WooCommerce Payments GM on giving businesses “unlimited flexibility” to thrive

WooCommerce is an open-source e-commerce platform that powers more than 25% of the top million e-commerce websites. The platform, which runs on WordPress, provides merchants of all sizes with the tools to create fully customised online storefronts – and for years they’ve partnered with Stripe to do this.

We spoke with Keala Gaines, general manager of payments, to understand how WooCommerce cultivates deep customer empathy among its more than 300 employees, the importance of open source, and why the company has had such a lasting relationship with Stripe.

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Who are the users of your platform?

We like to say that WooCommerce empowers anyone, anywhere, to sell anything, with truly unlimited extensibility, flexibility, and control over how they evolve their business. Our customers run the gamut from someone who is just starting out, such as an individual entrepreneur or sole proprietor, to large, multichannel businesses with complex needs. Again, with so many customers of different sizes, WooCommerce gives those entrepreneurs the unlimited flexibility and independence to do whatever it is they want to do.

Why are entrepreneurs so important to what WooCommerce is building?

Entrepreneurs are a huge part of the global economy. Their stories have emotional resonance for many of us at WooCommerce, and they’re the reason why we come to work every day. The tools and the platforms we build power the livelihoods of businesses of all sizes, whether they’re large companies or just starting out and growing.

Even the smallest corner business can connect with buyers anywhere in the world online. How is WooCommerce easing that complexity for small business owners?

E-commerce keeps getting more complex. Consumers expect their experiences to appear online and offline. You want to buy online and pick up in the store, or go to the store to see something and then buy it online and have it delivered to your home. Channels and commerce are continually blurring.

Now think about the global supply chain and how items cross borders. It used to be a rarity. Now consumers can buy from merchants around the globe. But everyone still wants a great experience that adapts to their needs across the channels they interact with. One way WooCommerce helps customers navigate that complexity is by giving them the tools to streamline their business all in one place.

What do your customers care most about these days when it comes to transacting with their buyers?

All businesses need security, acceptance for broadly used forms of payment, and capabilities for running their business, such as reporting, order management, fulfilment, and those sorts of things.

For other businesses, maybe they’re selling physical goods as well as services. Maybe they’re selling direct to consumers on a website but also have B2B distribution channels. The complexity changes when a merchant is selling online and in-person, or across borders, and needs to accept payments in local currencies. So the answer really depends on the unique merchant and their business model. WooCommerce helps simplify the complexity across a wide range of needs.

How do you think about omnichannel as an outcome of the pandemic, and how will that play out as we move beyond the pandemic?

We’ve seen a lot of change in the last couple of years, not just in payments, but in how businesses have needed to pivot their operating models in order to keep flourishing.

When COVID changed the world around us, there was an acceleration of contactless payments and hybrid scenarios where a customer buys online and picks up in-store, or buys in a store without inventory and has the product delivered to their house.

The fact that those scenarios proliferated so quickly was due to shifts in buyer behaviour and buyer expectations. Those shifts are difficult, but once a customer adapts, it permanently raises the expectation for how the world can operate.

How are you scaling WooCommerce without losing the spirit that makes the company so special, like your remote culture?

WooCommerce and its parent company, Automattic (which also owns WordPress.com), have been run as fully distributed companies with employees all over the world since conception. That allows us to work alongside colleagues anywhere in the world, and gives us a global perspective on how we build our products. It is also allowing us to scale particularly well at the same time that other businesses are still figuring out how to operate remotely.

When I look at scaling teams, I think about pattern recognition. Where are ways we can “pay it forward” for those who come next, by building repeatable, extensible processes? I also think about process, not as a bad word, but as a good word that can help empower teams to run faster. When we do that well, it really is part of the magic of how we scale and empower our teams.

First is ensuring people are working in areas they feel passionate about, which brings an outside-in perspective to their discipline. Another is just deep customer empathy. Whether you’re talking to customers first-hand, or you’re talking to the people who talk to customers, or you’re working with partners to support the customer – it’s important to bring deep curiosity and deep customer empathy. Putting those two things together creates an environment where innovation can flourish.

You’ve been an innovator in building connections among merchants and partners like Google, Facebook (Meta), HubSpot, and others. How do you select your technology partners?

By listening to our merchants and looking for ways to help them adapt and extend to meet the needs of their business. Those needs are constantly evolving, however. As a platform, we look at ways we can do that at scale and for their benefit.

To do that, we keep a constant pulse on the emerging technologies that merchants are adopting. We make tools used by big companies available for smaller merchants too.

That’s the beauty of partnerships, because we’re trying to enable the marriage of what’s emerging with what our customers need. How can we integrate tools that will be valuable to them? How can we take what we’re hearing from many merchants and integrate that to serve an individual merchant?

Partnerships (especially with companies like Stripe) are examples of how we take the needs of many businesses and integrate them into the platform so there’s a really low barrier to entry, without friction, for individual merchants. It really brings to reality the notion of democratising access to the right tools on a platform.

How are Stripe and WooCommerce uniquely aligned in their focus on customers?

I talked a lot about the power of a platform and the power of bringing the needs of many to meet the needs of an individual business, large or small. Stripe’s infrastructure supports the needs of many from a payments perspective, by enabling platforms to offer payments to our customers. Democratised access to Stripe’s capabilities allows us to scale and power payments capabilities for millions of customers’ needs.

How can Stripe and WooCommerce continue to partner effectively on behalf of their customers?

Stripe helps WooCommerce stay on top of the latest payments capabilities, emerging regulatory changes, and the latest tools that our customers want. More specifically, Stripe helps WooCommerce merchants access funds faster, improve access to working capital, and power in-person payments, all on one of the world’s most secure financial infrastructures. Working together, we can create a meaningful change in the lives of our customers.

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