tried to roll it out definitely within our own focus area. I think it also, within the core product, their job description literally is to work with the community, to be speaking with the community, understanding the needs of the community, there definitely was a movement within WooCommerce and the core product itself to be adopting that approach as well, and we've tried to keep it moving in our focus area.

Ronald: Yeah, last time we spoke with Allen Smith and shared that his sort of side is expanding. I'm not sure if it's a department, but the communication between the community and Woo, more heads to help with that. Zach, it seems like your wish is coming true, with full site editing and the category pages and so on, product pages.

The friction of the marketing site and the eCommerce site [39:05]

Zach: Yeah. I'm sure that Gary is familiar with at least some of the work that I've done on my previous teams and some of the ways that I've pushed WooCommerce in the past. So being able to do that without having to hack WooCommerce, to make it happen by doing things like enabling page builders, will be a giant step in the right direction. And I think that moves us closer to being the platform that allows for the product marketing page and the product sales page to be one and the same in all instances. And that's where the power truly is, is when we can take that marketing page, and that marketing page is the commerce page as well. We eliminate that broken experience that's happened so many other places, because the two tools very rarely meet, right? And so you look at giant companies like Apple, Apple has a great e-commerce store, but they don't have product marketing pages in their e-commerce store.

They have a marketing site and they have an e-commerce site, and they're separate and they don't meet, right? And that's friction. And as we know, friction is the killer of conversion. So as we move toward this future, where we have more tools for building these more flexible layouts and flexible pages, I think we'll get to a point where we're reducing friction through design and providing information and tools to buyers, to your customers, who are really looking for as much information as possible to make that purchase decision. That's what I'm all about is using design to reduce that friction and increase conversion.

Gary: Yeah. I mean, it makes me think about that report that I referenced earlier, that I saw on that slide and I went and dug up and found where that report was. There was actually a part in that report where they were referring to the fact that a merchant should essentially be making changes to their product page at least three times a year. They should be going in and substantially changing what is actually on the product page. And it made me think about how, in the context of WooCommerce and pretty much almost every e-commerce platform out there, your product page template is this static thing that's basically just rendering your images, your price, your product description. It never changes essentially. And the ability to go in and change it is just far too difficult for you to even try and do that.

The amount of knowledge that you have to be able to try and do it, the potential to break it, it's huge, versus what we'd be giving to our merchants through things like full site editing. It would be totally feasible for them to be able to go in and make changes to their product page now, based on insights that they're gathering, to be able to look to make improvements that'll help to improve the conversion rate of their products, and not leave their site looking like something that they've never touched since the day they essentially launched it.

Zach: Even just the ability to experiment with things like adding social proof under add-to-cart buttons, or other things like that. They provide customers, potential shoppers, with a better feeling about hitting that add-to-cart button. Those things are hard today, we have to hook into a part of the page template and add those things and manage them in code in most cases, and we're going to be moving beyond those restrictions and into a place where we're going to be able to create more dynamic content in a manner that just isn't possible today. And that excites me.

Ronald: I think if I listened to this interview as a builder and Zach, it's also seems you're really enthusiastic and gets excited, also as a shopper, I feel really very pleased with what you've described, Gary, as the future and where we're working towards. And also knowing that you've had such a big history within Woo and invested history, moving forward, it seems that you will not fail. You'll make sure that this will come to completion, to good success.

Gary listening to music while he works, yay or nay [43:46]

However, having said, "completion," they will never complete, it's always an ongoing project, of course. I've got one final question, and it's just a regular question that we have, we're coming towards the end of the episode, and that's simply: do you listen to music when you work?

Gary: From time to time. It depends. If I'm trying to do something that requires a lot of concentration, then I'll normally work in dead silence. But otherwise, if it's just general, I'll often just go and find some soundtrack thing that's on YouTube, put it in the background and it plays away there through the headphones while I'm working.

Ronald: Yeah. Any particular genre that you're very keen on?

Gary: Genre? Jazz, actually. It'll normally just be some good, relaxing jazz that plays in the background.

Ronald: Great. Thank you so much. Quickly, Gary, where can people find you if they want to get in touch with you?

Gary: Yeah, Twitter's probably the best. It's garysmurray, that's the handle, or on my own blog,

Zach: Yeah, I'm excited to see what you and the team come up with next, and thank you for continuing to give us amazing tools that allow us to better serve our store owners.

Gary: Thank you.

BobWP: Hey everyone, thanks again for tuning in to today's show. I would like to give one more shoutout to our two Pod friends. If you are ready to get that next Woo shop up on WordPress, do it easily and quickly with the Nexcess storebuilder. You can find learn more at And keep your clients educated by sending them to for the latest and greatest in WordPress and WooCommerce tutorials.

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