In this podcast, we look at the common perceptions of eCommerce, and more specifically, WooCommerce. When you hear either of those, do you immediately think of selling physical products?
I chat with Zack Stepek about this perceptions surrounding WooCommerce or entering the eCommerce space. We talk about:
- How most people think of only selling products when they think of eCommerce.
- The top ways of selling with WooCommerce outside of physical products.
- Some of the least likely things you might consider using WooCommerce for.
- A few uses that fall between the most popular and least likely.
- What we might see in the future related to what people sell online.
Bob: Hey, Zach. Welcome to the show.
Zach: Thank you, Bob, it’s good to be here.
Bob: I think that the best way to talk about this is to just dive into it and learn from your experience because I know that you work with a lot of clients who use WooCommerce at different levels. When you mention WooCommerce to people, do you feel like in their brains right away they’re thinking, “Oh, that’s selling products.” Or do you think that’s changing in the space?
Zach: I think it’s changing a little, but the vast majority of the people that I talk to immediately regarding any e-commerce platform is selling physical products that they have to ship to somebody. I think that most of the time when people are looking at that, they’re thinking, “Okay, people are going to place an order, they’re going to go and we’re going to have to receive that order somehow and warehouse it and pack it into shipping boxes and figure out what to charge for shipping. And figure out how we’re going to ship in the first place, and how we’re going to get the best rates.” And all of these other pieces that go into the lifecycle of a physical product order. You can get started in eCommerce by selling things that don’t require all of those steps. I think that’s the big thing that I’ve been trying to share lately is that eEommerce isn’t just selling physical products, it’s anytime that you’re using a website to perform a transaction where you’re buying a good, whether that be a service or a booking for a website, or for a hotel.
When you book a room at a hotel on a website, that’s e-Commerce. You book a plane ticket, that’s e-Commerce. So, really trying to shift that perspective away from just physical product orders, and physical product fulfillment to e-Commerce within a larger ecosystem that consists of a number of types of businesses.
Bob: I think in one of my posts I actually put the definition of e-Commerce from I think it might’ve been Wikipedia or something like that. And in a nutshell, it was selling anything online. People do get tied into that product thing, and I think a lot of times that’s why they go, “Ooh, I’m not going to be doing that.” And a lot of people don’t even realize they’re doing e-Commerce—or actually have it on their site— until they start to dive into it or hear someone like you actually explain more clearly.
Zach: If we look at the most most people who are in the WordPress space, if you’ve purchased a theme, or purchased a plugin, you’ve done that through an e-Commerce business. All of those businesses are running as an e-Commerce business or through a marketplace, if you’re buying through a marketplace. That’s all e-Commerce, all of these business models where people are creating things that help you do your job better, those are all e-Commerce business models.
Bob: What do you consider maybe the top two ways to sell using WooCommerce outside of that physical product space, you know, the two that really have the biggest strengths?
Zach: I would say two of them are kind of interrelated, so I’m going to cheat and give you three. Membership sites, especially those with online courses. Those are a very large product segment. People want to learn more. So they’ll pay for online courses that teach them more. That’s a very large market segment that I feel is fully supported by WooCommerce and a few plugins. The WooCommerce market hasn’t fully tapped yet. So, the other thing I mentioned was membership sites, obviously an online course is technically a membership site. But a membership community that has exclusive content. All of these things can be done with plugins from the WooCommerce ecosystem.
I show a demo at some of the WordCamps that I speak at about selling online courses with WooCommerce Memberships and WooCommerce Subscriptions tied to Sensei. I’m trying to stick with just plugins I can buy from WooCommerce.com. That’s one of the restrictions I gave myself. So, really the only piece from a membership site to an online course is having a learning management system. That’s the only real difference, still building a membership. The great thing about membership sites and online courses is that if you structure it the right way, you’re generating monthly recurring revenue.
Rather than having to trade products for money, and all of the other work that goes into that, you’re trading knowledge for money. That allows you to scale beyond hours, beyond the amount of time you can spend packing boxes and shipping them to building a evergreen resource that people can then buy. Or maybe it’s not evergreen. Maybe you have to update it over time. But these resources that people can buy into and learn from, and they’re going to want to continue to buy either new courses, or learn new things from you and continue paying you for the updates on the courses they’ve already taken. It can be a great way to generate recurring revenue.
The other thing that I would say is a pretty common use of WooCommerce for selling something that isn’t a physical product is software subscriptions. I mentioned a little bit ago cell plugins and themes. There are plugins that help to do this, and there’s a software add-on for WooCommerce, there’s the WooCommerce API Manager, which is the more robust way to do it with WooCommerce subscriptions. Both of them can enable you to use WooCommerce to start a software business and, again, set up annual recurring revenue for the subscription to the support and updates for that software.
Bob: Have you found any, maybe personally that you’ve worked with, plugins, especially on a membership site and online course site that are outside of the WooCommerce marketplace, on their site that have impressed you or you thought, “This is a pretty cool integration,” as far as using with WooCommerce?
Zach: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of learning management systems in the WordPress space, and there’s a lot of membership plugins. A lot of them are really good. I know Pippin’s got one that they have released through Sandhills that’s been quite well received. There’s MemberPress, there’s all of these other plugins that can do the same thing. Sometimes they’re a little more robust, sometimes they’re a little harder to integrate. Just depends on what level of complexity you need. At the base, I personally believe WooCommerce memberships with WooCommerce subscriptions is the easiest way to do all of it. But, I’ve experimented with other things. Then there’s other platforms.
Easy Digital Downloads provides a great platform outside of Woo for selling digital products and memberships and all of those things. So really there’s a lot of options out there, I just tend to like the WooCommerce-based ones because it’s where the majority of my knowledge is.
Bob: Right. What I discovered when the memberships came out first was the slick integration, being able to incorporate WooCommerce products for your online store for members only. So you could have specials on specific products that were in your store. Members would get that discount. Or you could even make products that were only available to members. I’m sure that other plugins have since taken that on, but when they first came out, that was something they deeply integrated and I thought that is one thing that was a real huge selling point for me.
Zach: Yeah, and I don’t think anything is really as deeply integrated. So WooCommerce memberships allows you to create various membership levels. They have a Teams for Memberships plugin now that lets you set up teams of members. There’s a directability within memberships to create discount tiers. So if somebody has X memberships, they get 10% off of everything. Like you mentioned, there’s the ability to segment your products so that certain products can only be purchased by members.
So there’s a lot of flexibility there in how you can utilize that membership. Maybe they have to be a member before they can enroll in a course. That’s another option that’s there. Just a whole bunch of flexibility that it gives you. When you’re running a business, you want that flexibility, because you want to be able to utilize all of that functionality to create a unique selling proposition for your business. The more unique your brand is and your site is in what you’re offering, the more likely you’re going to have people wanting to buy and convert.
Bob: Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum. In your experience, have you found a least likely way of selling something with WooCommerce that people just haven’t really wrapped their brains around yet?
Zach: Yeah, I think of the underutilized, a couple of underutilized plugins that are out there on the marketplace, WooCommerce Box Office lets you sell event tickets. You can build an entire ticketing site for local venues, or for a conference you’re running and create multiple events using variable products for your ticket types, and have all of those things set up just right in WooCommerce. The other one I don’t think is used as frequently as it should be is the Bookings plugin. Let’s say you have a service-based business that requires an appointment. You’re an electrician and you have a team of electricians that you send out as resources to go work on dropping new lines in residential houses.
Okay, you have a service-based business. Those require an appointment, and you can get your booking and your payment upfront by using WooCommerce Bookings, it helps you to schedule how many resources you have, what times they’re available, and just let people choose an appointment slot. And just a little bit further into the Bookings plugin, you can do accommodation-based bookings.
So let’s say you’ve been thinking about setting up an Airbnb for your house when you’re vacationing in your summer home, or your winter home. If you live in the Midwest like me you want a winter home right about now. So you want to set that up through another company. Okay, great. It’s going really well, and you’ve realized you’re paying 20% to 30% of your total booking to the platform you’ve chosen to book through, and you’re starting to get a reputation for yourself. Why don’t you set up your own website? A lot of people will book directly with you. You can do that with WooCommerce Bookings, with the accommodations add-on.
Bob: Yeah, I know. When I was doing online coaching, and I’ve been doing it for a while, and training, and Bookings came out and I thought, “This is pretty cool.” Because I was already running WooCommerce on my site for a few other things. It was like, I plugged that in, and set it up, and man it made it slick, it was so easy, it just took the hassle out of having to go back and forth, “Okay, I’ll send you a PayPal invoice,” or whatever. Yeah, you could pick the spots and your time slots, and it made it easy for the person to do it at their convenience rather than, like I said, going back and forth through email. So yeah, it’s definitely a time saver and I think a lot of people could take advantage of that.
Zach: Yeah, it’s really pretty amazing how diverse the business types are that you can set up just with an e-commerce platform that’s as flexible as WooCommerce. I think that’s the largest differentiating factor between WooCommerce and most of the other e-Commerce platforms out there. The majority of these softwares and service platforms are really heavily focused in selling physical products or e-books or digital downloads. But there’s really not anything that is focused on running your own site to do some of these other things that WooCommerce can already do.
Bob: Exactly. We talked about some of the top ways, and we talked about the least likely ways and then we got everything in the middle, which is probably a ton of stuff. Is there anything that is in that middle area that you kind of want to visit at least to share and make people aware of?
Zach: I’d say the big thing is if you look through the WooCommerce marketplace at WooCommerce.com, and you just start looking at some of the plugins that are available, you’ll see things like they have a plugin that lets you run a multi-vendor marketplace. Let’s say you actually do want to sell physical products, but you don’t want to be the one that is fulfilling them or sourcing them, you want to let other people do that. You can run a multi-vendor marketplace, have vendors apply to be part of your site, have them fulfill the orders, and take a commission. That’s definitely another model that wouldn’t require you to sell physical products.
In that same vein, you could create a marketplace selling digital products and allow other people to sell their digital product. I think that’s an untapped area in the WooCommerce marketplace that just hasn’t been, I haven’t seen a lot of businesses thrive on that model yet, at least not with WooCommerce, but it’s entirely capable of doing that. Beyond that, I mean, really anything you can think of that you’d want to sell, whether it’s your knowledge, or an e-book, if it’s your time, any of those things can be sold through WooCommerce. I think that’s the big takeaway here, is that you aren’t limited to just selling a physical product. Anything you can dream about selling, there’s a way to sell it with WooCommerce.
Bob: I did the something similar, I believe it was a lightning talk and it was around this. And how I started it was, I’d had WooCommerce on my site for, I believe it was six or seven years, and I said, I listed everything that I sold that …. I said, “I sold everything but products.” People just kind of like, “Oh. Wow.” It’s amazing, and you get a little creative too. That’s what I enjoyed about it, was finding those unique ways. I mean, I sold sponsorships, I sold all sorts of stuff using WooCommerce. It was really slick. Now as far as the future, I know in our last podcast, you were one of the many people at WordCampUS that gave us an e-Commerce future prediction. But is there anything being sold or being able to be sold with WooCommerce that just isn’t quite there yet? Or maybe it’s just kind of an idea that people are floating around, but you see is going to transpire here soon over time?
Zach: You know, I think the future in these types of businesses is just going to be the fact that more people are going to know they can do it, and they’re going to start creating unique e-Commerce businesses around WooCommerce. Things that we haven’t even thought of yet. The amazing thing about the WooCommerce story is that when they first started creating WooCommerce they thought, “This will be a great way for people to sell a few products through their WordPress website.” I can guarantee you that when they were first working on WooCommerce, they never would’ve imagined that there would be retailers that are doing $1.5 million a week with WooCommerce.
So the marketplace continues to show us where things are going to go. It continues to show us where the software itself needs to head. I think that’s a really powerful thing. At the beginning of the WooCommerce project, because I was there, I was watching the Trello boards and looking at all of the plugin ideas that people had and all the things that people wanted. Even tried to grab a couple cards and just wasn’t able to execute back six years ago when I was trying.
But those things, all of those ideas, came from the community. So when you’re working in an open-source community like this, the community can drive the innovation. I guarantee that the team behind WooCommerce never once thought that they would have giant enterprise customers processing million of dollars a month through their platform. It just wasn’t on the radar. Just like they built the Bookings plugin, I’m sure there are tons of boutique properties out there that are using Bookings to book accommodations for people. There are tons of people out there who are setting appointments now through WooCommerce. So, I’m really interested to see where the marketplace tells us we’re going next.
Bob: Well, this is good stuff. I think between the two of us, maybe we’ll finally eventually conquer the world and people will understand that it’s just not about products. So we’ll just, between the two of us, we’ll just keep trucking on with this message.
Zach: Yeah. I think it’s really all we can do is to continue exposing more people to the possibilities that are out there. e-Commerce is definitely not something to be afraid of. This is a market that is going to continue growing and if you have something you think you want to sell, just get out there and do it, just try it. the worst you can do is it doesn’t work, and you try something else. Everything we do in life is just an opportunity to either learn from or to build upon. If you’re thinking about making a play in the e-Commerce space, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you from doing that.
Bob: I agree. Because I’ve done exactly that. I’ve tried a lot of different things, and I’ve failed at a lot of different things in the e-Commerce space, but you don’t know until you try. So it’s excellent stuff. This is kind of a passion with me too as far as WooCommerce and especially that whole e-Commerce space. I want to thank you so much for joining me in this. Before we take off, where can people find you?
Zach: I’m on Twitter @zstepek. And you can find us at Mindsize.me. We do a lot of work in this space. So subscriptions and membership sites are a big piece of what we do. That’s why I’m so passionate about it.
Bob: Cool. Well, everybody, thank you for tuning in, and you can of course always find this podcast on BobWP.com, as well as on any of your favorite podcasting platforms. Once again, thank you, Zach, for taking the time to join us.
Zach: Thank you for having me.