WooCommerce Explores the Possibilities and Challenges for E-Commerce in the Gutenberg Era

The next release of WordPress (5.0) will introduce the new Gutenberg editor and contributors plan to keep it rolling towards the eventual goal of providing a full site building experience. Nearly every WordPress theme and plugin developer will be impacted by the change and many are starting to look ahead to how their products may interact with Gutenberg in the future.

What will e-commerce look like in the Gutenberg era? The WooCommerce design team has published a preview of some of their “Wootenberg” experiments, along with a gif demonstrating what a block-based editing experience may look like in the context of working with products. The team sees a lot of potential for putting the power of visual product editing into the hands of users.

The example shows a quick exploration of page layout with product blocks and the team also posted an idea of what basic product authoring may look like with a predefined product template that includes the featured image, product title, description, and price as new Gutenberg blocks. But will it be possible to have complex product creation fit into a block-based editor? The WooCommerce team admits in the post that they don’t yet know how this will work.

“One thing that isn’t yet 100% clear is how complex plugins like WooCommerce will work with Gutenberg,” Automattic designer/developer James Koster said. “A simple product with a description, a price, and a category is one thing. But a product with variations, for each of which you want to upload a different image, and need to manage/track stock is quite another. Imagining a WYSIWYG editing experience for that kind of data is a little fuzzier.”

Koster referenced Gutenberg’s newly merged support for meta boxes, the first step in making product authoring possible. However, the Gutenberg team is still experimenting and isn’t yet set on a solution for implementing meta boxes.

“How this works with WooCommerce in the long term is unclear,” Koster said. “But you can rest assured it’s something we’ll be dedicating more time to investigating as WordPress approaches the 5.0 release.” Koster concludes the post by asking readers if visual product editing, with the flexibility to rearrange product/shop layouts, is something that interests them.

“If there’s one thing that WooCommerce should perhaps learn from Shopify’s rapid growth, it’s that many ‘would-be’ shop owners don’t care to spend hours upon hours tweaking the layout of their shop, and that pre-built easy-to-use software that looks good and feels good, but can still be extended in complex ways, is what attracts many users,” Jesse Nickles commented on the post. “While this may be the underlying goal of Gutenberg, it perhaps doesn’t crossover clearly to the e-commerce world.”

Koster said he agrees that users don’t always need visual editing experiences and that simple things like price changes should be quick and painless.

“How we present data-driven editing alongside the Gutenberg experience will ultimately determine the success of the project from a WooCommerce perspective,” Koster said.

Support for meta boxes is one the most challenging aspects of the Gutenberg project that the team has yet to solve. Exploring the possibilities of flexible page layouts for products is exciting, but even the WooCommerce team is left wondering how this is all going to work with more complex CMS data. Smaller product teams without the collective knowledge and resources of WooCommerce may have a more difficult time finding the bandwidth to experiment and rebuild their products in time for WordPress 5.0.

The WooCommerce team invites any users interested in Gutenberg-related UX changes to join the plugin’s design feedback group, as they continue to explore how the new editor will work in the context of complex e-commerce product creation and display.


21 responses to “WooCommerce Explores the Possibilities and Challenges for E-Commerce in the Gutenberg Era”

  1. I thought they said Gutenberg would ship when it’s ready not necessarily with 5.0. Anyone following it closely will know it’s no where near shipping as the legacy metabox support is only just being touched on and requires a LOT more iteration. They are making decent strides though

  2. I just hope they don’t dumb the plugin down while doing they conversion from meta boxes to blocks. Variable products might be difficult to migrate to Gutenberg, but that doesn’t make them any less necessary in serious stores. So, please, don’t oversimplify them or worse, remove them.

  3. The fact that metaboxes haven’t been figured out yet, let alone the other issues, makes the notion of Gutenberg being ready for early 2018 (from Matt’s mass email to .org subscribers yesterday) unrealistic. Perhaps as a “ready to try the new editing experience?” prompt in 5.0, but not as the default.

  4. My impression about Gutenberg: too fast, too early

    Unless we don’t have an option to set the old interface at least for a custom post type (but it would be better on a post basis) I can only see thousands of plugins broken and never fixed and thousands of sites left without a working plugin that they have used maybe for years without issues.

    The WooCommerce team has not yet figured out how to adapt their complex interface to the new paradigm. If a branch of Automattic itself is having hard time with Gutenberg I can’t even imagine teams of one or two people. According to Matt WP 5.0 will be out early 2018, so we are weeks away from having the new editor forced into WordPress. If the old editor will be available only as a plugin and not as an option the whole ecosystem risks an implosion. Thousands or even millions of websites made unusable with the new update, thousands of old free plugins vital to these sites will be broken and never fixed.

    There are free plugins in the WP directory that have been built and have evolved slowly over the years. They’ve been built by the authors in their free time and over years of time, and you cannot possibly force them to update the interface in a matter of weeks.

  5. As an independent developer working primarily with micro businesses and non-profits, upgrading to 5.0 is going to be really, really tough sell. These shoestring organizations cannot afford to pay me to rewrite their websites, and I can’t afford to do it for free.

    If WooCommerce isn’t ready for Gutenberg, why does Matt think everyone else is? The hard push for 5.0 seems terribly premature, and reflects a certain arrogance on the part of management.

    I now longer recommend WP to new clients due to this huge uncertainty, and I will likely need to freeze existing sites to 4.9 until the dust settles and I can figure out what needs to be done to make sure my clients’ sites don’t break. For small businesses hosted solutions are actually a much better deal (and have been for a while) even though it means less money for me.

    • Those are good points. Many people will be needing to make difficult choices, needing to do extra (possibly unpaid) work, or needing to abandon WordPress entirely.

      For complex stuff such as ecommerce plugins, if Gutenberg makes a big mess of it, 3rd party stuff may indeed be the best way out. It’s ironic, because from where I’m sitting, the blocks approach is taking a cue from the popular non-code builders out there. At that point, the question becomes, why not just use the builders instead if you don’t need massive customization? I’ve already had some previous clients go in that direction.

      Of course the powers-that-be must have considered that. With a name as audacious as Gutenberg, I figure this will be a big deal. I wonder if they have decided to make a cleaner break with the past than usual. Be bold, move forward faster, and make more of a fork than an update. If they lose people, that’s the cost of progress.

      I was hoping that Gutenberg would remain a plugin that can be turned off if a site is ruined by it. But it doesn’t sound to me like that will be the case for long.

      On the plus side, there are loads of CMS systems out there, many of them excellent. Having experience with many of them puts me in a better position than most if I need to use tools besides WordPress. Others will have more pain than I will, I’m afraid, whether they’re non-tech site owners or web firms that use nothing but WordPress.

    • If you are building a true cms how does other software even compare?

      WordPress is not ideal in terms of architecture. But nothing comes close on features and community. I’m surprised it is not more dominant.

      Re Gutenberg, I agree there is no way it will be ready for 6 months. So anything earlier will be premature and damaging especially at the bottom end without technical support.

  6. This looks like WordPress should start to exist in 2 versions :

    – One with the current editor which supports the metaboxes and all woocommerce and other plugins perfectly

    – One with gutenberg as an editor and all the new features it should bring.

    Eventually, when the metaboxes and any other compatibilty might find working solution, the community might choose to deprecate the old version…

    • Right now, Gutenberg is wholly encapsulated in a plugin. It needs to remain that way for at least another year rather than become part of WP Core in that year. It can currently be installed, activated, deactivated and deleted like any plugin. This is the ideal scenario for a plugin with such functionality as Gutenberg provides.

      However, it seems that it’s not that likely to remain in plugin form for very long as we enter 2018. Instead, people will be required to install a plugin to disable Gutenberg instead (which already exists) to revert their site to it’s pre-Gutenberg state where necessary. While it’s a pretty backwards approach IMO, there’s also no need for 2 versions due to WP’s modularity.

    • Dont bother forking WP. Frankly, it would be a massive massive effort and likely to fail. There are other CMSes out there – Craft CMS, Perch Runway, etc. WP is dominant but it’s not the only game in town.

  7. Having built and managed a large ecommerce shop for the last 3 months now (400+ variable products with two languages using WPML), having a visual editor to create attractive landing pages is great. Having a data-driven editor to manage product data is very good. It’s important that both are supported.

    I use the premium plugin WooCommerce Advanced Bulk Edit to edit multiple products at the same time. I find I use this more than the regular WooCommerce edit product page. Seeing all my products in a quickly filterable list is more powerful and much faster than having to edit/update each individual product at a time.

    Gutenberg has certainly evolved quickly and its prowess to be a refined layout engine is coming closer and closer, but still aspects of its architecture disappoint me and don’t seem very future forward. I still disagree with the HTML comment demarcation (would rather metadata about the blocks be stored in JSON, personally) and the meta boxes integration is still a big issue, but things are starting to looking more promising for the end user — maybe not so much for the website manager though.

  8. The thing that aggravates me the most about Gutenberg is that it ignores the fact that not everyone who uses WordPress is a blogger.

    I work for a web development company. We write code. We are sticklers for clean code and designs. We have ZERO interest in allowing clients the control to create their own layouts. We have zero interest in screwing around with the inevitably terrible html markup that these blocks are going to create… infinitely nested divs and span tags. Ridiculous class names, etc.

    Clients aren’t designers. Clients aren’t UX professionals. As far as we are concerned WordPress is just fine the way it is. It seems to me that nobody on the wordpress team has actually worked in an environment where you develop websites for paying clients.

    As far as I am concerned this will either be the death of wordpress in these settings, or WordPress will need to be forked into “amateur” and “professional” versions.

    • I agree about clients. They just want a form to enter in the data and for it to be quick and easy.

      The bonus is that Gutenberg adds that extra pizzazz for the layout-minded like me who would enjoy it, but 99% of the people that I’ve worked with who will use and maintain the website that I’ve setup for them just want a basic form and have no sense of design and/or no sense of code.

  9. “[Gutenberg] ignores the fact that not everyone who uses WordPress is a blogger”

    But everyone using WordPress.com *is* a blogger.

    And that’s Automattic’s target audience. It’s always been the vision. And to be completely fair to Automattic, it/they never pretended otherwise. Let’s look at what Matt wrote on 27th August

    We have challenges (user frustrations with publishing and customizing, competition from site builders like Squarespace and Wix) and opportunities (the 157 million small businesses without sites, aka the next big market we should be serving)

    Who is the “We”? Is it WordPress or WordPress.com? It’s both, but if you’re building data driven sites, sites that utilise the REST API, sites that utilise a lot of “non-content” data, sites that use the method API etc then “user frustrations with publishing and customizing, competition from site builders like Squarespace and Wix” don’t ring true for you, because that’s not your market!

    Also, and lets be pretty blunt here, it’s the end of 2017 so “the 157 million small businesses without sites” are going to want something very simple to start with!

    To see the extent of the issue, lets look at what GB design lead Tammie wrote just last week:

    I think it’s important to look at what in the future metaboxes will be used for. What are the cases (if any) that would not be converted to blocks? Do all metaboxes have to work on mobile? Is there even an alternative interface that we haven’t explored?

    A lot of people have taken pot shots at Tammie for the “(if any)” addition, but they are missing the point. Tammie, an automattician, is thinking about MetaBoxes as Content. Because in the automattic / .com world, where WP is used to create beautiful and wonderful “blogging+” style websites, MetaBoxes are content.

    That’s a huge disconnect though for all the developers who use MetaBoxes as data-stores and data-connections. While some of that data may end up on screen as content, very little of it does, or is actually used as display logic! This is especially true of of Custom Post Types / Custom Taxonomies etc. Y’know, data, logic but not necessarily content. Rarely is that content freely editable by a user. It’s almost never a ‘write what you want, add html, go nuts, here’s TinyMCE, and bob with sports’ post field.

    If you build data-centric websites/apps with WordPress, with simple logic gates, then the Guttenberg era of WordPress is not going to be for you. Because it was never designed for you, because you’re not the target audience. And that’s ok!

    I know that I’ve annoyed people for years for saying that WordPress is amazing at “Blogging+”. That people have read that and decided I was secretly meaning it wasn’t a ‘real’ CMS. Which of course it is.

    But since WP2.8/9 (unofficially) and WP3.0/1 (officially) we’ve been using Custom_Post_Types and Custom_post_Taxonomies as Custom_Data_Types. Which was never their intended use! Sure it worked, clunky, but worked. (As an aside: that’s why we got “Custom Post Formats” hastily rammed into WP3.0/3.1 instead of creating standards for CPTs, to combat bloggers moving to Tumblr. Because, y’know, bloggers being .com’s target audience).

    That’s not to say that people using WP in this manner are wrong, or doing anything bad. Or that WP can’t handle this sort of thing. Caveat Caveat Caveat – must not piss off the fanboys.

    I tried to explain this to someone after my keynote over the weekend. WordPress is like a Tesla. It’s slick, looks nice, you get to choose a lot of options when you buy it. Going from your old car, to your new Tesla makes you look modern. Frankly, it’s awesome. But if your requirements were to have a vehicle that could go 300 miles on a single tank, or fit in camping equipment, or go over rough terrain, then the Tesla ain’t going to do the job (as well). Sure you could fit different tyres. You could go trips via charging stations. You could hitch a trailer to the back. But at some stage, you’re using the tool in a way it wasn’t designed for. At some stage, someone at Tesla will remove the tow bar at the back, and you won’t be able to pull the trailer anymore.

    And that’s what’s happening here.

    WordPress has always always always used the 80/20 rule. And “.com” has never been in the “20” since 2010. For all the wonderful and imaginative ways that WP has been used over the years, it’s always been about fulfilling it’s vision – Democratizing Publishing. Enabling those without, or little, web dev skills to get on the web in the way they want. To have their website, with their data, the way they want. That’s a beautiful thing. Truly.

    As long as you build websites in the Wix/Weebly/Squarespace market.

    Which you all do, right?


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