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Tips On Starting Your WooCommerce Online Store with Michael Tieso

We bring episode 39 to you live from WordCamp Seattle 2016. Our guest Michael Tieso, Developer Advocate for WooCommerce/Automattic,  has also spent a good part of his career there focused on WooCommerce, including working with support.

We chatted about:

  • What to consider when starting your WooCommerce
  • Things you should have in place before you start building your site
  • Specific challenges users have when starting with WooCommerce
  • The answer Michael gives someone when they say, “I am setting up my online store for the first time. I am selling one item that will need to be shipped. Not sure what the future holds. Should I start with WooCommerce?”
  • The most unique product Michael has seen someone selling with WooCommerce

Thanks To Our Podcast Sponsor:


Bob Dunn: Hey everyone, welcome to episode 39. Bob Dunn here, also known as BobWP on the web. Today is a special day as we are recording our show live at WordCamp Seattle 2016. So, that little bit of chatter you here in the background … well, we’re live. So, you’ll be listening to the next two shows live from WordCamp and we are on day two here so far. Been a blast. But it’s also special because I am talking with Michael Tieso from WooCommerce/Automattic about starting your eCommerce site with WooCommerce. So, hey Michael, welcome to the show.

Michael Tieso: Hey Bob, thank you for having me.

Bob Dunn: Before I dive in, we have a sponsor, of course, as we always do. They’re actually sponsoring both our shows here at WordCamp Seattle. That is my friends at WP101. If you are new to WordPress or are just starting to wrap your brain around it, they have a collection of exceptional and professional video tutorials that not only guide you through the WordPress basics, but also help you with some very popular plugins. They are the go-to site where I send a lot of people who are struggling through the murky waters of WordPress in the beginning. That is and I’ll be chatting a bit more about them later in the show. So, Michael, tell us what you do over at … and I always go WooCommerce/Automattic, just because I never know if I should say one or the other.

Meet Michael Tieso, developer advocate

Michael Tieso: I usually say the same thing, actually, I work at WooCommerce/Automattic. Yeah, so, I’m in the business development team. I’m a developer advocate, so that often means that I work very closely with developers and agencies that are developing things for WooCommerce. So, I love seeing what people are making with WooCommerce and partnerships with those folks.

Start-up questions to ask yourself

Bob Dunn: Okay. Very cool. So, what we’re going to do here, as I mentioned, is if you are just thinking of starting with WooCommerce or if you’re been kind of dabbling in it and you’re just lost, “What do I do here? What are some ideas and what’s some guide that can help me?” I have a few questions here, I’m going to have Michael help you with that. First, we’re going to look at what are the top five questions someone should ask themselves. If you don’t have five, that’s fine … if it’s four, three. When they’re considering starting a site, what should they really ask themselves to make sure they’re on the right track?

Michael Tieso: Great question. Yeah, I think the first step there is … before you even think about installing WooCommerce at all … is thinking about the business itself and thinking about all their needs as an eCommerce site. What kind of payments are you taking? Do you think that you might need to take different currencies? Where are you going to ship to and from? So, really, on the business aspect of things, that might have indirectly or directly changed the way you use WooCommerce. If you’re thinking about shipping internationally, that might have different plugin requirements in the configuration of WooCommerce. So, before you continue going down the path of an eCommerce site at all is to think about your business and where you’re going to ship to and how the eCommerce part of it fits in because that could change quite a lot of your … If you’re just selling digital products, just knowing that can then … you can just just disable the shipping part. But if you think you might be shipping and having digital products, that might change quite a lot on how your eCommerce site might work. I’m not going down a specific list of five things.

Bob Dunn: Yeah.

Michael Tieso: But these are just things that are on the top of my head here that I think that people should be thinking about.

Bob Dunn: Most people don’t like lists but I always throw them out and at least it gets you talking, so, cool.

Tip: know the basics of WordPress first

Michael Tieso: Yeah, so, let’s see, what else can people use. I think it would be very helpful before jumping into WooCommerce is to be familiar with, if you’re not already familiar, with WordPress. Most people seem to be already familiar with WordPress if you’re thinking about WooCommerce but just familiarize yourself with WordPress and then as you become an expert in that then jump into WooCommerce. So take stepping stones and just go one step at a time because if you just go straight into WooCommerce and you’re new to WordPress, I think that it’s a big leap, although WordPress is still very simple to use. I think learning things one step at a time and going through each option will ease it a little bit and make it a little bit less painful. Not that it’s painful, but it’s a new thing and it could be quite overwhelming. There’s so many options already in WordPress, then to add eCommerce on top of that, it can be a little bit overwhelming.

Tip: Get a handle on taxes

Bob Dunn: Exactly. Yeah. Those are two really good points. Is there … and I’m just going to ask you something on that same one … do taxes kind of play into that, too, as far as preparing yourself beforehand or is that something, maybe, you kind of transition to as you dive into your site more?

Michael Tieso: No, that should definitely be thought of before you set up your shop because that’s something you don’t want to mess up early on. You want to make sure that you’re going by the law there.

Bob Dunn: Yeah.

Michael Tieso: And you’re paying the correct taxes and your customers are also paying the right taxes. So, depending on where you’re shipping from plays a big part, also, into the taxes and where you’re shipping to. Is the most obvious one, but sometimes it’s where you’re shipping from as well.

So that’s something to consider and it varies from all over the world and sometimes even by postal code. There are easy ways to do this, you can definitely try to do a lot of it on your own or you can, obviously, try to get a third party service to help you out with that but I think it’s important to set yourself up to whether you are going to try to tackle that on your own or try to hire someone to do it for you. Knowing that ahead of time before you start your store can make things a lot easier for you later on.

Bob Dunn: I know I recommend, a lot of times, third party just because I say, “Do you really want to be an accountant?” And bury yourself in those things.

Michael Tieso: Yeah.

Bob Dunn: And the more products you have and the more you ship, like you said, the more places. That plays into it.

Michael Tieso: Right, because often the time and the money that you save by having someone else do it, have an integration with another service, can save you quite a lot and you can focus on your business rather than having to worry about it yourself.

Tip: excellent content and attractive images matter

Bob Dunn: Yeah. Exactly. Okay, so, now we’re ready to install, activate. We’re going to start setting it up. Maybe the first few steps of what I should have in place before I do that besides the taxes, the shipping, are there any other elements to the actual technical aspect of it or just content? Should you have that in place first? What are a few things you can think of?

Michael Tieso: Before setting up the WooCommerce?

Bob Dunn: Yeah. You’re ready to install it and everything but it might be better to have this stuff to start shoving in there as you’re doing it rather than struggling with it as you’re trying to build it.

Michael Tieso: Well, the content, definitely. You should have all the content ready before you start up your store, especially for the product pages. Have some really beautiful images on there before you start promoting it. Then the other pages … having the shipping totally configured, taxes totally configured, before you turn on your store is something that you need to have … things sorted out before you turn it on, yeah.

Bob Dunn: And kind of in that same question … images. I’m trying to get a photographer on here just to talk about images because that’s another whole ball of wax. I imagine really plan that because if you’re doing a bunch of products and you haven’t done it before … that’s what going to sell the products, obviously, is the photos … most people probably should, really, have the images ready instead of last minute going, “Oh my God, I’m going to go take a picture of this piece of jewelry,” and it looks like a thing that was done in a basement of a …

Michael Tieso: Right.

Bob Dunn: … dark cellar or something.

Michael Tieso: The newer phones these days take fantastic images, pictures, but it’s also about the quality of where you’re taking them as well. Making sure it’s under a white background, perhaps, if you’re taking a piece of jewelry. You could be taking a high quality image but the proportions of that image, perhaps, is wrong. So there’s other aspects of that image that might worth looking into getting, maybe, a photographer friend that can take that picture for you that can take a really nice picture. You might have a really good phone to take the picture with, but unless you set up that picture really well, it could still not look so great.

So having your photographer friend just come over one day and take a couple shots of your product goes a long way.

Bob Dunn: Yeah.

Michael Tieso: It really does. Really good-looking images. You really only need one image for a product but having a product gallery for people to browse many different angles of your product can go a long way as well.

Bob Dunn: Yeah, yeah, especially certain items. You want to see it from the side and the front and the top.

Michael Tieso: Yeah, yeah. I’m always clicking on products and just try browsing all the images of a particular … so, a product might have ten images and I always seem to look at all of them. Even if I already get the idea of what the product might look like from the first image, I seem to just go through all the images anyway. Perhaps I’m not the only one that does that, but I just go through all the images.

Bob Dunn: All right. Now, here’s one. Lots of elements to WooCommerce.

Michael Tieso: Yeah, there certainly is.

Tip: spend time on getting the shipping right

Bob Dunn: Lots of them, and depending on what you need and how you use it, there are all those variables. Is there any one specific area directly related to WooCommerce settings that the casual user typically finds the most challenging?

Michael Tieso: Yeah, I think we mentioned taxes earlier, that can be quite complex, but one thing that we missed is shipping as well. If you’re shipping physical products, I think that can be very complicated setup process. It’s nothing, really, to do with WooCommerce itself that makes it complicated. I think that it’s just the nature of eCommerce and shipping can be complex. So, no matter what platform you use, it’s really just getting the shipping rates. Maybe you have just a flat rate, five dollars no matter where they’re shipping, anywhere, perhaps then it can be quite easy but if you have a product that is variable depending on the cost … where it being shipped to and then price changes … it can get kind of complicated. Even if you use an integration where it makes it easy for you to generate that, perhaps you also need to add handling as well. So, adding that extra dollar for the shipping and figuring that part out and integrating all of that information into WooCommerce can be more complicated for some users. Just trying to put in all those numbers and figuring out how much the shipping cost might be. But once you have that down, it just stays there.

And then that’s it. It’s just one time things. Then for each new product you just add the weight for that product. You already have the shipping part of it handled. You’re just adding the weight for the all new products that you have and it pretty much runs on its own after that. So, it’s really just the setup process. And getting things going.

Bob Dunn: Yeah, and I know that when you first started with Woo you were working support, right?

Michael Tieso: Yes.

Challenges around variable products

Bob Dunn: Did you ever get many questions about … and I notice this from the posts that I do on my blog, which ones on WooCommerce I get the most comments of, and I find where I get the most is people ask me questions … they have a little bit of challenges around the variable products.

Michael Tieso: Oh, yeah.

Bob Dunn: That’s one that you heard in support?

Michael Tieso: Yeah, that can also be complicated because you can have so many different types of products within one product. A shirt might seem simple but then you have different sizes, then gender, and then maybe within that one shirt there could be different styles. V-neck or crew cut, whatever. There’s different cuts and maybe that’s all in one shirt. That one shirt can then just turn into fifty products all of a sudden.

Bob Dunn: Yeah, that’s true and people don’t always realize that each one of those becomes a separate product even though, “Oh, I’m selling one shirt, five colors, four sizes, long-sleeve, short-sleeve.”

Michael Tieso: Exactly. It can turn into quite a lot and, perhaps, the long-sleeve might be a different price. You might have to actually enter in every individual product within the variable product and change the prices of each one of them. That can get a little bit complex, for sure.

Bob Dunn: But once you have it set …

Michael Tieso: Yeah, once you have it set, then that’s it. Then you can start making some money but just getting it up there can be challenging.

Tips for online shop owners starting out with one product

Bob Dunn: Okay, so, when someone comes to you after finding out that you’re are involved with WooCommerce and ask you a certain question, what is your response to this one: “I’m setting up an online store for the first time. I’m selling one item that will need to be shipped. Not sure what the future holds. Should I start with WooCommerce?”

Michael Tieso: Yeah, this really shows the true flexibility of WooCommerce here. You can be selling one product. It’s great for that. It makes it very simple. WooCommerce is very easy to use. Whether it’s physical or digital … this one is physical and you’re going to ship it … it’s very simple to use for that one product. However, if you don’t know what the future might hold … maybe your future is selling hundreds of products … being able to scale to that could be very important part of your business. You wouldn’t want to, all of a sudden, have to change platforms in the middle of your success where you might be choosing a platform that only supports a few products but it does not give you that flexibility. With WooCommerce, it does give you that flexibility and scalability of being able to sell one product today and, perhaps, thousands in the future. Then the future might even have different product types. Today, you are selling a physical product but maybe you want to do a tour or sell digital products. Bookings, subscriptions. You don’t know and you want to be able to have that flexibility to add those things in in the future. Starting simple is the best way to go but you really need to be prepared for what the future might hold for you as well.

Bob Dunn: Yes, I can attest to that because I started with WooCommerce. I can’t remember what I was selling at first but I’ve done everything from online courses to eBooks to event tickets to booking, online coaching to tons of stuff and now when sponsors purchase a spot on my podcast, guess what? They use it through WooCommerce so it’s just been on my site for years, it feels like. That’s one of the things I love about it and that’s why I started with it because I didn’t know where I’d go.

Michael Tieso: You can add and remove features at any time. Maybe one thing works now and then you can change the product a little later.

The most unique product Michael saw someone selling online

Bob Dunn: Exactly. Okay, so, the last question. What is the most unique product you have found being sold via a WooCommerce site?

Michael Tieso: I’ve gotten this question a few times. The most unique one that I’ve found, and I hope this is okay to say on your podcast-

Bob Dunn: Oh, yeah.

Michael Tieso: A dinosaur sex calendar.

Bob Dunn: (laughs)

Michael Tieso: So, that would be the most unique product..

Bob Dunn: Oh, wow, yeah.

Michael Tieso: … that I’ve seen in a WooCommerce store.

Bob Dunn: Oh, okay. So now everybody’s going to be Googling that, I just know.

Michael Tieso: (laughs)

Bob Dunn: It’s like, “We’re leaving the podcast, we’ve got to go see this.”

Michael Tieso: It’s a very unique business and I’ve seen many unique things. Definitely what’s trending now is subscription-based products. I’ve been seeing a lot of very interesting things with that as well. Everything from subscription-based movies delivered to your house, granola bars. Perhaps it’s not super unique, but in a subscription model, I think it’s a little different as well.

Bob Dunn: Yeah. Wow. I’m still thinking about that one.

Michael Tieso: (laughs)

Bob Dunn: It’s giving me visuals that I don’t know if I’m really … I don’t know.

Michael Tieso: We’re not going into detail on that one.

Bob Dunn: Yeah, we won’t (laughs). Let’s move in to this shopping thing here. You are probably always thinking work when you’re looking at online stores and that’s why a lot of these-

Michael Tieso: To the source of every WooCommerce store.

Michael’s greatest frustrations when shopping online

Bob Dunn: Yeah, everybody that I, most people that I talk to, I know that they … Let’s just say that you’re on there, what is it you’re finding time and again that frustrates the heck out of you with a lot of online stores, still?

Michael Tieso: I think this has been mentioned before, but pop-ups are definitely something that frustrate me quite a bit. Not the idea of pop-ups in general, but the way it’s displayed and how frequent they might be. So, if I just arrive onto a website and I’m still learning about your store and I want to check out, I’d rather have that pop-up show up, maybe, several minutes later. I’ve made some sort of commitment to the website before that pop-up shows up. Maybe even after I’ve checked out, then you can show that pop-up. I’m invested in that website. Then you can show it to me. But immediately after I come into the website, that frustrates me a little bit. Other things are just easy check-out flow, I think, I want to add something, go straight into buying it, almost. So, the easier the better for me. I’m really into simplicity on the shopping cart. I want to see myself buying something very easily.

Bob Dunn: Yeah, the pop-ups, it’s all about timing, boy. You can be a killer there.

Michael Tieso: And I don’t want them to show up at all in mobile.

Bob Dunn: Oh, yeah.

Michael Tieso: I don’t want to have to even find the exit button for that.

Bob Dunn: That’s a nightmare with those suckers.

Michael Tieso: Right.

Bob Dunn: I know you probably shop online. I do know you shop online.

Michael Tieso: Yeah. Who doesn’t?

Is there anything Michael would never buy online?

Bob Dunn: Is there anything that’s available online besides dinosaur sex calendars that you would never buy online?

Michael Tieso: At one point, I remember saying to myself I would never buy clothes online, but now I’m doing that.

Bob Dunn: Okay.

Michael Tieso: So then I’ve started to realize maybe there really isn’t much I wouldn’t buy online that I buy in a store anymore because I’ve become more open about buying anything online or giving it a try if there’s something … I remember, “Oh, I would never buy groceries online.” But now that’s so easy to do and it makes sense. So, I’m not sure if there’s anything I wouldn’t be open to buying online at this point and seeing if that might be something that I can get as a subscription, maybe, or just ordering it every now and then. So I can’t think of anything, actually.

Bob Dunn: There’s been a few guests that say that. It’s becoming more and more comfortable for a lot of people.

Michael Tieso: Right.

Experiencing an online product through virtual reality helps buyers make decisions

Bob Dunn: I imagine you’re excited to see VR, virtual reality, going to online stores, right?

Michael Tieso: Yeah, yeah. I’m really into VR right now.

Bob Dunn: Yeah, I know.

Michael Tieso: Seeing that you can buy things in VR soon is really neat. I think that the future of eCommerce with VR … it’s not so much of going into the mall. Many people think that, in VR, you’ll go into a shopping mall in VR and go into different clothing stores in VR, but I don’t think that’s what the future is. It’s about experiencing a product. So if you have a couch that you’re trying to sell, you see that couch in VR. Being able to change the colors of that couch, for example. Experiencing the product. Perhaps you’re not going to add that product to your cart in VR but you’re able to experience it and then you take off the VR headset, maybe you can buy it on your desktop or your mobile or something. It helped you make the decision to buy it.

Bob Dunn: Yeah.

Michael Tieso: I think that’s where VR and eCommerce plays a big part of the whole thing.

Bob Dunn: I never thought of it that way. That is going to be interesting. We’re never going to see you, you’re going to be in VR all the time.

Michael Tieso: Yeah, I’ll just stay in VR all the time. I now work in VR, too, so it’s pretty neat to be doing that code in there and everything. You never have to leave the house.

If Michael could sell anything online, what would it be?

Bob Dunn: So, last question. If you were in the position to do anything you want, have resources, time, money, nothing mattered, is there something you’d love to sell online that you just love to sell for the sake of selling it because it’d be so much fun?

Michael Tieso: I’ve had a lot of ideas and every now and then I go through and I take a look at our extension marketplace, our catalog there. I start to notice … ideas start flowing through my head. When you have access to hundreds of extensions, there’s so many ideas there. You want to just enable all of them into a store … terrible idea, but you start thinking of so many different things you can do. I think that a subscription-based website … I thought about maybe teas for a while. Would be really fun to do that. The problem is, really, the drop shipping fulfillment of all of these things.

Bob Dunn: Right.

Michael Tieso: So, I thought maybe a tea subscription would be really cool, but would I really want to … the resources of that would be really difficult. Having to buy all of that and then package it and then do it every month. But if I had all the resources and time, I thought tea would be pretty cool. Also something VR-related would be a lot of fun. VR accessories. I built a small integration with WooCommerce and VR, a personal liaison. I thought it would be really cool to buy things in VR that are models for VR, like chairs or a couch in VR. You get to buy those things and they connect with your WooCommerce store.

Bob Dunn: Oh, cool.

Michael Tieso: So you buy virtual furniture and it connects into your WooCommerce store and it’s all done through the API. Had that going for a little bit just as a personal project.

Bob Dunn: Oh, okay.

Michael Tieso: A little bit fun and I think there might be some potential there because what I really love with WooCommerce is the API stuff and seeing people push the limits of the integrations. You don’t even need to see the WooCommerce dashboard at all, you can have your store exist elsewhere and shop in a different place. That’s what I was doing with the virtual reality WooCommerce store. You’re buying all these things in VR but it’s actually all being powered by WooCommerce which was kind of a neat thing to do.

Bob Dunn: Interesting. Well, as you probably hear, everybody, we’re between sessions now. It’s getting a little bit noisier in here so I think we’re going to be signing off. I want to thank Michael for pulling himself away from the WooCommerce booth.

Michael Tieso: Thanks. Thank you.

Bob Dunn: And I want, again, to thank our sponsor WP101, the best WordPress learning for beginners on the web. Until next time, find a WordCamp near you and get ready for some serious learning, as well as making some great connections with a wide variety of users, developers, designers, and everything between. And don’t forget to join us on the next WP eCommerce Show.