Damn Good Content To Grow Your Business In The Digital World
Insights, Ideas and Innovations from the brains of the Saucal NERDS.
SAU/CAL Interviewed by Clutch for Expertise in WooCommerce
Our team is still proud of our recent recognition as a top e-commerce developers in Canada by Clutch. As a result of this achievement, they reached out to interview us on our expertise in the field. I was thrilled to talk to them about the strengths of WooCommerce and provide my insights.
Clutch is a B2B ratings and reviews platform designed for agencies and buyers in the IT sector. Beyond company profiles and client reviews, they also produce research on website builders such as e-commerce platforms. There are many things to take into account when creating an e-commerce store before deciding what platform to use. As I said:
“E-commerce comes down to the basic requirements—whether someone is selling physical or digital products, figuring out shipping, payment and tax options and so on. It requires a bit of planning upfront, but, as with anything, we need to dream big and start small. It’s a different story for bigger companies, but those may be the ones who need to take the biggest leap of all—adapting to the paradigm of online selling, versus retail locations.”
With all this in mind, clients typically come to us to start a store from scratch, build out new features and extensions or upgrade the platform. While there are many great options out there, we are believers of open-source technologies and work exclusively with WooCommerce.
“WooCommerce is open source, which makes it highly customizable and flexible. Compared to software like Magento, it’s also quite lean, without a lot of technical debt…It’s still a young platform—having been released in 2011—but it’s already a massive part of the e-commerce market. More than 30% of all e-commerce sites are using WooCommerce.”
However, as with any development and design project, there are always areas to be cautious. I highlight this by sharing:
“WooCommerce provides a lot of power, but it can be daunting for non-technical people. Since there are so many extensions available for it, installing a badly written one can easily take an entire store down. People without a lot of good technical talent, or ones who don’t want to invest too many resources in the technical side, should use something like Shopify. For truly basic stores, Squarespace can be an option. These eliminate technical hurdles and keep things simple.”
Thank you to Clutch for thinking of SAU/CAL and including us in your research. We were happy to share our knowledge with you. Check out the full interview for more great information!
Formally starting today, we’d like to introduce our newest partner, ShipStation.
Shipstation is awesome, they:
are the most powerful shipping management tool in the industry
provide the lowest rates for shipping
allow you to easily print your own shipping labels
have GREAT metrics that help you constantly perfect your shipping rules and prices
You know us. We’re Saucal. We’re pretty awesome too. We:
always give you that crucial extra technical help whenever you need it so you can keep being awesome.
share your values. We’re:
constantly improving ourselves to better meet our clients’ needs
strive to make your life easier
all about making your customer experience the best it can be
ShipStation and Saucal Together?
We can take over the world. Or at least the part of it that has to do with shipping. With ShipStation’s leading shipping and fulfillment software and our eCommerce expertise, there is no limit to how you can grow your business.
Configuring the Canada Post Custom Declarations Form via the API
I had a question roll through on the WooCommerce Slack, which I think could be of assistance to our readers –
When shipping using Canada Post, the majority of orders go from CA to USA. So there needs to be a “customs declaration” form for each order. Apparently this “customs declaration” form is somewhere readily available in the Canada Post account. How do I know?
Well, the client is sick and tired of having to bounce back and forth for every order and jumping back into the Canada Post dashboard just to retrieve the “customs declaration” form. Is there a way to ‘pull’ this info from the Canada Post API?
Lol, somewhat dramatic – anyhow, it’s completely possible. Thanks to the helpful folks at Canada Post, here is a guide on how to get it done.
Via the API, Canada Post always return the custom forms for USA/Intl destination. It can be combined with the shipping labels, or in some instances it comes separately. This is where it becomes important to make available all copies when you get an answer back from Createshipments. It would require also that on the front end, you offer the capability for the end user to fill in the customs information.
Below are 2 examples where you see the customs info combined with the shipping labels. The 2nd example shows where it is a separate copy. It all depends on the shipping service and paper format opted for.
#1 Xpresspost USA (Canada Post combines the custom info on the shipping label)
Notice the answer, we only one instance of the endpoint name : LABEL
So, as per usual, I was chatting with someone about the inner workings of WooCommerce. In this case, it was Patrick Garman. Reason being, I get a lot of questions of whether or not a business should use Shopify, or WooCommerce. For me, the answer is simple: with WooCommerce, you own your shit. That alone is enough reason to end the conversation. However, let’s take it a bit deeper. More often than not, this boils down to technical expertise vs. convenience.
Please note that some text has been redacted and replaced with equivalent statements, omitting references to individuals or projects.
cally Hey Patrick amigo, quick q for you..
I’m working on getting a pretty good sized retailer onto WooCommerce. They’re very much a recognized brand. However, for bandwidth/usage it’s not too intense1.
cally They asked about “clunkiness” in WooCommerce, and I was wondering if you had a chart, or threshold where you start to see this?
pmgarman Really depends on the site and how it’s built, to be honest REDACTED [we’ve built and run WooCommerce sites with databases over 100GB in size, which ran better than some sites that have databases less than 1GB].
Do you have new relic or anything running?
cally It’ll be built from scratch and put on an entry level dedicated box at WP Engine, so we could run New Relic.
At this time they’re contemplating platforms, and it’s between Woo and Shopify.
They’re familiar with REDACTED. 😉
pmgarman Well if you need to bring in some expertise, I’m not longer at REDACTED 😉 REDACTED is my sole focus.
cally I saw. I creep you once and a while, y’know? 😉
pmgarman Ha keeping tabs on me
cally Lol Mostly wanna know what you have your hands in!
pmgarman We’re working with REDACTED on their managed platform and part of that is *the* feature plugin for custom order tables
cally Deep down tho, you still hardcore Woo? Or, if a large brand lands on your doorstep, would you ever recommend Shopify? What would that tipping point be?
pmgarman Just to start 😀
cally I’m like 100% against Shopify, lol. But I haven’t put it all into words yet.
pmgarman I work heavily on both now, depends on their level of customization and how much they want to “manage” it
*the* feature plugin for custom order tables
You’ve always got your hands in something good!
pmgarman It’s good for someone who has a simple site and doesn’t want to deal with the headache of WP/WC
depends on their level of customization
How far can you customize Shopify? For example, could you easily add subscriptions, or multi-language as an add-on? I’ve never built on it.
pmgarman multi language basically means you run multiple stores, thats essentially your only real option
customizations, you can customize the html essentially. and then whatever you can do via the API.
with enterprise “plus” plans, you can do a bit more. but thats minimum $2k/mo. and that is now going to go up a lot from my understanding
unless you are paying $2k/mo, your checkout URL is my.shopify.com or something
cally Yea they’re definitely considering Plus, and it’s funny you mention price, because that is definitely an uncertainty I wondered about.
pmgarman plus: it can handle a significant number of orders/min. REDACTED
con: all customizations are significantly more involved
cally To me it sounds like the advantage of Shopify is: – Allows for a lot of orders. – No worries for maintenance
Is that about it?
pmgarman apps have long term costs you can’t ever get away from. customizations of your own if it touches the API means you need to host and run your own custom application
yeah thats the main points
a lot as in, it handles the biggest flash seller in the world
cally lolol Good to know.
cally So a very extreme edge case. What about the payment gateway, too? I think they penalize you for not using their’s, correct?
pmgarman they don’t “penalize” you, but, you don’t get the benefits their white label stripe offers. stripe won’t even talk to you if you are using shopify, you *must* use their shopify payments
cally I heard they add a % point for using a 3rd party.
pmgarman which you don’t get your own stripe yeah you have transaction fees unless you use theirs. but i’m not sure if plus changes that
cally So the benefits really aren’t that much. IMO Then concerns if the company goes bankrupt, restricts features, etc. It’s a lot to pay for some convenience.
About Woo scalability, progress is being made then, as you’re working on it now?
pmgarman the benefits to the lay person is “you dont have to manage your site, they do it for you” where WP/WC you *really* have to manage it. you need someone monitoring it if you are doing any sort of volume or want to run it right, you need to deal with updates/etc
cally Okay, so assuming they have a Saucal or Patrick Garman, they’re covered. Plus, all the benefits of full flexibility and ownership.
pmgarman yeah basically tl;dr – if you are paying more than $2k/mo to run your site (hosting and maintenance), then it’s worth considering, if you have a simple site that doesn’t require much customization.
without plus you can’t even use the discounts api so you can’t create coupons unless you do it by hand $2k/mo to have the power to import coupons
at the end of the day i’ve worked on the largest WC site ever, and now the two largest Shopify stores ever. I’ve broken things on both, Shopify has banned my API keys because i was stressing things.
cally Lol, you’re the man. And that’s at current pricing. If pricing goes up at Shopify, things change.
What are the two sites on Shopify?
pmgarman Which, it is going up i don’t know if they have publicly said it or not. plus is now also a transaction or % based model
cally You know by how much?
pmgarman let me look it up, i can find out from some other people. REDACTED was grandfathered in
REDACTED was #2 at shopify, REDACTED was #1
cally That would be great. And, is it okay if I share this information? Ofc, I want to ask you first. Dude, how do you land these all star customers?
pmgarman REDACTED wasn’t a client, REDACTED was my full time job, REDACTED was under the umbrella of REDACTED and REDACTED was the second brand. REDACTED < i built that site
cally I’m gonna wear a Patrick Garman t-shirt at WooConf2
pmgarman theres a lot of separation and similarities at the same time. but at the end of the day architecturally what my role became when on shopify was connecting things together and building internal tools and applications
ha you should. some mindsize jerseys, garman on the back
cally hahahaha, i was thinking more like those rapper t’s.. your face on the front. Maybe wearing a crown ?
my role became when on shopify was connecting things together and building internal tools and applications
And these were hosted off-site, therefore putting you back in the realm of maintenance, etc.
yeah it was a custom application that i developed myself (built on laravel spark) from the “ground” up
thats how we did reporting, i exported all shopify data through the API, thats why ops hated me
would run 20 threads of API calls
cally wow, so exporting the data pounded the API and they didn’t like it.. ha damn.
Okay, maybe you’re not as familiar with the last two, but you should be – especially if you run an e-commerce business.
See, the only way to make sure that your website is performing well is to track your analytics. You need to know how well your sales funnel is doing, whether people are buying certain products over others, and how many people are visiting your site on a regular basis.
All these metrics are important, so you need the best insight tools to provide you with that data. If you’re looking for the cream of the crop, however, there are three big insight tools that currently hold a lion’s share of the market: Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, and Mixpanel.
If you’re looking to gather more marketing data for your site, consider this an honest-to-goodness overview of the biggest contenders. But just so we don’t play favorites, we’re also including four more insight tools you might not want to overlook.
Check out this quiz for more info: What Insight Tool Best Fits My Needs?
Here’s a general breakdown of the three titans of analytics. In case you’re thinking that they all do the same thing, know that while they all will give you valuable insight into how your website functions, each has it’s own specialty that may benefit certain businesses more than others. Let’s take a look.
Google Analytics is probably the most well-known solution, and thanks to its popularity there are plenty of guides out there that can turn any greenhorn into an analytics expert. It’s also easily integrated with many different e-commerce platforms, including WooCommerce.
The biggest plus for Google Analytics is its ability to measure traffic. If one of the focuses of your marketing strategy is to bring unique visitors to your page, this is a great tool for tracking that information. It’s also fairly easy to setup, and you can start pulling data right away.
Google Analytics can also measure funnels, which it calls “goals”. For the uninitiated, funnels measure things like the success of your sign-up flow (how many users land on your website, how many click to sign up, how many enter their email address, etc.).
When you set up funnels, you can view data going forward only, which means that you won’t be able to view data that happened before the funnel was set up.
Some have argued that Google Analytics’ funnels are less accurate than, say, Kissmetrics, but for businesses that want a general overview for their primary funnels, it’s not a deal breaker.
The one downside is that while it has the ability to track events, the setup process can be cumbersome unless you really know what you’re doing, and again, the data may not be as robust as you need it to be depending on your goals. It does have a feature to view real-time stats, but it won’t break down the stats any further than a general counter number on your dashboard.
Best for: Analyzing Traffic Worst for: Tracking Events Setup – Easy Cost – Free and Premium – Premium provides higher data limits with more custom variables
WordPress has a WooCommerce/Google Analytics integration app that you can find here.
Kissmetrics is another highly popular and comprehensive analytic solution. While Google Analytics can be used with any business, Kissmetrics really has an edge when it comes to e-commerce.
Funnel and event tracking are strong points for Kissmetrics, both of which can help you increase customer acquisition rates and improve customer retention. It also has an advantage when it comes to building intuitive reports. Kissmetrics is more funnel-focused, allowing you to edit and tweak funnels much easier than other tools.
Unlike Google Analytics, Kissmetrics funnels can retrieve historical data. For example, you can set up a sign-up funnel and then view how it’s been performing over previous months.
Kissmetrics also has a feature that many other insight tools like Mixpanel lack: The ability to show retention from a first time event to a repeat of that event.
Say, for example, that a customer clicks on a certain product page, but decides not to buy it in that moment. If they come back to your site and click on that page again, you’ll be able to track that event.
Best for: Measuring Funnels Worst for: Analyzing Traffic Setup – Moderate Cost – Multi-tiered pricing starting at $29/month
WooCommerce has step by step instructions for integrating with Kissmetrics here.
Mixpanel is similar to Kissmetrics in many ways, but Mixpanel is a step up in terms of being developer-friendly. In other words, you will probably get the same if not more functionality out of Mixpanel than Kissmetrics, but you have to know what you’re doing.
A few upsides to Mixpanel that make it a good alternative to the above include real-time analytics and opportunities for things like running your own front-end analytics. This can be very practical for de-bugging and catching errors as they happen, especially for new, buggy products.
In addition to event tracking, Mixpanel also lets you to segment your retention reports by additional properties, giving you more detailed data should you need it.
The downside is that some developers claim that the process to measure funnels isn’t as good as Kissmetrics or other similar insight tools. Mixpanel does support chronological funnels similar to Google Analytics. However, Celso Pinto, Founder and CEO of SimpleTax, wrote an article about why Mixpanel is still a better option over Kissmetrics for some developers.
Best for: Tracking Events Worst for: Measuring Funnels Setup – Difficult Cost – Free and Multi-tiered pricing starting at $99/month
WooCommerce has step by step instructions for integrating with Mixpanel here.
WordPressIntegrations also has an infographic with comparisons between Google Analytics, Kissmetrics and Mixpanel with a breakdown of page authority, social metrics, and other metrics.
Other Insight Tools to Consider
Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about some other options available. Here are four great alternatives if you’re not really sure you want to buy into the three listed above.
RetentionGrid is frequently mentioned in the same space as Kissmetrics, and for good reason. It’s an app that provides similar data reports in easy to understand, color-coded graphs. It also provides suggestions to help with marketing strategies based on that data, which makes it a good solution for those who want some of the main features of Kissmetrics but don’t have a lot of experience as a developer. They also have the option of running abandoned cart campaigns (as well as other campaigns), which can come in handy for businesses that struggle with retention.
While they were originally created for BigCommerce, they also have an open API that is compatible with WooCommerce.
Best for: Measuring Funnels/Campaigns Worst for: Tracking Events Setup – Easy Cost – Free to download
Clicky is another real-time analytics tool similar to Mixpanel, only far more user-friendly. No matter how experienced you are, you’ll be able to navigate the dashboard with relative ease. It’s a great option for those who still want detailed analytics without the stress of complicated setup.
Best for: Analyzing Traffic Worst for: Measuring Funnels Setup – Easy Cost – Free and Multi-tiered pricing starting at $9.99/month
Adobe Marketing Cloud
Adobe Marketing Cloud is another powerful analytical tool often used by large e-commerce stores. The only reason it’s not included in the top three is that it takes a significant amount of knowledge to setup and use properly. While it’s perhaps one of the best out there in terms of analytics, it’s also not for the faint of heart. Adobe Marketing Cloud consist of six solutions.
Adobe Experience Manager
Adobe Media Optimizer
You can run campaigns, track events, create content to targeted audiences, and much more, The only other downside is that it’s expensive, as each solution comes with its own individual pricing. So if you want all the benefits of the cloud, you’ll need to lay down some serious dough.
Best for: Analyzing Traffic Worst for: Cost savings Setup – Difficult Cost – Single subscriptions start at $99/month
Like Google Analytics, Crazy Egg isn’t necessarily an analytics tool targeted to e-commerce, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great option. It offers equally comprehensive and user-friendly graphs, including heat maps that can tell you which areas of your website to focus on (or alternatively, which are being ignored).
Best for: Tracking Events Worst for: Measuring Funnels Setup – Easy Cost – Multi-tiered pricing starting at $9/month
Still not sure what to pick? Take our Insight Tool Quiz to help you decide.
There are a couple things to keep in mind when selecting an analytics tool.
Make sure that you know how much data you actually need to collect. While having detailed funnel graphs and traffic reports can be good if you know what you’re doing, you may not need all that fancy information. Don’t pay extra for features you’re not going to use because you don’t need them (or you don’t know how to use them).
Finally, if you’ve committed to an analytic solution but you don’t know how to use all the features to their best ability, find someone who can either teach you how to use them (or read the data) or find someone whose job it is to put that data into practice.
Don’t get us wrong… growth is definitely a good thing.
At the beginning stages, growth is exciting. It’s a genuine validation of all your hard work, time, dedication, sweat, blood, and tears. And, of course, growth is great for the ol’ wallet.
But growth is kind of like owning a pet: One bird is cute. A thousand birds is a Hitchcockian nightmare.
Too much growth too quickly can actually be somewhat damaging to your business if you’re not ready for it. What starts as simple “challenges” you and your team have to face can quickly turn into larger hazards.
Here’s what you really need to know about growth…
Grab your copy of 7 ways to deal with order overload
The e-commerce business is booming, and according to recent research, it’s significantly outpacing brick-and-mortar retail. In fact, if projections are correct, worldwide e-commerce will grow at a rate between 13-15% by 2018.
But rapid growth can bring about some unwanted perils, including (but certainly not limited to):
Cash flow crunches. More growth means expansion. You’ll need to hire more people to manage sales, production, customer service, and more. You’d be surprised how quickly the ebb and flow of cash is suddenly out of control. You maybe, possibly, definitely will experience times of famine.
Spending temptations. Of course, there will be times of feasting, too. Have you ever been so successful that your eyes practically turned into dollar signs? Well no, because you’re not a cartoon. But having a sudden influx of cash makes you feel as if you can buy just about anything (and you might try). Just remember that part of your budget has to go to things like adding team members and bolstering your infrastructure. You’ll have to save your checks to Acme Inc. for another day.
Operational clumsiness. In the old days, a setback in the production schedule or a temporary error on your site probably didn’t cause you to break out into hives, but suddenly it becomes very, very important for all the cogs to operate as functionally as possible.
Customer service failures. On the one hand, being popular is swell. You’ve got customers clambering for your product left and right! They might as well put your name in lights, because you’re headed for the big time! That is, until you realize that more business means more complaints and that you’ll need to beef up customer service if you don’t want bad reviews.
Human resource risks. Hiring new people always comes at a price. If they work out, you’ve gained a valuable resource. If they don’t work out… well, turnover isn’t great on the pocketbook (or the general morale of your business). You will have to learn how to hire smarter.
Decision making changes. Along those same lines, you will have to learn how to make better decisions in general. Roles will shift and responsibilities will be added. You will have to step back from the day-to-day productions that gave you so many thrills in the beginning in order to transition to a leadership role. That disconnect may affect the daily processes of your business if your infrastructure is still weak.
Leadership shortfalls. Finally, you may run into the realization that you just might not be totally ready for the leadership role that has been thrust upon you. It happens. We’re not saying it will happen to you, but we’re saying that growth does funny things to people.
Thankfully, all of these risks don’t have to spell doom if you can recognize them before they happen and learn habits that prevent overload.
Here’s what you need to know to keep your company running smoothing during any kind of growth (hint: the earlier you can implement these in your company, the better):
Be a soft wineskin. Fun fact: Back in the olden days of winemaking, they would pour grape juice into a leather wineskin where it would then be left to ferment (don’t worry, this is going somewhere). The fermentation process would cause the wineskin to bloat, so it was important that they only put new wine into freshly made wineskins. Pour the new wine into old wineskins and it would burst after a few days.
In the same way, it’s vitally important that you foster a company culture that allows for changes before growth happens. Having a rigid set of rules that can never be broken means that when you do need to make changes, people will freak out. Maybe they won’t burst physically, but definitely emotionally. If, however, you’re a company that encourages new ideas and you don’t shy away from risk, you’ll expand as growth happens. Make sure all of your employees, even at the lowest level, understand this concept, too.
Optimize. Scaling can be great when you know you can handle everything that is thrown your way, but without proper optimization, fast growth can result in slowdowns with your site, orders, and even customers. Make sure your team, equipment, and operations are all running efficiently.
Drop any dead weight. In the same veins of optimization, over the course of growth you will inevitably find customers (and employees alike) that are simply no good for you. The initial tendency is to hang on to these people, either because they’ve been loyal or you’re going through a dry spell and you could use the cash. But clingy or needy customers (or employees) can steal valuable resources away from people who are adding value. If you see vultures flying around someone at your company, don’t be afraid to say, “No thanks” and move on.
Learn how to delegate. This one is fairly straightforward. Don’t do everything yourself. That’s a one-way ticket to burnout. Remember, you can pay people to do almost anything.
Use virtual workers. Speaking of which, having contractors is a beautiful thing. The more you can move your workload to the digital space, the more effort you will save yourself in the long run. Likewise, working with another company that already handles some of the work for you will not only reduce stress, but could provide longterm support for your whole process (that’s why we exist, by the way, so feel free to contact us). Plus, the digital workspace will never be overrun by thousands of birds, so keep that in mind.
Stay hyper-focused on staff. If you love your team and they are doing a great job, make sure it stays that way. It can be easy to focus on the money, or seeing the numbers tick upward on your stat chart, but the people you work with (and for) are the reason you’re in business. Without them, you’d be nothing.
Don’t miss our list of 7 Ways for Dealing With Order Overload
Remember, growth is a great thing, if you’re prepared to deal with it when it comes.
Watch out for hazards of growing too quickly, including too many slow-downs in your production, rollercoaster accounting books, and people drama.
The best ways to prevent being overloaded during periods of intense growth include staying flexible, getting rid of any distractions, delegating when necessary, and, of course, being really, really nice to your staff.