I cover a lot of WooCommerce plugins here at The Plugin Economy but this is the first one that I feel really goes after one of the core components of the WooCommerce experience.
Checkout for WooCommerce aims to replace the default checkout experience with a new responsive design focused on conversion. The sales pitch is that it offers all of that while still working with every WordPress theme.
Clifton Griffin, from Objectiv, answered my questions about the background of his company, the problems with the default checkout from WooCommerce, problems during the plugin’s development and how you best market a product that is useful to such a huge market.
Let’s start with some background. What’s the story of Objectiv and the people on your team?
Objectiv is a full service web agency with a special focus on engineering. We specialize in complex integrations, e-commerce, and custom development more than the most typical agencies. We have a bit of an obsession with making sure our code is as beautiful as our designs.
Objectiv grew out of my own freelancing. I’ve been developing with WordPress for over 10 years: first as part of my day job, and then during nights and weekends. In 2013 I made the jump to full-time self-employment, and a year later hired my first full time employee.
We currently have 5 people on our team, including myself, which breaks down into 2 backend developers, 1 front-end developer, 1 Project Manager, and an intern.
Can you go over some of the problems with the default checkout experience for WooCommerce and how your plugin helps improve them?
E-commerce is hard. There are really no “standard” e-commerce stores. Every business has their own esoteric approaches and needs (or at least thinks they do!) In the 8 years I have been building e-commerce stores, every single site has had its own surprises.
Because e-commerce platforms have to address so many critical features and edge cases, there is a tendency for the customer shopping experience to become bland. The core templates are designed to work with as many themes and add-ons as possible, instead of optimizing conversions. Like many developers, we tackled this problem by building custom templates for each site (where budget allowed).
In 2016, we realized that we were approaching the problem incorrectly. Instead of building a customized solution for each of our clients, we should take a cue from hosted platforms and build a standardized checkout experience for all WooCommerce stores. By bypassing the WordPress theme, we could ensure that the experience was consistent for every store.
On the way we try to solve a few problems really well:
We only show the customer what they need to make the purchase. We don’t load the site’s header or footer, and we offer few and only essential avenues to leave checkout.
There’s been a trend towards one-page checkouts in recent years, partly fueled by some data that showed one-page checkouts possibly convert better than multi-step checkouts.
We think this is a mistake. Long forms are exhausting and require mental gymnastics as you tab through many fields requesting different types of information.
We loved how Shopify categorizes their fields into 3 discrete steps, and we used the same structure in our theme.
Have you ever filled out a checkout form, hovered your mouse over submit only to see there’s a mistake in your cart? For most stores this is a painful mistake. You have to leave checkout, make the correction, and then fill in every field again.
We solve this by caching every field to your local browser storage as you fill out the form. This means that refreshing the page has little or no cost. And it also solves accidental refreshes and closed browser tabs.
Similarly, accounts are also painful. People forget if they have an account. Or they forget their password. Or they can’t satisfy the password requirements.
We try to simplify this by proactively looking up whether the user already has an account, or letting them create an account without specifying a password up front.I don’t want to belabor all of our improvements and features, but these are a few of the ones we think solve the biggest customer problems!
What has been the hardest part of development during the creation of the plugin?
Oh boy, where to start! The WooCommerce template structure does not lend itself to sweeping overhauls. Their templates prefer that you make additive or subtractive rather than structural changes.
Our constant challenge was to work with their APIs whenever possible and work smartly against them whenever it was not possible to use their APIs.
There are hundreds of scenarios you have to keep in mind with e-commerce: currencies, localization, account types, discounts, shipping methods, orders of operation, ad nauseam. It takes a lot of patience to work through each of these scenarios and be willing to refactor when you didn’t account properly for an important situation.
Our work is not over here. WooCommerce is changing constantly and releasing updates to their gateways and add-ons. Our challenge will be to adapt and continually find ways to future proof with a good foundation of code.
WooCommerce is a wide market with a lot of users and Checkout for WooCommerce could be useful to every single one of them. How do you plan to go about marketing your plugin to such a huge market?
We know we are not the solution for every store. We want customers that buy into our philosophy of e-commerce and want to put customer experience first over more esoteric, internal preferences.
We are looking at Facebook ads, podcast sponsorships, WordCamp sponsorships, etc. But in these early days, we’re primarily focused on getting real customers, one by one. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
We’re following up personal with every new subscriber and rapidly building the integrations they need to be successful with Checkout for WooCommerce.
It’s been a long road to get our product ready for market, but we have known since day 1 that until we get the product on real sites run by real developers and merchants, we will not be able to make the improvements that will be critical for success. In 24 hours, we’ve added 3 more integrations, 2 of which were for products we were not aware of the day we launched!
You are offering a 7 day free trial for all of your pricing options. What went into that decision and also what was the thought process behind your three pricing levels?
We want people to be able to use the product and see for themselves how easy it is to improve their checkout experience.
We tried to align our pricing with similar offerings from Automattic and 3rd party extensions. Those may change in the future as we find our niche.
Now that you’ve launched Checkout for WooCommerce: what is one piece of advice you could give to your old self before one line of code was written?
Do more research up front.
There were a lot of scenarios that blind sided us with particular gateway configurations. If we had done more due diligence up front, we could have avoided a lot of painful retraces.
What’s next for Objectiv and the plugin?
Building websites is what pays the bills, so that will continue to be where we spend 90% of our time in 2018. But the rest of our time will be spent getting the word out in any way possible.
We already have several WordPress plugin products on the market, but Checkout for WooCommerce is where will be spending all of our product development and advertising energy (and dollars).
We’re in this for the long haul. Our plan is to grow Checkout for WooCommerce into a significant portion of annual revenue within 2 years. We’re in early days, but we’re excited by the initial response we’ve seen from customers and potential customers.