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What Does COVID Mean for Black Friday?

Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.

David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. This is your host, David Vogel Paul, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you hear every week on press this as a reminder, you can find me on Twitter @wpdavidv, or you can subscribe to press this on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at For today’s show we’re going to be covering What does COVID mean for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and ecommerce obviously the world has changed. Get out your COVID bingo cards, we have all kinds of little catchphrases like that coming up. But joining us for that conversation. I’d like to welcome Patrick Garmin of Midsize. Patrick, welcome to Press This.

Patrick Garmin: Thank you happy to be here.

DV: Yeah, glad to have you, Patrick. I looked back through prior episodes. I don’t think you’ve ever been on the show before is that true?

PG: I think I may have been one other time A long time ago, a couple years possibly.

DV: I’ve got I’m going back I think we’re into our hundred and 60s in terms of episodes since taking over from you know when used to kind of stopped running the show. So it’s been a while they can maybe blur together right now. But for those listening we’re going to cover today is really to hear Patrick’s views on how he’s preparing his customers who are essentially are very large WordPress e commerce sites, largely using lube and other platforms as well, I’m guessing, to be prepared for q4. And this is impacting both brick traditional brick and mortar retail companies. But then of course, it’s also affecting companies that are already largely based in an e commerce context. So really excited to have this discussion with Patrick very timely with q4 right around the corner here. Patrick like to kick things off by asking you about your WordPress origin story. What was the first time you use WordPress?

PG: Oh, the first time I use WordPress was no one dot x era long time ago and at the time I thought who could ever use this to build a website. It was purely a blog and I had troubles using it at the time. I eventually came back to it later after the three Dotto launch. He got custom post types and all the cool tools he used to build websites. But think more interesting then my WordPress origin story is my e commerce origin story. So my wife loves cooking loves baking. Long time ago, at the time, she was just a girlfriend at the time. We’re kicking off at home bakery of her own. So she wanted to sell cookies, baked goods, all these things online. And how do you do it? So I mean, the great boyfriend I was figured it out for we tested all sorts of e commerce platforms, WordPress and otherwise, I eventually found WooCommerce isn’t like one dot one version WooCommerce was very limited. and use that to build our site out was missing some features. We were at home bakery, we delivered we took cash on delivery got paid in person. So I built out a couple extensions for WooCommerce that were at home or the built out some extensions that were for cash on delivery pickup. And I tried to convince WooCommerce say these are great products, we should sell them as extensions. And I was effectively told these are so simple, we couldn’t charge for them if we tried. So that ultimately became my first open source contribution. We took those and added them to WooCommerce core and I later on other products I can build to build my e commerce skill set up. Down the road later wrote a blog post. That was how do you add all your WooCommerce products to a single page. And that led to a comment someone paid me 40 bucks to add all their products to one page because their theme just wasn’t working for it. That led to a referral that led to other work on one of the largest e commerce sites That had existed in WooCommerce that ultimately led to starting mine size with the experience we learned from running nine figure e commerce stores that lead from that blog post. So I can thank my wife for my entire career at this point.

DV: I love it. It’s also very timely the work you did back then thinking about the kind of connection between e commerce and kind of the physical world, the world the brick and mortar, brick and mortar store stores trying to source trying to survive in a digital first world. It’s kind of interesting. I have a trivia question for him and put you on the spot. You said your WordPress on the one dot x very version series, if you would, you know the very first version number of WordPress.

PG: I think it’s 0.9.8 or something like that.

DV: You were right, you’re very close is .7. But yes, and that point six is their last version. And WordPress initially was a fork of that. After Michelle baudry, he stopped maintaining cafe log. But that’s a story for another day, we’re going to talk about e commerce. So we know of course, and I mentioned earlier in the episode, like get out your get out your COVID bingo card, because we’re gonna say, you know, the world has changed these strange times, things will never be the same or say 100 times in this episode. But you know, obviously with the global pandemic, everybody in a digital first mode. What do you think has changed about e commerce since the start of this back in March.

PG: So I think the thing that has changed the most honestly, is customers, it’s what’s the business, the businesses are always going to follow where their customers go. And in modern world, customers are forced to stay home, they’re forced to shop online businesses were forced to close. So that’s why customers were then forced to shop online. And this has led to some people who maybe are afraid of technology dodon started buying online, maybe learned that it wasn’t as scary as I thought it was others who maybe have pushed off to the side as a as just kind of a gimmick, I don’t care about ordering online, I don’t care about grocery delivery. And now they realize the value the convenience of it. So the biggest thing more so than anything, is we’ve changed customers mindsets, for better or worse. And how we got here is an entirely different conversation. But customers now overall shop online more than they ever have. And you know, you could have said that before COVID customers are shopping online more than they’ve ever have. But in some of our clients, we’ve got brick and mortar stores that we work with on curbside fulfillment platforms. And we’ve seen some sites over double overnight, just their sales, their volume, everything is pushing online because of the current circumstances of the world. And we don’t expect that to slow down. I guess the world went back to the way it was right now. I’d say a large portion of these customers will continue to shop online just because they’ve, I mean, they may even just have habits now. But they’ve been trained. And this is the convenient way they’ve learned it’s more convenient in a lot of ways.

DV: Remember, in 2016, my new years and never make New Year’s commitments or whatever those things are called these resolutions. But I made one that year. It was to not shop in a store the whole year to try to live my whole life via e commerce. I’ve pretty much achieved it. A couple of wine runs here and there. But I remember at that time, my mom and some of my other, you know, older or non technical relatives were really shocked like how can you buy your groceries without feeling the produce? How could you do this without trying to buy clothes without trying it on and so on and so forth. And you know, I did some of that in the past, but it really making it my lifestyle really kind of honed in my skill set there. And feels like I’ve also observed that since the start of COVID is that now that people are kind of forced to these concepts that that’s not for me are kind of removed, because it has to be for you. I feel like those those behaviors will stick.

PG: I heard a interesting comment from one of our clients that we’re talking about delivery in different brands. And we’re talking about how one brand once they launch delivery may completely changed their audience. Did you shop at any stores that you may not have shopped at before? During this 2016 goal of shopping entirely online? Did you change the stores you shopped at normally either because they had better selection, their service or anything?

DV: Yeah, that makes total sense. So we have kind of COVID really changing behavior and both in the lens of like their propensity to buy online, as well as you know where they’re shopping and how they’re doing it. So has this scale of e commerce buying put pressure on e commerce sites that didn’t have it before, like you, you kind of talked about like, they have curbside delivery and doubles. But like, you see this playing out in e commerce like kind of solely e commerce sites that oh my goodness, there’s so many more customers so much more data to deal with now, traffic.

PG: There’s some that may not see as big of a bump, depending on where they’re at. You know, if it’s a small town grocery chain, and they go online, they may see the same amount of traffic as they did in stores before just through online, the bigger stores with the bigger audiences probably have seen bigger pressures, someone who’s been entirely online, may not see as big of a jump because they’re still online. But there still will be some games. So if I’m entirely digital, and I have a segment of my customer base, who is only shopping physically in stores that now have converted to shopping digitally, that may bring them to my store as well.

DV: It sounds like you’re saying it a little more where they have a brick and mortar business that’s being kind of replaced by the e commerce side versus necessarily I’m 100% econ dosing that just depends on the kind of business you’re in. Some more questions in this vein, but we’re gonna take a quick break.

DV: Everyone welcome back to Press This the WordPress community podcast on WMR. This is your host David Vogelphol, I’m interviewing the very smart Patrick Garmin of Midsize about what COVID means for Black Friday, Cyber Monday ecommerce and how you can prepare for that. So right before the break, Patrick, you were talking a little bit about how when it comes to e commerce volume, are you seeing the biggest impact with COVID is with businesses that are either wholly brick and mortar or kind of a hybrid of ecommerce and brick and mortar but where those brick and mortar customer base is kind of coming to the website and transacting versus say in the store. So as you think about I know you do this a lot in mind sighs I’ve worked with you and talked with you about a ton of the projects you’ve worked on over the years. And you know, we are always my first person, I think when somebody is like, I need to do a weak WooCommerce site at scale and like we’re gonna talk to Patrick, he and his team help you figure that out. I’m gonna ask you to open up your book of secrets here for a second. Like if you if you could give like three tips for an e commerce site or an agency helping e commerce site to effectively prepare for for WooCommerce or WordPress e commerce at scale? Like what are those three tips three areas that you think of the most impactful they use in your practice.

PG: So the absolute biggest thing you can do with any site e commerce or otherwise is simplify things. A lot of site issues we run into wouldn’t be solved if people building sites from the beginning. Keep it simple, stupid in their mind as they’re building things out. You add so much complexity and all these features. And they’re adding features because they sound cool. They’re adding features because I read a blog post that this increased the site’s conversion rate by 20%. But they’re not thinking about their audience. So there’s plugins out there that will add specific reward features to a site as an example. Are your customers actually going to use that feature? Is it required for you on your site to have a robust affiliate platform rewards point system that redeems into store credit that you can then use on your site? All this complexity being built out when you’re just trying to sell a product to customer. So if you can simplify your site down to the question I ask our clients is, is this functionality required for your business to function? If it’s not, how does this functionality make you money? If you can’t put $1 amount directly or indirectly to a piece of functionality on the site, then the question of Should we get rid of this and simplify things should probably be asked. And in doing that, it pairs very well to the second step of what we do, which is reduce as much as possible. So we work with sites. And I guess I’ll include My third tip here, but the query monitor plugin for WordPress, debug bar, all these little free plugins that help you get a picture of how your site’s running. They’re free, they work great install them, they do things like tell you how many database queries are running on a page. So when we look at a site, load the home page, see how many database queries run, you’d be surprised how many hundreds of queries sites might be running on every single page. And if you have 100 people on your site, each page is running hundreds of queries, your database is ultimately going to follow up. But if we can reduce those hundreds down to less than 100, you can exponentially scale your site further. And in doing that, that’s coming back to the second point, which is reducing offload things, if we can reduce the amount of functionality, offload functionality to other systems, we now have a leaner site, we have a more optimized site and a faster site. And at the high level, take these three concepts and put them together. That’s ultimately what we do.

DV: So the third concept that didn’t catch that the first one, simplify things,

PG: simplify things reduce and offload. And the third was, I guess, you can summarize it as use tools that are available to you like query monitor, debug bar to monitor your performance analytics.

DV: Yeah, it’s interesting to hear you talk about that, I think, definitely, we see this on the WP Engine side, when we look at e commerce stores on our platform that have issues with speed or scale. You know, lots and lots of plugins that work together, and really intricate ways is definitely a pattern we’ve seen in our universe. You know, it’s interesting to hear you talk about reducing as much as possible, because I feel like when a lot of agencies go in to pitch any project, in commerce or otherwise, it’s like, here’s a list of ideas of things you can add, right? The more complex it is, the higher your bill is, essentially as the agency because you get to build out all the things they’re going to use. But it sounds like you’re really approaching it from the performance and scale perspective in a lot of these cases. And then why why focus on performance and scale.

PG: So if your site is the most amazing customer experience ever, with every single plugin you could possibly add, but you’re only getting maybe 100 people to your site a day. For one, the money you’ve put into building that would have been better spent on marketing that bring better customers and more customers to your site that will then ultimately pay you and increase your sales. But you’ve also overcomplicated a sign to the point that it’s going to run slow, which is going to cause customers go away. And then it’s also not going to be able to handle as many customers all that boils together to you have less customers a slower experience that will convert poorly. If you have more customers because you’ve marketed to them instead of building fancy features. Faster site customers actually enjoy using and shop on that can handle a lot of customers. That will translate to more sales ultimately for the site, which means more money in a store owners pocket to then put back into the business and continue to grow exponentially. Everything in e commerce is exponential for every customer, you have multiple pageviews every customer you have multiple add to carts, every order you have multiple pieces of data going into the site is the more we can reduce all these exponential operations. We can just smooth out this exponential growth and allow it to grow faster with less cost. And like ultimately more sales.

DV: I like it. That’s really sage advice. You know you and you mentioned query monitor. I don’t wanna get too into the details there but I will just give a quick plug. That team is looking for contributors and sponsors so check that out if you’re listening and able to help. It’s a great plugin. So thinking about Black Friday, though cyber weekend you know the rush of online purchases, you know we have this kind of coming up and stores are now thinking about like is this a bigger problem for me in the past than for me now than it has been in the past. And I know we were talking about these kind of those kind of big moments of great traffic and great transactions, right? Like your, quote, Oprah moment, you mentioned that you thought you’d learned some things by observing what Apple had gone through with their e commerce crash during their September launch event. Could you share with those listening what those lessons are and how you think about them relative to Black Friday.

PG: We have clients that come to us and say, I’m willing to spend absolutely whatever it takes to make my site stayed online. And they say that, I think, with good intentions, and I’ve seen people run the absolute largest Amazon RDS database instance, thinking it will keep their site online. And sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. But Apple, do you think about what Apple is and what their company is, he has a company dedicated to building hardware and software, and thousands of engineers, they have potentially more money than any other company. And this is their space, this is what they know, Apple still fails sometimes. So when we talk to clients, especially ones that are experiencing these events, and that are saying these types of things that are willing to do absolutely anything possible, there is a point that there will be failure. And if you don’t acknowledge that there’s a possibility of failure, and plan for it. And don’t just try and assume that you’ve done absolutely everything possible. So it’s going to work. Just look at Apple with billions of dollars and thousands of engineers, Apple still sometimes fails. Sometimes your marketing and your product are going to be creating enough of a hype that your site’s going to go down. And how you handle your audience, your traffic, your site, everything at that moment will ultimately decide if that event that you just put on that triggered this entire surge is going to be success or failure. We’ve had sites that handled this poorly in the past and lost all the sales there. So it was just hard down all weekend, couldn’t come back online. And they lost every single potential sale.

DV: Things people don’t really think about, I think when they think about outages and things on those lines, which is they’re thinking like, I’m going to take the average of all my revenue divided by the average of all my hours and minutes. And that’s going to be my cost per minute or hour or whatever a downtime. And that’s how I’m going to value that. But of course those downtime is often associated with heart, you know, kind of big rushes of traffic for, for sites just in the web as a whole. And so it’s not just that you’re missing out on the average of dollars and hours, but rather, you’re missing out on you know, that moment for you. And that’s the most, you know, likely time actually, for something to go wrong is to the increase in load on your site. So I think it’s certainly interesting to think like, well, if Apple can fail, and those moments on Christmas, that their scale, that’s an extremely expensive outage, even for you at a smaller scale. It could be that moment that you were, you know, maybe change your business or may help you you know, make your numbers for that quarter or whatever. I think that’s really interesting to think about. I want to talk a little bit more though about you know, kind of the looming Black Friday cyber weekend thing. But we’re gonna take one more quick break and we’ll be right back.

DV: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Press This the WordPress community podcast on WMR. We’re talking about COVID and the impact of Black Friday and Cyber Monday for ecommerce sites we’re having Patrick Garmin. Patrick right before the break. We’re talking a little bit about hey, if Apple can fail and have a crash during their September launch event, maybe you can do so and talk to you now though about like, Do you think we’ll see more online purchases this cyber weekend? In other words, is COVID really going to make Black Friday Cyber Monday, just like the most epic Black Friday cyber Monday’s ever online?

PG: Absolutely. So you first you have a lot of stores that are just not going to be open? Normally, and I’ve got family members who is tradition into Black Friday, it’s Thanksgiving Day, we’re gonna go out with friends, shop in store, get some of these deals, and maybe they buy something, maybe they don’t. But that’s just what they do. If you think about just in general, how much time does it take you to drive into a busy store, find a parking spot, go in the store, buy Checkout, come back home. And then you turn that into an e commerce experience and that store for someone who’s already going to be shopping, you’re saving what 60% plus to that time alone, that that person no longer is driving parking, checking out everything related to it. So what else are they going to do and the time that they normally would be out spending on their traditional spending day, they’re going to try and find other places to spend potentially. So you’ve got people who may normally be waiting in lines at stores fighting over products that maybe they they don’t need at that time. But that’s what they want to do. And they’re going to find other stores, they’re going to shop around, they’re going to look and see what else is out there, they’re going to take advantage of these deals. And maybe they’re going to end up on more sites than they would have in the past. They’re going to shop at times that maybe they weren’t before. So not only do we have more people shopping digitally, you have people shopping more efficiently, putting more load on more sites, where you can only be in one physical place at one time, at least for right now. You can only be in Walmart or Target or Kohl’s or Home Depot, you know, these stores that are closed for Black Friday, they could have all these sites open all at once shopping and building carton every single site at one time. So just like with everything else in e commerce in the web that’s growing exponentially. If all these customers that are now exponentially more customers across more sites at the same time, just increasing the load across the internet.

DV: It’s really interesting. So it’s not just the fact that I can’t go to this store, so I have to buy online. But you also think about it from the efficiency perspective, I might actually buy more certainly have perhaps greater shopping behaviors because I don’t physically have to travel between each store.

PG: Exactly. And you know, they don’t have to wait in line store. They don’t have to fight over product. So maybe they’re shopping around and maybe they’re especially right now, maybe they have a budget what they’re going to spend, they don’t have to pick one store to go Parfitt and fight over product set. So maybe they pull up five different sites, look at the products and see which one they want to buy, maybe they’re doing on the spot price comparison of where to buy that TV deal of who’s got the best price of the TV. So I don’t know how the conversion rates are going to work based on the number of people that will be on sites given that this year. I’m sure it’ll be similar to what it was in past years. But we’ve also coming back to the beginning trained customers to buy online now. Maybe people who hadn’t shopped online before during Black Friday, maybe people who are just getting into this like Well, what’s this all about? Maybe I can get some deals too. They’re gonna shop increase load even more.

DV: So it’s gonna grow. It’s gonna be a wild time for cyber weekend in the end of the year, q4 here in the con world. So if I’m a brick and mortar business and I haven’t really sold online, or at least most of my sales are in my store, I figure I’m freaking out really a lot right now. So how are brick and mortar stores dealing with Black Friday with the lack of in store purchases? Is it just like all 100% online or like what interesting strategies have been seen?

PG: Black Friday, specifically and thanksgiving day I’m seeing a lot of stores closing. Some will be open a lot of it probably is going to be up to what governments may allow them to do even but there is absolutely a huge push for digital. So sores that can be open. They probably will have some presence and be open But they also are just like they have for the entire rest of the year gonna be limiting the number of people in the doors, they’re gonna slow things down. People spread out as much as possible and push people online as much as possible. There’s a possibility some stores will actually just have digital only deals online and out of stores. They don’t. People away at the door.

DV: Exactly. Yeah, I feel like the push to Digital’s actually been happening for us all along, you see a lot of those deals not just only be in the store, but be also online. There will be a really interesting to see how that unfolds. And then of course, as we think next year, hopefully code the COVID crisis is over and knock on wood. Will will those behaviors also stay with the consumers? And then of course, will the brands also follow? Well, this has been super interesting. Thank you so much for joining us today, Patrick.

PG: No problem. Want to make sure it’s not as big of a gap. Till next time.

DV: I know right? For sure. And if you’d like to learn more about patch web Patrick is up to and if you have any commerce side needs some help check out mine thanks, everyone for listening to press this WordPress community podcast on w Mr. Again, this has been your host David Vogel poll. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week on Press This.

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