WooCommerce and Mobile Apps with Scott Bolinger

Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
Do the Woo - WooCommerce Podcast, Community and News
WooCommerce and Mobile Apps with Scott Bolinger

Whether it’s your clients site or your own store, you may or may not be keeping mobile apps aligned with what you are building. At the same time you may not think about it much and if an app is the right solution for your client.

I asked Scott Bolinger from AppPresser to share what he has learned from selling an app builder for Woo shops. It’s not a one size fits all and is something you should really think about. He also gives some thoughts to what is happening with both WooCommerce and WordPress core with blocks.

A Chat with Scott

Noëlle and I talk with Scott about:

  • What benefits can builders share to convince clients into creating an app for their shop
  • How AppPresser makes apps more accessible to WordPress and WooCommerce sites
  • What kind of stores will benefit more from an app
  • How the new features in WordPress core are affecting apps and WooCommerce
  • Scott’s opinion on WooCommerce blocks and the direction they are going
  • Where are the opportunities and challenges for developers with all the new changes in WordPress and WooCommerce
  • What your considerations should be if your app is more successful than your site
  • The ecommerce growth in 2020 and did mobile apps follow suit

Connect with Scott

Thanks to Our Pod Friends


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Bob: Hey everyone, BobWP here. Episode 119 of Do the Woo. Back with my co-host Noëlle. Noëlle, how are you doing today?

Noëlle: I'm fantastic, Bob. How are you?

Bob: I'm doing good. Doing good. I'm excited for this show because I talked about apps and WooCommerce way back in my other podcast and I haven't had a chance or I guess I haven't made the chance to talk about that. So I'm excited to get into that. Are you keeping busy? I know that you just traveled back from visiting your parents, I believe. So you're kind of getting back into the swing of things?

Noëlle: Yeah. I have gotten into the back in the swing of things. I arrived last Friday and yeah, it's just good to be back home safe and sound. Obviously, it is sort of hard to get out of the country because of visa reasons. Otherwise, I never would have traveled in these crazy times obviously, but you know, nice bonus. I got to spend some time with my family, which is precious. So, there is that, but other than that in the process of launching this big e-commerce site, so there's lots of things happening there in that last phase. So that's a really exciting one.

Bob: Cool. Alrighty. Well, before we get into our chat and our conversation with our guests, I'd just like to give a shout-out to our two pod sponsors this month.

WooFunnels, if you want to help your clients create optimized sales funnels using WooCommerce, will find those as a great option. It gives you all the tools you need to create high converting funnels using WooCommerce and their CRM lets you create broadcasts and automated workflows with unlimited contacts. So you can check that out at buildwoofunnels.com.

And Nexcess, managed WooCommerce hosting. They have a 14-day free trial. You can get hosting that is built by experts and enthusiasts who have touched thousands of sites, whether it's sites like yours or your clients', just go to go.nexcess.net/dothewoo and get yourself or your clients started.

We have today, somebody that has dabbled a lot in the Woo space and also dabbled in the app space. Scott Bolinger, Scott, how are you doing today?

Scott: Doing good.

Bob: Good. It's great to have you here. It's you know, it's one of those things that I keep seeing Scott on my Twitter feed and thinking, "I got to have him on the podcast" and I don't know how I eventually evolved into making the ask, so I'm glad to have you here.

Scott: Good to be here.

Bob: As we always start out with a simple question that basically kind of tells us what you're doing right now and introduces you to our listeners, how do you Do the Woo?

Scott: Yeah, so I use WooCommerce over at, AppPresser. We integrate with WooCommerce for mobile apps. So we've been building mobile apps at WooCommerce for several years now, and then we also, I kind of mess around with Woo at my blog, hollerwp.com and just interviewed Mike Jolley about it, learned a little bit more about what, where they're going with it. And I have a couple of just a little minor plugins that do some WooCommerce integrations.

Bob: Cool. Where did you along the way get into WordPress and then eventually into WooCommerce or maybe it was more properly into WooCommerce?

Scott: Yeah, so I had a job as a graphic designer many years ago and they kind of needed websites, and so I decided I was going to kind of tinker around with websites and kind of had heard of WordPress and I had no idea how it worked. And I was so clueless that I actually tried to hire someone on, I think it was Fiver ror Craigslist or something, try to hire someone to install WordPress for me because I literally had no clue where to even start. And I didn't know if PHP web server was... you had to do something special as opposed to just these HTML pages that I'd built in Dreamweaver, you know, but that's how I got started. And then in that job, I learned WordPress and I started building membership sites for them and we ended up moving their whole stack to all these WordPress based membership sites, which was pretty cool. Cool.

Noëlle: So Scott, I'm curious about why should store owners or clients of web developers who are listeners here, why should they consider having an app version of their website? What benefits will it bring to their business?

Scott: So most people who come to us at AppPresser are kind of already convinced that they want an app or need an app. I mean, some of the benefits would be, most people want to have that icon on their customers' home screen and then just a fast performance experience with their content. So, their customers are using apps all the time, they're using apps all the time, they want an app for their business. So some of the benefits would be he could send push notifications, which you can't do with websites. You can usually have a much faster experience. You can have things where people can log in and stay logged in and not have to open their browser type in your website URL, then go to the login page and then they close that and they get logged out or whatever it is.

And then you can also do in-app purchase subscriptions and integrate with some of the device features. And the app itself has a larger footprint on the screen normally than websites. So I've written blog posts before where I go to a news website or something and on your phone, you have the browser Chrome and then you have a giant header and then you have a banner advertisement or something. And then at the bottom you have a footer and then some more browser Chrome, and the actual content of the website is less than 30% of the screen.

So in an app, you get rid of all the browser Chrome and then you can make a more optimized experience for the mobile device. You could do things like cache the content on the device itself so that it will work offline and also use something like an API to bring in the content, which is a much faster experience. So all of those things can really help. Normally the client is the one that's asking for the app, saying "How can I build an app" or "You made my website, I want an app as well", and that's kind of where AppPresser can come in and help.

Noëlle: My understanding is that AppPresser makes that a lot more accessible to people, right?

Scott: Yeah. So AppPresser is an app builder that you can bring in WordPress content very easily and we specialize in WordPress and we allow you to do much more than just bring in blog posts. You can bring in custom content and membership sites and stuff like LearnDash courses, WooCommerce products, things like that. And then we make it easy for you to put those pages together and then we helped you submit it to the app stores. So it makes it so that someone who is not a mobile app developer can build an app for their clients, as an upsell opportunity or just a sort of a value add for their client services.

Bob: Thinking more about products, WooCommerce sites, selling products, maybe not memberships and stuff like that... Have you found in just working with apps, specific industries, like, you know, I'm going to just throw out like anything from, we could talk clothing, flowers, whatever you're selling online that seemed to do better in the app space than others, or is it just pretty much across the board, just that accessibility?

Scott: I would say that specialty stores do better. For example, we're working with a customer right now, who's selling fishing stuff like flies, and I don't know all the terminology, but baits and clothing related to fishing. So stuff where people would go, who really love this particular category and there's these specialty items that maybe they can't get off of Amazon. Those are the type of e-commerce stores that I think are thriving.

Bob: That seems to make sense, because that encourages or entices a client to say, "Hey, this is a shop I'd buy this on" versus, "I'm just buying general stuff on this like I buy general stuff everywhere" where they're thinking "I'm going to take the effort to put this app on there because I love to shop there. They have a specific need I have, and I'm not just putting another app on, in case I need to buy something."

That might be a good thing for people building sites to keep in mind for that upsell, like you said, is talking to them, looking at what they sell and say, "Hey, you're selling something pretty special here and you're going to probably have returning customers and this is a reason to make it easier."

Scott: Yeah. People who have this brand loyalty, they aren't necessarily looking for the cheapest, no name brand. They kind of are into their thing, like fishing. They want to buy from a particular shop cause that's where their friends are buying from and they have the best stuff there. That's a great candidate for an app.

Bob: One of the things you had brought up and I think Noëlle will probably be interested in this because this is getting a little bit more into the developer side of things, all this stuff going on at Woo, WordPress, core blocks, full-sized editor, all these things that you've got to constantly be on top of, because this is probably affecting basically the app industry. And I know you had recently put something on Twitter about that, kind of brought it up. Can you just touch on that a bit and maybe take that conversation a little bit deeper because I think there's a lot of stuff that, looking at WooCommerce, oh it'd be great to do an app on there, but all these other pieces coming in via WordPress.

Scott: Well, it's interesting because the way that WordPress is moving with Gutenberg and blocks and things is kind of similar to what we've been doing with AppPresser for many years, which is using WordPress in a... Using the data from WordPress and then rendering that in using JavaScript and templating with react. It's a very different way to use WordPress than most people are accustomed to, and what we've had to do with AppPresser is sort of set people's expectations when they come to us and we say, "We can build this app for you. It's this headless WordPress environment where we're pulling the data out of WordPress and then we're putting it into different templates in the app. We're not using your theme and we're not using PHP processing and we're not pulling in your JavaScript and style sheets and everything.


So a lot of times people have a plugin and it's usually a pretty complex plugin, like let's say, a job listing board or something like that, where people can display job listings, you can search for them, it's got geolocation, maybe you can post a job listing. And they say, well, I want to make an app with that. We say, okay, the way that this works is within the app, we don't have any of the stuff from WordPress that makes that plugin work. So we basically have to rebuild it all from scratch, which is the same thing that's happening with Gutenberg blocks right now.

If you look at like the store API with WooCommerce or the blocks for WooCommerce checkout and store there, they just call them WooCommerce blocks. So they have a block for cart and checkout. They're really cool, but those are doing the same thing that we've done with apps, which is, they are rendering this cart page using data from WordPress, data, meaning just texts, like what is the product ID? What is the price? What is the description? What's the URL to the image, things like that. And then they're taking those things and arranging them how they want and displaying them on the page, but they are not using the standard way of displaying WooCommerce cart, which would be all with PHP where you press update cart and it reloads the page and sends some information back to the server and things like that. It's all done through APIs and JavaScript.

In that type of environment, things work very differently than what WordPress people are accustomed to. So like I was mentioning with the job board thing, you don't just make that work in an app automatically. You basically have to build API and build templates and almost rebuild the entire thing in a headless environment. And so that's what WooCommerce is doing right now with their blocks and their store API. They're basically rebuilding the entire thing from scratch to use these new blocks. Have you played around with the blocks for checkout and cart and everything?

Noëlle: Yes, I did a bit actually, and I was surprised because I know it's been kind of on the background for a bit and I've been following it, but not too much and then I thought, "Well, this is a good opportunity to take it out. Just really wanted to improve the UX of the clients' checkout a bit. I just find that so surprising, things that I wouldn't normally use, got some PHP four, there's now little toggle that I can switch and that's that, like for making things required or not, or including a certain field or not, that's really lovely the way it's laid out, it's much more in line with the big standards and what we've seen on Amazon.

Also thinking about it, it's following the trend of having more focus on the order, making it really easy to complete a more step-by-step kind of guide. I'm really excited with what I saw, it was just super easy to starting to use, it looked great out of the box.

Scott: I agree. I think that their checkout is now much more like Shopify's checkout. There are plugins that try to do that, but I think that the blocks get all the way there where the plugins that try to help make checkout better are almost like a bandaid solution. They make it better, but it's not all the way there. I think with the checkout block, it's all the way going to be just as good as something like a Shopify checkout now. The hard part about that, I think for people is going to be that you're not going to be able to use your old checkout customization plugin or whatever it is. If you had, if you had a multi-step checkout, that plugin is not going to work with the new checkout block and the way of moving checkout fields around is not with a PHP filter anymore, or an alpha add filter anymore.

You're going to have to use react templating. Then you're going to have to be using JavaScript to move those things around or to add settings and things like that. So there's a little bit of tension there between the old way of doing things with these PHP based plugins, where you just add filter or add action and you change something and then you're done. Now, it's going to be you in QE or JavaScript and you have to make changes to the react templates. It's just a lot more complicated and the plugins that worked before are not going to work with the new system.

I'm not sure how that's all going to play out, but I think either the old plugins are going to have to update or they're going to be new plugins that take their place, or there're going to be people who just don't want to use this new system at all, because it's just too big of a change and they don't want to break stuff, but it's going to be split into these two camps where there's going to be all this old PHP based stuff and then there's going to be the new react and JavaScript API based stuff.

They're going to coexist or one's going to take over the other. People are going to have to make choices just like they did with Gutenberg where a lot of people still don't like Gutenberg and they don't want to use it and they disable it. But then other people who are maybe new to WordPress, that's all they know, so everything's going to be Gutenberg for them.

Noëlle: Thinking about people, having to decide whether or not to make the change, I don't even think it's whether or not, it's whether now or later, because in the end, the likelihood of people switching over, assuming that this new way of doing things is taking over, like Gutenberg also ended up taking over and people who were hesitant in the beginning or postponed it now also so many other plugins are, you know, are promoting it, collaborating with it, making sure it integrates really well with Gutenberg.

I think people need to kind of stop following it if this concerns them and ease themselves, maybe into it, make a bit of a plan of how are we going to do this so that it's hopefully a bit more of an easier transition. And of course,` testing things out on the staging site. I feel like I almost shouldn't need to say this, but I also know that there is newbies here. Staging site is a place where you can just go and break things and it doesn't even matter. So you can just play in test. It's fantastic. I remember when I discovered that.

Scott: There's going to be a lot of opportunity as well for plugin developers or product developers to get in on this new paradigm of doing things. But what that's going to be specifically is hard to say because a lot of stuff is going to be art done already. Like with WooCommerce blocks, like you said, they ha now have toggles to make fields required and not required and to add them and remove them. Previously that was an extra plugin you had to buy. You had to buy the checkout field editor, but you're not going to have to with the new blocks. So there'll be opportunities, but finding those opportunities is going to be a little bit of a challenge.

Noëlle: Store owners may not always need the developer now anymore to make those changes. I have a couple of clients like that who like to also get involved and get their hands dirty. So there are now then things that they can control themselves. I know that there've been conversations before people asking, "But what does that mean for us developers if store owners are able to do things more themselves, I always think there will be a role for us. There's always things that they can't do. There's also people who like to know to do it themselves, but it doesn't mean they necessarily will.

Scott: Yeah, I know how to build stuff with wood, but I don't want to do it. So I'm going to pay someone else to do it, like if I need a patio at my house. There's never going to be a lack of things for developers to do. I don't think.

Bob: One of the things that did occur to me and I'm thinking more of, if somebody builds an app, they have a website. Is there ever the instance where the website, maybe isn't doing that much of the sales as far as an e-commerce site or WooCommerce site, and then the app is doing most of the sales, at what point, or is there a point that the person that built that and even the person that had the app built for them decide, okay, I got to put more energy into the app or I need to still put as much energy into the website for other reasons obviously.

Scott: I think it just depends on the business. If I think about my bank, I use the app way more than I use the website, but I still use the website quite a bit. In a situation like that, they don't really care that much probably about SEO. So putting a bunch of effort into the app would, would probably make sense. Or if you look at something like Reddit, where every time you go to Reddit, it tells you to open it in the app. They clearly want everyone to be using the app and they don't want people on their website really, same with Twitter. You could still go to Twitter on the web, but they keep pushing you to the app, or Instagram as well.

I think it just depends on your business model and what your strategy is, why you're having more people use the app, with those businesses, they've found that they can achieve their goals better in the app, whatever that is, capturing people's information or selling them things or just getting eyeballs on content, whatever it is.

One thing with the apps is that they're not indexed in the search engines. So if you're a content site and you need that SEO, you need those Google rankings, it wouldn't make sense to just stop putting effort into that. Most of the customers we deal with are still very heavy on the web. And then the app they're trying to just kind of supplement and maybe just have a few features that are really important to their customers, but maybe not everything that they offer on the website. So with a LearnDash course, you can go and maybe view it so that you can bring it with you on an airplane and do some stuff while you're on the go. But maybe for the most part, they're at home at their desk when they're going through their courses. But it just depends.

Noëlle: I'd be interested in seeing case studies where people have compared going from website and then adding an app and conversion rates and all that, and how that's affected their business. Scott, do you happen to know of any like that?

Scott: I don't have data like that, unfortunately. We help people build the apps. We don't always hear from them about their statistics and conversion rates and things like that unfortunately.

Bob: That's something maybe I can wrangle somebody to do a case study on our side. Because I'm trying to get some enterprise level... Doing some case studies on the site and maybe I'll just add that to my list, so I may be reaching out to you Scott, and maybe I could find somebody that I could get to do that, I know they're a lot of work.

With apps and e-commerce, is there anything down the pike, in the future here that you see some trends that may be moving towards. So let me give this a two-part question.

First of all, did the last year of the boosts in e-commerce online, did you see a boost in people wanting to create apps and then secondly, what do you see coming in? Is there some things out there that you see that might be coming in the future for apps? Or is it pretty much steady as it goes right now?

Scott: During the pandemic, we definitely saw a lot more people were sitting at home, working on their apps and we were getting a lot more emails than usual for a while there. As far as new e-commerce trends or technology, I don't know of anything like specific, no. One thing that happened with the app stores is that they lowered their in-app purchase commissions from 30% to 15%, which really helps out a lot of people who are selling digital items like memberships or online courses or games and things like that. So that helped people out for a little bit there. And that's only for people who are under a million in revenue, something like that. Going into the future, I don't know, I don't have any, real insight into what's happening in the future.

Amazon is taking over more and more so I think if you're an e-commerce merchant, you really have to find a way to convince people to go to your site instead of Amazon's. Just recently I purchased something from an online retailer that happened to be using WooCommerce and the experience was pretty bad, to be honest. It was just like normal WooCommerce without many customizations and when I compared purchasing there to buying something on Amazon, Amazon just makes it so easy. It's really hard for me to go to anyone else unless they have something that Amazon doesn't have, or they have some type of brand loyalty that I'm going to give them, but normal out of the box WooCommerce sites, I think it's going to be tough.

So I like the new WooCommerce blocks, I think that that's going to improve the experience a lot, and I hope that people will embrace those and they will simplify their sites. Even if their plugins that don't work with the new blocks, even if they have customizations that don't work, I hope that they will move to the blocks anyways and then figure out the customizations that they want to make later.

Bob: Makes total sense, I get you there with Amazon. I saw somebody the other day on Twitter, say that, "Hey, do you know that you can go in and look at your total, what you've spent on Amazon since you've been on Amazon?"

And I can't remember, hers was $22,000 or something like that, I don't know how long she'd been on it. And I didn't even want to go look, I thought, oh, that's...

Scott: I'm too scared to look. I'm not going to go and do that.

Bob: I'm with you there.

Well, this has been good stuff. I think it's just another reminder. Everybody's using apps, we're all constantly using apps and as Noëlle said, sometimes a lot of people are putting up WooCommerce sites and not really thinking through, would an app be an alternative or an addition, I guess I should say. I think it's something that people need to stay on top of. And it'll be interesting to see how you, moving forward with everything going on with WordPress and WooCommerce, what your continued thoughts are and reactions and how it plays into what you're doing with AppPresser. Really looking forward to just kind of seeing where this goes. So where can people, obviously, where can they check out app presser and learn more and then where can they connect with you?

Scott: So AppPresser is just apppresser.com, or just Google it, and for me, @ScottBolinger on Twitter or scottbolinger.com, it's a good place.

Bob: Alrighty, well do connect with Scott and checkout AppPresser at apppresser.com, and of course do check out our pod friends Nexcess, they give you a 14-day trial of their managed WooCommerce hosting. Just head on over to go.nexcess.net/dothewoo to get started and WooFunnels, who helps your clients create sales funnels, broadcasts, and automated workflows to optimize their sales at buildwoofunnels.com.

Well, again, thank you so much, Scott, for coming in and chatting with us.

Scott: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Bob.

Noëlle: Thanks for being here.

Bob: All right, everyone. Stay on top of Do the Woo, go to dothewoo.io/subscribe and you'll see all the cool stuff we're doing. Until the next time, keep on Doing the Woo.