WooCommerce Marketplace Suggestions

Challenge: converting free to paid users

WooCommerce, the core plugin, is free, and is monetized via payment partnerships and extensions. In December 2018, we dug into usage data to understand how well we were monetizing the base of WooCommerce users with extensions.

We found that only approximately 30% of active stores were using paid extensions, and that stores that used extensions were, in general, somewhat more successful. Store were likely to add paid extensions either right off the bat, or when they reached certain success thresholds in monthly or total sales. This suggested that some store owners knew what they wanted at the get-go and bought it, while others waiting until they had some proven success to invest in additional website features, which we validated with qualitative research.

From this data, I hypothesized that more stores could benefit from paid extensions, but weren’t aware of their options early enough in their journey.

Solution: inform users about paid offerings within the product

When a users sets up WooCommerce, there were a couple of ways to discover paid offerings:

  1. Within WooCommerce, users could click on to the ‘Extensions’ navigation item, which meant they knew the term and that it could solve their problem
  2. Outside of WooCommerce, users could Google and potentially end up on WooCommerce.com

While these were strong discovery channels, they required a heavy lift on the users part, both in knowing where to look and what it was called.

A users journey from starting setup to being a successful user with a paid product had a lot of potential drop-off points:

I reviewed on-site and in-product data and created a model to determine where our greatest leverage point was – where could we add something to educate users about their options? Based on the data, I determine that in-product suggestions on other core screens were our biggest opportunity.

I advocated for this opportunity with our leadership team, shifted our development teams priorities to allow us to focus on it, and secured a designer to help us think through solutions.


When the feature was initially included in the beta release for WooCommerce 3.6, there was strong feedback from developers in the open source community about one of the placements – they felt it was intrusive on the screen. In response, we remove that placement, made opting out of suggestions more obvious, and wrote a blog post for our developer audience explaining our rationale.

The experience was a good lesson in the importance of engaging the developer community, and planning communications explicitly for them.

After we adjusted for the full launch, we received no negative feedback from store owners. Within the first month of launch, this feature became the #4 revenue-driving campaign for the Marketplace.

Bookings: Google 2-way sync

Challenge: top requested feature staying untouched

For more than a year, the most-requested idea from our customers – that they could sync their bookings to Google Calendar – was sitting on the ideas board, untouched.

There were a few main reasons:

  1. Building this feature required a deep knowledge of the Google Calendar API and potentially re-architecting Bookings, which as an older product that most of the team hadn’t built in the first place. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
  2. From comments by customers around this request, we knew there were three potential needs: a store owner syncing their store calendar to their personal one (one to one), service providers syncing the relevant parts of the store calendar to their personal calendars (one to many) or a combination of both. We knew we didn’t have a rich-enough understanding of our customers to decide between these needs.
  3. Because of the complexity of the project, other ideas kept jumping the queue.

At the time, our process for tackling big features was to assign one or two developers to dig in and just start coding. That meant when they were pulled away, the project stopped, because no one else could jump in.

For this feature, we needed a different approach.

Solution: new processes, better information, more collaboration

Working with an engineering lead and two designers, we defined a new approach for this feature:

  • Developers started with technical research sprints, where each developer considered a different technical approach for the problem and created a proof-of-concept for that approach. When completed, they shared their findings with the team. That meant we had a better understanding of what we didn’t know, and that knowledge was shared across the team.
  • Designers started with a qualitative research sprint. With a basic foundation for our target customer based on the Customer Survey I ran, we recruited and spoke with 20+ customers and potential customers in one-hour interviews. From there, the designers built four detailed user profiles for Bookings customers.

Based on this research we made a few key decisions:

  1. We focused on the one-to-one need, because it was simpler and applied to one of the profiles.
  2. We decided we’d ship the feature after the holidays, because we didn’t have the time to finish development without bumping up to the busy holiday season. This allowed us to practice shipping quickly on another feature.
  3. Because we had rich qualitative data, we chose to simultaneously work on related features that would lead to a more complete release.
  4. We started working in weekly sprints, including weekly demos from the team on all issues completed that week. This allowed us to stay aligned on the scope of the feature as well as give feedback and iterate quickly.
New design for calendar management

Results: launch to many smiles

Google 2-Way Sync launched in WooCommerce Bookings in Feb. 2019, on time and to much customer delight.

Besides successfully launching the feature, the processes we implemented became a foundation for how the team worked together, and other product teams across the division began exploring them as well.

WooCommerce Customer Survey

Challenge: Lacking data

While WooCommerce had access to basic first-party usage data showing which products were used by customers in which combination, we lacked firmographic or demographic data about purchasers. Without that kind of information, we were struggling to:

  • Recruit a representative set for qualitative user research
  • Understand the types of customers we were trying to serve, and create customer profiles
  • Shape a roadmap for lower-value products, where dedicated research wasn’t called for

Solution: Send a survey

Partnering with design researchers, I built a survey to capture key data from existing purchasers. That included data about their:

  • Persona, meaning whether they used WooCommerce to make website for others or to manage their own business (developers vs store owners)
  • Business, such as how long they’d been in business, what they sold, what industry they were in, what their revenues were and more
  • Skills, such as their familiarity with key technologies and how they spend their time
  • Spending, meaning specifically how much they’d spent in different categories in the previous year
  • Demographics, like age, gender, and location

Results: Rich data set for product decisions

We recruited 2,600 respondents, including more than 750 for each of our key personas (developers & store owners). Working with the data team, we conducted a cluster analysis to identify which traits were closely correlated and build customer profiles.

The type of data we now had access to included:

  • Customers who offer appointments, reservations and bookings were more likely to be in the Travel or Professional Services industries and offer non-traditional payment options, such as paying by invoice, setting up a deposit, or offering a recurring payment. Bookings, our flagship extension, allowed customers to offer these types of products with WooCommerce. This data helped us target qualitative research around Bookings, as well as shape both the roadmap for the product and marketing initiatives.
  • For most customers, the majority of their business was online, but older businesses were likely to have started offline and have some type of offline presence. This told us that POS integrations like Square would be valuable for this customer type.
  • Different types of developers had different spending habits – assemblers (less-technical businesses) spent more on themes, where agencies (more technical) spend almost nothing on themes. This suggested that themes was a potential product area that could appeal to the assembler audience, which we weren’t catering to.

This data became the foundational knowledge that we built our roadmap and future research endeavors around. It also informed what types of questions were valuable to ask during account sign-up on-site and during registration in-product, which shaped our on-boarding in both of those contexts.

WooConf 2017

Challenge: uncertain value

WooCommerce is an online platform with an active community. Alongside community-led meetups, the team ran a semi-annual flagship conference.

While the conference felt like a meaningful experience, the leadership team questioned the value for the platform, and the impact for attendees.

Solution: data, data, data

I took the helm for WooConf 2017, with two main goals: improve attendee experience and increase value for WooCommerce.

Improving the attendee experience

Focus on what the data says we do well: Previous iterations of WooConf included a wide range of topics all around eCommerce, and aimed to serve both the developer and store owner audiences. From analytics around other content, I had a hypothesis that more niche, WooCommerce-specific content would have higher value for our audience, and that focusing on the developer audience (who was more invested in WooCommerce) would create a better experience.

Some other actions we took based on existing insights:

  • WooCommerce is community-based, so we used our existing community Slack instance to interact with attendees during the conference
  • WooCommerce is built on WordPress, so we specifically chose a location (Seattle) that had a robust WordPress community
  • Email and discounts were effective marketing channels for us previous, so we primarily utilized those channels to sell tickets

Ask attendees what they want: We didn’t have strong quantitative data from previous events around what attendees wanted. To fill this gap, we included qualitative interviews as part of our planning process. Our speaker coordinator spoke with ~10 target attendees to understand what they’d want from a conference like WooConf. The result was a list of topics and types of speakers we targeted.

From these interviews, we confirmed that speakers were a primary draw for attendees, so we focused on getting big-name, relevant speakers.

Design legend John Maeda on the main stage
Seattle-based SEO expert Rand Fishkin

Increase the value for the platform

Create opportunities to learn more about customers: Because being face-to-face with customers is a rare treat. To take advantage of this opportunity, we set up a customer research lab, where our design team conducted user interviews.

To improve our quantitative data about the event itself, we also used Slack to get attendees to give speaker feedback, and sent both a pre- and post-event survey, both in dedicated emails, with reminders.

Create memorable images, content that can be repackaged: We had two big headlines that we wanted to share: that WooCommerce is a large platform, and that we were opening the marketplace. We used WooConf to highlight those messages.

Todd Wilkens, Head of Woo, giving the opening keynote

We also wanted to highlight products sold by WooCommerce stores, again to show the breadth of WooCommerce. We gave customized Lego mini-figs to all our speakers and staff, made by a WooCommerce store.


WooConf 2017 yielded nearly 10x the amount of individual data points as previous years, proving clear value for the Woo team.

Attendees rated all aspects of the event highly, and were impressed with the big-name speakers: