Talking eCommerce with Brad Williams and John Hawkins from WebDevStudios
WP eCommerce Show

00:00 / 12:45

This last weekend I was in Nashville, Tennessee, which is known for its music and food, primarily hot chicken and BBQ. But during the time I was there, it was the place to be if you are involved with WordPress in any way, shape or form: WordCamp US, the pinnacle of WordPress events.

I spent my time in what is known as the Hallway Tracks, where I visited my vendor friends and countless WordPress colleagues, making new friends, being part of tons of conversations. While I was there, I was lucky to snag my two good friends, Brad Williams and John Hawkins from WebDevStudios. These two are all you need to know about WordPress— and just a couple of all around good guys. Listen in as we talk about eCommerce and WordPress. It starts right after I ask Brad to tell us about WebDevStudios.

We chatted about:

  • What they view as progress in the eCommerce and WordPress space over the last couple of years
  • The question of scalability for online stores using WordPress
  • How they would answer the question, I want to sell my product online with WordPress. Where do I start?
  • What they would tell someone who wants to sell online and is questioning if a WordCamp is right for them?

What is WebDevStudios?

Brad Williams: Hey Bob, it’s good to see you. So, WebDevStudios, we are a full-blown development and design agency with a focus on WordPress. But we actually work WordPress at scale, building custom applications a lot of functionality with awesome design. If it’s WordPress, we do it.

What’s been the biggest progress in eCommerce and WordPress in the last couple of years?

Bob Dunn: So, we’ve all been here in eCommerce and WordPress for a while. What do you think has been the biggest progress in the last couple of years?

John Hawkins: Some of the progress has been all about making things easier for the end user: people who own shops. Big shops, little shops. We’ve done some gigantic WooCommerce installations but I think the real advancement has been more toward the little guy who came in. You want to sell a digital product and you want something simple right away. Or you will have physical products and you need something a bit more complicated. eCommerce can now handle just about anything under the sun. So I’d say that has been kind of the biggest progression.

Brad: Also, to add to that, we’ve seen WooCommerce come out and really grow. I don’t know if I’d call it a standardized eCommerce plug-in, but it’s obviously the leader by far. So having that platform that we are all using, growing it and making it better, when in years past there were a lot of eCommerce options and they were all just kind of okay. Now we have one clear leader, which is great. So I think just having that out there has been a big plus for the WordPress eCommerce space.

Any thoughts on scalebility?

Bob: Okay, so you dropped the word scalability and I think that’s what a lot of people think WordPress is this tiny little thing and how can it possibly be scalable for a large eCommerce site? From your experience as an agency, any words of wisdom, insight from your own experience?

Brad: Yeah, I think, when people talk about scalability, whether it is WooCommerce or WordPress, it’s a similar conversation, right? It’s the same kind of response when people say, is WordPress scalable? Of course it is. We have a lot of examples. obviously is the biggest but a lot of sites are out there running WordPress at scale. It’s about making sure you’re optimizing it in certain areas, making sure your infrastructure and hosting environment are optimized for WordPress, things like that, CDNs, making sure you know everything you can do to tweak that performance.

We’ve built and run WooCommerce stores at scale. We did a site for a large grocery chain in the South and we actually built a system for the holidays, which they are actually using again this year, so people can place their turkey orders early and they were doing hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales every single day leading up to Thanksgiving. You place your order and then go to the store to pick it up. It’s available the day or two before Thanksgiving and they do it around Christmas time as well.

So, we’ve seen it at scale on that front and it has worked great. And a lot of companies are looking at examples like what we’ve done and what other companies have done as kind of a case study in scaling and it absolutely works. So we are all helping validate it in our projects and helping each other and making it more of a sellable option for people because we are showing that it does work. It does scale. It can get you a lot of traffic and a lot of sales.

What one piece of advice do you have for someone who wants to start and online store with WordPress?

Bob: Okay we are at WordCamp. Now people come up to me and say, hey Bob, I want to start with WordPress. How do I do that? And I’m like, well, do you have an hour? A day? A week? I’m going to ask you, both something. Let’s say you’re here and somebody comes up to you and says, I’m starting an online store. I want to start on WordPress. What should I do first? That’s it. I want your answer. I know it will be nice and succinct like, hire us. No, I’m just kidding. But…

Brad: Shopify. No, I’m excited that Liquid Web is rolling out a hosted WooCommerce platform because I honestly think that going with hosted when you are starting out is the way to go. It’s kind of like when people say, hey, I want a website with WordPress. What should I do?

I say, go to Create a site for free, play around with it, see if you like it. If you do, there are some upgrades. And if you get real serious about it, we can export it out and set up your own install of WordPress. But dipping your toe in and testing the waters through like a hosted WooCommerce or a hosted store is going to be the easiest.

I think LiquidWeb is going in the right direction with their hosted WooCommerce platform because that is what I’m going to tell people to do. Don’t spend hours and days configuring this perfect online store for an idea that won’t even work. Get it out there, test it, see if it’s working. And then, if it starts to grow, you can talk about rolling out your own install and putting your time and money behind that. But I like the hosted idea. It’s a good way to dip your toe in.

John: To add on to that, I think that it’s a good opportunity when somebody comes in early, to have them sit down and think about what it is that they are going to sell, how they want to go about it, and all those decisions they probably have never considered. Like are you selling in multiple states? Are you going to have taxes to deal with? You can start slow, somewhere where it’s free, test something out and get your footing under you before you start figuring out those questions that you don’t even know to ask.

That’s what it’s about when you start getting into eCommerce. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into that, just like a lot goes into building a website for a small business. Once you open the can of eCommerce, there are things you need to solve before you sell your products. So start with something small. Start unpacking and figuring out what you’re going to need to do to scale and grow big.

Advice for someone going to their first WordCamp?

Bob: I’m going to take a little twist on this next question, still talking about WordCamp. So you’re walking into WordCamp and there is somebody outside standing there, looking a little lost, wondering if they even want to step into this room we call WordCamp. And they turn to you and say, hey I want to sell online. I want to use WordPress and sell online. I don’t know if I should even go in that door. It’s freaking me out. Will I find value in there? What would you tell them? What should they think about?

John: This is my favorite question. I’ve actually answered this one a thousand times. I like to explain to people, whether they are coming to their first WordCamp or their tenth, If you go into a session, nobody is going to teach you an entire subject in 45 minutes and that’s not really what this is about. If you’re coming to WordCamp, or any conference really, but especially a WordCamp, you’re coming here to get that jolt, that vibe, that excitement to move on. So I always tell people, don’t bring a laptop and try to take every note under the sun. Grab a phone, open up your little text editor. Take down two or three keywords.

You know, somebody says something that strikes your interest, and all you’re looking for. Find those two or three things, once you get back home, you can dive deeper into. You say, these are the three things I want to dig into and learn. You come here to get that jumping-off point. Get that excitement and once you get back, you can put the pedal to the metal and dig in.

Brad: One of my favorite things about WordPress is the community, right? That’s the big part of it. It’s infectious when you come here. You get excited. You start learning about things. You start hearing about some new technologies or see what other people are doing and it just excites you and you are anxious to go back and start putting this stuff into practice or digging a little deeper. It’s a very approachable community. I feel like you can walk up to anyone in this community and have a great conversation, regardless of who they are, what their status is. I mean, here I am hanging out with Bob WP, the biggest celebrity at the event. Like, you know, it’s awesome to see it.

It was an approachable community, even when I first started going to WordCamps. I felt that the first time I went when I didn’t know anybody. Now I have a ton of friends, very good friends that I’ve met over the years going to these events. Maybe we work together, maybe we don’t, but we’re friends and we talk about experiences and share ideas and thoughts and it’s just always a really fun time.

So I would say go. Go to one. Even if you’re just sitting in some presentations and you don’t really know anybody. You’re going to have a good time. You’re going to learn stuff, and it’s infectious and the next thing you know, you’ll be going to ten of them a year.

Bob: And I did not pay for that endorsement. I want you to know that but anyway I’m glad I was able to snag you, track you down, do this. We’re going to all get back to doing something here. I think it’s coming on lunch time. So we’re going to nom on some stuff. I want people to know where to find you. I mean obviously we said WebDevStudios, but Twitter, all the social, all the websites.

Where can we find John and Brad on the web?

John: Mine is super simple. You can find me at vegasgeek, pretty much on any platform.

Brad: Yeah and I’m on Twitter, williamsba. WebDevStudios is on Twitter as well. WebDevStudios, all one word.

Bob: Well, another great interview. BobWP signing off from Nashville. Mic drop.

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