Scott Bolinger Shares Unique Perspective of WordPress From Outside the Bubble

Scott Bolinger, a product developer focused on the WordPress space who has created several products, including AppPresser and Holler Box, recently attended Content and Commerce Summit 2017.

This conference focuses on what’s working in eCommerce, digital media, information publishing, and subscription commerce. According to Bolinger, WordPress and WooCommerce were not topics of discussion.

“It really opened my eyes going to an event where no one even said the word WordPress once,” Bolinger said. “The audience at this conference was non-technical, mostly marketers selling stuff online. I watched a presentation where the presenter had slides with 20+ different recommended tools on them, and not a single mention of WordPress.

“This is an eCommerce conference, WooCommerce is 41% of all eCommerce stores, and not a single person said the word WooCommerce. All I heard about was Shopify and Amazon.”

According to SimilarTech, WooCommerce is leading in the top 100K sites, top 1M sites, and the entire web while Shopify is leading in the top 10K sites. While Shopify has a lot less market share, it’s used on substantially higher trafficked sites.

Bolinger shared the perspective of a friend who uses Shopify to sell clothing and will gross more than $1M in revenue this year. According to his friend, Shopify is easy to use, from setting up a theme, to the plugin/app ecosystem to add functionality.

“When my friend said Shopify is easy to use, this is a whole different category of great user experience,” Bolinger said. “This is building a site from scratch for a completely non-technical user, and them loving the end result and the experience.”

Bolinger raised an interesting point in that, Wix, Shopify, and SquareSpace are closed, SaaS offerings where they can control the user experience from end-to-end. This is impossible to do with WordPress because there are too many moving parts and core can not control how plugins and themes take part in that experience.

While WordPress core can’t necessarily solve the problem, it hasn’t stopped webhosts from trying. GoDaddyBluehost, and others have created onboarding solutions that try to control the end-to-end user experience.

Bolinger shared a sentiment that many in the WordPress community have advocated in recent years. “If we’re honest, the strength of WordPress is not that it’s easy to use for non-technical people. It’s an open-source platform that is easy for developers to extend and customize for clients.”

There was a time, somewhere between WordPress 2.3 and WordPress 3.5, where one of the main reasons people used WordPress was because it was easy. Between then and now, what caused WordPress to lose its ease-of-use factor?

SquareSpace, Wix, and Shopify didn’t exist in the early days of WordPress, they were late to market. This gave them the advantage of implementing all the lessons learned through WordPress’ lifespan and since it’s a closed system, they can iterate rapidly.

The biggest reality check that Bolinger shares is that there are a lot of people WordPress simply doesn’t cater too.

“There is a large contingent of people who just want to get stuff done, they don’t want to fuss with the tech”, He said. “They don’t care about open source or owning their data. They don’t want to install a theme and setup their widgets, or search thousands of results to find the best SEO plugin.

“They don’t want to set up ‘managed hosting’, an SSL certificate, or a payment gateway. They just want to sell their products and make money as fast and easily as possible.”

I encourage you to read the full post as it provides a perspective of WordPress not often shared within the WordPress bubble. How does WordPress become a platform that delivers the kind of experience from end-to-end that Bolinger’s friend describes?


21 responses to “Scott Bolinger Shares Unique Perspective of WordPress From Outside the Bubble”

  1. Simple: It won’t. So long as it’s an open ecosystem, there will always be fragmentation of user experience due to third party software vendors not being aligned with each other. For the same reasons WordPress has immense strength in its flexibility and rapid development capability when in the hands of the right person, it also lacks the utter simplicity you might find in tools like Wix.

    Simply put, when in the hands of a capable developer, a user experience that far exceeds that of Wix is possible with WordPress, because it can be tailored to the client. When in the hands of a power user, much can be accomplished, albeit with a few pain points that may require help from someone more skilled.

    Conversely, Wix will never have the flexibility and power of something like WordPress. It’s not possible with a closed ecosystem. Even with a large development team, giving a customer too many options sacrifices the very simplicity that makes Wix successful.

    You just have to lay out your needs and desires and choose the tool that best suits you. Help from a skilled individual also goes a long ways in making that decision.

  2. …”“They don’t care about open source or owning their data.” These people are either ignorant, or complete morons. These website tech companies own and control your data, including your sales figures, customers lists and possibly credit card numbers, and God knows what other personal information is been stored in their servers. Do they want to rethink again for not owning their own data?

    ECWID is another perfect example, they even have a WordPress plugin for it. It’s a Russian company hosted on Amazon cloud servers. It’s not as comprehensive as woocommerce or like some of the other e-commerce big boys, but it’s easy to use, and because it’s cloud based, you can create a catalog, and publish that same catalog on unlimited number of sites, in a matter of 30 second setup for each site. The problem is that (besides the fact that there are better solutions out there, not to mention FREE), THEY OWN YOUR DATA… and if you spend 3 months to create a nice catalog of 5,000 items and the next day the company goes belly up… you would be out of business and mental!

    How some people do business and are staying in business, is amazing… you should always have control as much as you can in everything, and possibly have the knowledge of how a certain task is done by your employees or contractors, or at least have contingency plans, otherwise, sooner or later you will face a catastrophe… and not owning your own data is one of those situations to be avoided by all means.

    • It doesn’t matter what they are and no matter how much you jump up and down it won’t change.

      Business owners/marketers/whatever want ease of setup and use. Period.

      There are Shopify sites that do 10s of millions of $ (if not more). Setting up a Shopify site compared to Woo is like night and day (and yes, I’ve done both, as well as a bunch of others – I remember The Exchange Project and some other dinosaurs).

      Nobody that’s trying to run a business that actually sells anything is interested in all of the issues that come with WP/Woo unless they already know how to use it (like me for example).

      Automatic (or somebody else) is going to have to fork WP and create a closed system (way more closed than .com since they’re actually making that more and more open) if they want to compete with the likes of Shopify. That is the ONLY way.

      • That’s really good Bob, but you did not address the most important issue. They own your data, so what are you going to do if they go out of business, or increase their fees tenfold? It will be way more expensive, not to mention the loss revenues if you have to start over in a different platform. With Shopify and other similar services, there are no contingency plans, and that is a huge problem for me. And if I was a business owner with no web design skills, I would much rather pay up front little bit more and have my options open, especially have control and privacy over my data, which includes my customer list, and credit card information, rather than depending on other people. How can I be sure that Shopify, or other similar services are not selling my customer info to my competitors?

      • Most business owners have more than enough on their plate to want to think about it.

        Shopify is easy and it looks great right out of the box. Hire someone (or utilize an existing employee) to add your products and you can stop thinking about it. Just fill the orders and provide customer service.

        John from John’s Bait & Tackle only cares that he can sell stuff online now. I deal with small and medium sized business owners and their online presence & marketing all day, every day. I frame EVERYTHING from their point of view. I win more deals than I lose (and take more from the competition) because of it. We use WP exclusively but I understand why they do what they do most times.

        That’s the problem with this whole WP “community”. Too many developers and not enough common sense business owners (if any – selling WP plugins, themes and services doesn’t count in this situation).

        WP themed sites are full of developers and marketing sites are full of scammers. Sigh…..

    • But they don’t necessarily own your data. Squarespace makes it straightforward to export your posts. Wix does NOT. Shopify has your product data and I’m not sure how are it is to get that out but they have a good ecosystem to which they connect so you can and should have your customer data in a CRM, sales data in Xero, etc.

      While I don’t mean this as personal attack, your rant simply turns off business people. All they care about is getting stuff done and as long as they can get at their data, they simply do not care about GPL, etc.

  3. This was a content conference for digital marketers. Digital marketing is a very broad field as you can see from the talks. I should think the fact WordPress + WooCommerce weren’t discussed could be put down to them not being the focus of this particular event. The organisers didn’t include a Woo keynote – if they had perhaps there would have been more discussion about Woo.

    I go to plenty of digital marketing events where WordPress isn’t mentioned because there’s only so much you can fit into one event. It doesn’t mean the attendees don’t know how to use WordPress and/or don’t find it valuable.

    Not 100% sure on the definition of marketers here, but I presume by this you mean everyone who is not a developer by trade. It’s incorrect to say people who are “marketers” aren’t technical enough to use WordPress – that’s simply not the case. It is no more difficult for a user to set up managed hosting with an SSL certificate as it is to set up a Squarespace account. I wouldn’t class this as fussing with tech.

    Yes, of course a strong knowledge of code lets you do more with WordPress – but you could say the same about anything.

    I don’t know how to use Shopify because I never have before. Someone may not be familiar with WP, but that doesn’t mean it’s too difficult for them to use. Just because someone doesn’t currently use a tool (or chat about it to you at a conference), doesn’t mean they wouldn’t know how if they gave it a go.

  4. It’s all about the money. If you’re running an online store you’re trying to make as much as possible as quickly as possible whilst keeping your costs to a minimum.

    WordPress / WooCommerce ( or EDD ) on the face of it looks a good solution. Both are free to download, grab a cheap web host and you can create a basic store for the price of a coffee.

    But BASIC is the right word. You soon realise that to create the kind of store that will generate decent sales and be fit for purpose is going to require plugins. Time to get the wallet out.

    By the time you’ve put the wallet away you’ll have burned through $500 as a bare minimum (recurring each year at the full price) that’s before you start forking out for hosting, SSL certs etc

    You’ll have also spent an inordinate amount of time setting the damn thing up and as mentioned in the article, you’re now solely responsible for the maintenance and updating of the plugins, self hosted server etc etc.

    Nah. Shopify for me. It takes a fraction of the time to get online and selling so negating the opportunity cost, the running costs are less, much less and it just works. You know what I mean? No rogue plugin crashing the site, no having to close your eyes and pray each time there’s a woo update and you have to press that update button. It just works.

    Which means you get to spend more time on customer service, marketing and sales. Which is where the money is. WordPress is great, I love it for blogging which is what it is, a blogging platform. But most of my previously woocommerce sites are slowly getting moved into Shopify as the licenses expire and I couldn’t be happier.

    Final note. There’s too much of WooCommerce that is left to plugins that should be in core. If you’re going to do a proper bolt on ecommerce solution then things like multi-language, fraud analysis, social logins, import/export, advanced reports, bookings, cart recovery, built in gateways (not just PayPal) should all be included and shouldn’t have to be bought at great expense. It’s just taking peoples eyes out charging for things like that. I had hoped that EDD might offer a good half way house between Woo and Shopify but their recent pricing has left me cold as well.

    Sorry for the ramble, started to write and got carried away!

    • outside SSL certificates, hosting and the domain. you don’t really need to spend $500 on plugins and themes.

      Just because a theme or/and plugin is $100, it doesn’t it will be better than a free plugin.

      Just because a theme or/and plugin is free, it doesn’t mean it is worse than a paid plugin.

      The whole concept that a free theme/plugin is inferior, it needs to stop.

    • SSL is free with Let’s Encrypt.

      Woocommerce has all the necessary functionality to make a decent ecommerce site. In typical fashion, everybody wants ecommerce to work the way THEY want it to work. In my experience most of the desired functionality people want it is bullshit they think will help them sell more products but doesn’t. That being said you need to spend money to make money.

      Good luck adding advanced functionality or changing the way shopify works. I’ve lost track of all the clients that came to us because shopify didn’t do what they wanted. So I find your assumption that things are going the other way to be laughable.

      Woocommerce isn’t great. Woocommerce isnt even good. That being said if you have ever tried other ecommerce platforms you will find that they are all universally TERRIBLE. And as a full time working web developer I have first hand, hands-on knowledge of: Magento, Bigcommerce, Shopify, Opencart, Zencart, Spree, Virtuemart, Volusion, Foxycart, Prestacart, Volusion, etc. etc. etc.

  5. This conference is not “outside the bubble”. It was a digital marketing conference held in Los Angeles. How well does Shopify cater to someone in Nairobi?

    The administrative interface of Shopify is only available in English. Not even German, French or Spanish. Just English.

    WooCommerce is available in about 40 languages, WordPress in somewhat more than that.

    This reminds me of when people talk about Medium destroying WordPress. Medium has practically never been heard of outside of large coastal cities in the USA, and even then it’s mostly the digitally literate knowledge workers who know it or care about it.

    Yes, WordPress has gotten harder to use relative to the competition. That is a problem that needs to be fixed. But not because of Shopify or Wix or any of these companies. It needs to be fixed because that’s how we continue to give people around the world a voice online.

  6. A potential issue with WordPress is, because of its fragmentation, to be unable to incorporate the newer technologies before its competitors and so become eventually obsolete. The last couple of years, new web technologies such as Service Workers (to create Progressive Web Apps) or CSS Grid have been introduced, yet these have barely been adopted within the WP ecosystem (or so I believe). Similarly, WordPress does not offer a standard way to implement modern techniques to make websites load faster, such as code splitting (to load only the needed javascript/css and nothing more), server-side rendering (for those cases in which the view is rendered with javascript) or pre-caching static assets in the browser through Service Workers.

    Lately, each time I watch some presentation showing off the latest techniques/technologies to optimize websites (eg: Progressive Web Apps across all frameworks – Google I/O 2016 by Addy Osmani) I’m thinking: “Nah, we can’t do that… or that… or that…”

      • Yes, you can, but it’s not so streamlined that it goes out to all WordPress websites, so that everyone benefits from the effort made by someone. Say, if WP core already integrated Service Workers to cache a website’s assets, then a full 28% of the web would suddenly feel faster (there is at least a plugin for that, but it was not working fine when I tried it some time ago). But WP’s competitors, whenever they implement a new technology, they can have it deployed for all of their customers all at once, making a huge and tangible step forward. In the medium to long term, I’d say that Shopify and all the other closed platforms will certainly be outperforming WP from a qualitative/performance point of view, making WP feel obsolete.

  7. WooCommerce is harder and more expensive than Shopify. By the time you buy the basic extensions to get WC working as well as Shopify, you’re paying subscriptions above Shopify’s fees and also a developer to set up and maintain them.

  8. One reason a lot of people go with Shopify is that it’s dead simple to start. $29/month gets you a nice plan for a starting ecommerce shop. There are a lot of nice free themes. You don’t have to worry about hosting or getting SSL setup. If you have all of your product data and images you can sit down with your coffee in the morning and have a store up and running by the end of the day. Way before then if your data is in an importable format.

  9. There are a lot of things you can do with WooCommerce and a server you could never do with Amazon Seller accounts, and from what I remember, Shopify. The plugins developed for WooCommerce tend to reflect business needs…something you won’t find support for with closed systems or hired developers necessarily. We’ve seen our sales grow over 100%+ since moving to WordPress- largely thanks to our ability to control the UX and use plugins to improve the customer journey. If they’re not talking about it at a marketing conference oh well.


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