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CDNs and how they improve the speed of page loads

If you look at any resource that discusses performance of websites, or you view the suggestions from a tool that assesses website performance, the use of a CDN or Content Delivery Network, is always on the list (and usually right at the top).

We’ve mentioned in previous blog posts related to our zeckoShop releases that we are always looking to improve performance from the backend to the frontend and we’d like to share with you one way we’ve done this, which is our usage of CDNs to serve up the assets from our websites (assets are files such as images, scripts etc).

So why is this such a great thing? Let’s outline the benefits of using CDNs and it’ll be obvious how this will improve page load speeds so dramatically.

Multiple Domains – More File Downloads

Browsers will only download a certain number of files at a time from a single domain, or web address.

CDNs also have their own domain, different from your website, meaning that the browser can download files from your website and files from the CDN at the same time, thus cutting down the overall download time when loading a page.

We’ve taken this one step further by utilising three CDNs, one each for:

  1. Images
  2. zeckoShop specific assets
  3. Third party assets

It’s fair to say this has had a dramatic effect on performance.  

Pre Caching of Files – Less File Downloads

When users browse sites on the Internet that utilise a CDN, those files are then cached in the browser. When they then visit your site, and it uses any of these third party files, the browser won’t need to download it again and will used the cached copy instead.

The third party files we use are for very popular frameworks and the CDN that serves them is one of the most popular available so there’s a really good chance as users visit the homepage of your site for the first time, or the first time in a long time, some of the larger files are already cached in the browser and don’t need to be downloaded again.

Distributed Servers – 100% Availability

When using a CDN to serve files there are two worries most people have:

  • What if it’s actually slower since files are being served from somewhere in the world that might be far from where the user is browsing a website, and
  • What if the CDN goes down and can’t serve files, thus rendering my website useless

The CDNs we use actually has multiple servers all around the world and when serving files will do so from the best and closest server to the user browsing your site. Also, since CDNs are optimised to deliver assets and because of the previous two points, it’s actually faster than serving the files locally.

And, because of the distributed servers, if one of them goes down for a period of time, the others are still up and available to serve your sites assets 24/7.

Think of it like automatic load balancing and redundancy for your assets, built right in without having to worry about high costs and complex setup.  

DDoS Protection – Uptime Guarantee

Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS attacks are on the rise and impacting website uptime every day.

Protection against these kinds of attacks is incredibly difficult and is an ongoing concern requiring constant monitoring and staying ahead of the attackers.

CDNs are built to withstand these kinds of attack and even when one is attempted will keep serving files to you without affecting your uptime.

Optimised Images – Decreased File Sizes

Another way we go one step further then most other platforms and services is that your images are heavily optimised when using our platform.

Whether a user is browsing on mobile, using Chrome vs Firefox, the images served are optimised for that device or browser.

We’ve found through our testing that the image optimisation can decrease file sizes by up to 80-90% which is an incredible savings in file size and in turn a huge boost to performance.

On by Default! – Cost Savings

This is one of our favourites.

If you are using another platform for your ecommerce site, or have your website hosted elsewhere, to utilise a CDN would require someone make changes to your backend to support the use of a CDN and on top of that you’d also need to pay an additional fee for the storage and bandwidth associated with the CDN.

We like to make things easy for our clients and prefer to handle all the heavy lifting and details of their website so not only have we built in full support for all of this into our latest version of zeckoShop, we’ve also built the price into the ongoing hosting costs of the website.

What can we say, it’s fun saving money and time for our clients while improving their online presence.

Internationalisation & the Global Market

If you were to ask most experts what are the main advantages of selling online, you’d be sure that all would include the fact that it allows you to sell anywhere in the world with little to no limits.

However, most websites either don’t provide this as an option or don’t support it well enough. This isn’t surprising however as there’s a lot to understand and consider before doing so.

With 84% of all transactions happening outside of North America the need to reach new markets is greater than ever but how do you get there?

When entering the global market you need to take into account several new concerns you previously didn’t have to worry about such as:

  • Complex & ever changing tax rules
  • Localisation for numbers, dates, pricing & translated text
  • Shipping
  • Payment processing
  • Etc

zeckoShop has a rich set of core features and addons that takes the headache out of going global.

Localisation

zeckoShop can automatically display numbers, currencies & dates in the format for the current locale based on the visiting users location. This means that when someone visits from Canada for instance, your pricing will display as “$9.99 CAD” whereas if someone visits from Germany your pricing will display as “$9,99 EUR”

Also, zeckoShop has a very complex and flexible translation engine that supports the most common languages throughout the world. It allows you to manually set the translated text, providing you have the help of a translator, or it can even automatically translate your descriptions and meta data with the help of a translation service, thus removing the burden from you.

Taxes

This is one of the most complex and tricky areas you will encounter in general, never mind when going global.

Even if the taxes in your country are simple there are still gotchas lurking and tax laws are constantly changing which are difficult at best to keep on top of.

With this in mind, zeckoShop has a certified integration with the de-facto tax rate calculation service AvaTax.

This allows you to enter any market you wish as all tax calculations are handled accurately and automatically without the need to worry.

Shipping

With dozens of shipping integrations, including local and worldwide carriers, we have you covered.

No matter where you expand to, we will have the carrier you need to not only ship to the destinations you require, but will get you the best rates.

Payment Processing

When dealing with sensitive information, and without knowing the privacy laws in every country, not handling this correctly could put your business into a lot of trouble.

Luckily, zeckoShop is PCI compliant and does not handle any sensitive credit card information and thus takes any worry away in terms of handling this sensitive information as you expand your market over time.

If you’d like to discuss entering the global market and how zeckoShop can help you, please reach out and we’d be happy to discuss. Also, if you would like to read up on this further econsultancy wrote a great article that explains everything in depth, The Internationalisation of e-commerce: A Best Practice Guide

The Importance of Personalisation

When looking to market your e-commerce site in order to drive new sales and retain existing customers, there are dozens of methods you can employ to aid in this.

One of the most overlooked and yet most important is personalisation and is fast becoming one of the most important factors for marketers.

Traditionally personalisation has been seen as invasive and complex, but the likes of Amazon and other large e-commerce sites have used it to great success and with an advanced platform like zeckoShop, personalising your user experience is not only simple, but incredibly effective in up selling products, pushing relevant items & retaining your existing customer base.

There has been a ton of research performed to prove the effectiveness of personalisation but to give a couple of examples, Target Marketing showed that shoppers are almost 50% more likely to make a purchase if their shopping experience is personalised. Smart Insights says exactly the same and on the flip side shows that 74% of consumers get frustrated when content has nothing to do with them.

Just Google “Importance of personalisation in e-commerce” and you’ll find result after result proving the importance. Convinced? Great, then let’s run through just some of the fantastic features zeckoShop has that can increase your sales and keep your customers coming back for more.  

Conditional Elements

Your e-commerce site is made up of hundreds or even thousands of elements, from a full page down to the widget that displays the link to a users cart.

Normally, all elements appear the same to each user that visits a site, whether that be a guest or a long standing customer.

zeckoShop however allows you to customise and personalise the website so it looks & behaves differently for any type of user. You could have pricing and inventory only visible to logged in users, a different menu for wholesale versus retail, customer specific cycling banners & advertisements or even user specific themes if you require it.

The list is close to endless really and you can tailor the website to look and feel exactly how each and every user would prefer by simple configuration.

To read a little more we wrote a Conditions post that gives more details.

Rewards

Rewards has proven to be one of the most incredibly powerful and most effective ways of gaining new customers and retaining existing ones.

Research has shown that when users feel that they are earning rewards every time they purchase, that they are less likely to switch to a competitor and more likely to purchase more items over time. Medium reports that 75% of US companies loyalty programs generate a return on investment.

zeckoShop’s rewards addon has flexibility in the kinds of rewards offered to users from accumulating a percentage of each sale that can be applied against future orders to earning points that can be redeemed against select products on the site.  

Finally, here are just a few of the benefits of a rewards program:

  • Retain existing customers
  • Reward clients who purchase more
  • Ability to win back previously, unhappy customers
  • Ability to implement drip marketing around rewards
  • Relationship building
  • Reduced advertising costs
  • Price insensitivity
  • Referrals and advocacy

Facebook Pixel & Google Analytics

Gaining an insight into who’s visiting your site, their behaviour and what they are viewing is essential to understanding what works well and what doesn’t for your users along with determining just who those users are in order to personalise the experience.

By gathering this kind of analytical information, you can then target specific audiences and tailor the experience for them. Maybe you’ve found that customers coming from Canada gravitate towards a specific type of product compared to those from the US in which case you can now start pushing specific products at specific audiences to maximise conversions.

zeckoShop has integrations with dozens of analytic providers but the two most popular and effective are Facebook Pixel & Google Analytics.

Once we have you set up and trained, you can then go about gathering stats and personalising your website based on real data.  

Opt-in Notifications

In a feature we call ‘Notify Me’ zeckoShop also includes several opt-in notifications that users can opt into.

For instance, if an item is out of stock, users can sign up to receive an email as soon as it comes back into stock.

As another example, if a user on your site sees a product but would prefer to wait to purchase till it’s on sale they again can sign up to receive an email as soon as that happens.

This simple, yet powerful style of notification really makes users feel like they have control over when and how they purchase and because the notifications they receive are relevant to them, they will continue to visit your site as they receive emails notifying them of interesting events.

Personalised Data

zeckoShop has several mechanisms that even allows personalising the data users see on the site from customer specific product descriptions to customer specific part numbers.

By personalising data, it not only makes your website seem comfortable and inviting to your customers, it also allows them to find product much simpler since they get to browse, search & shop based on information known and relevant specifically to them.

 

So these were just a few samples of what zeckoShop can do in order to help you personalise and enhance your e-commerce offering. If you’d like to discuss further on how we can help you in this area make sure to contact us and we’d be happy to discuss.

Affiliates

Our Affiliates addon provides a way for you to leverage zeckoShop to enable customer branded satellite websites for your customers.

This provides you a platform on which to launch a new marketing initiative where your customers, dealers and brokers can use your site as their website, thus providing a means for your customers to sell direct to consumers.

This addon is ideal for many businesses, especially wholesalers and distributors, who typically don’t sell direct to the consumer. By having affiliates enabled, you can offer your customers a means to sell online, without the need for them to have their own website.

This feature has many powerful abilities, but to give you an idea of what’s possible here is a summary of some of the best.

Dedicated Domain/URL

Normally, when dealing with affiliates on your website, your URL would be re-used for each. Although that’s possible with our addon, you also have the option of setting a completely different URL for some or all of your affiliates and thus provide a dedicated URL that makes their site look independent from your own webstore.

Flexible Theming

To further differentiate an affiliate site from your own, each can have it’s own theme that allows including their logo and branding. Better still, you can set these yourself without needing any technical knowledge as these changes can be done right through the zeckoShop admin.

Setting Overrides

By default, each affiliate site will use the settings of your website, meaning you can set up each affiliate in little to no time.

Of course, each setting can be overridden on a per affiliate basis so you can tailor how the site behaves for each.

This could be as simple as turning on/off specific payment processors or shipping carriers per affiliate or as complex as creating completely unique menus for each.

Price Markups

By default, all pricing displayed on the site is the pricing you’ve set in your ERP.

If however a markup on the displayed pricing is required, you can set this, globally or per affiliate, in the admin and that markup will be automatically factored into the pricing displayed on the site.

Orders & Reporting

All orders on the site will automatically flow into your ERP and will be tagged with the specific affiliate site it completed on which in turn allows for easy reporting when you want to see sales summaries or calculated commissions. The affiliate is also emailed a copy of the order confirmation to notify them of a sale and take action.

As you can see our Affiliates addon is incredibly flexible and powerful and a very valuable way to provide additional value and incentives to your own customers to start selling your products online. If you are interested we’d be happy to provide a demo and discuss options with your further.  

Salesperson Quotes

Along with having zeckoShop manage the e-commerce aspects of our clients business, there typically also exists a team of salespeople to attract new prospects and to service existing customers whether that be informing them of new/existing products, creating quotes and so on.

Until now both sides were independent and we felt this was a lost opportunity as having both work seamlessly together not only improves how you interact and service your customers but also helps streamline the whole process to grow your business further.

With this in mind we have created a new feature ‘Salesperson Quotes’ that brings your sales team to the web and gives them the ability to use your existing site to drive the quoting and sales process.

Your customers can initiate a quote directly on the site using all the existing search & browse features at which point your sales team can take over the process of refining the quote all while interacting with the customer as the quote gets updated and refined.

Your salespeople can change line items by adding, removing and updating as needed. They can set required pricing, address information, shipping and so on and each time they make a revision to the quote the associated customer is notified via email at which point they can view the changes in their ‘My Account’ section and request further ones as needed.

Once a quote has been approved by the customer the salesperson working on that quote can then mark it as completed at which point it flows directly into your ERP as an order for final invoicing. Easy!

Now there’s no need for additional sales tools that lack integration with your website, everything is in one place and you get to utilise the existing investment you made in your site.

There is a lot more to this new feature then outlined here and a future ‘Feature of the Month’ will focus on the CRM integration we are building which will also integrate with this piece so make sure to contact us to find out more about how you can get this up and running on your zeckoShop.

Notify Me

Here at Terracor we are always trying to see software through the eyes of our clients and their users. This approach allows us to build software that not only solves the problem at hand but makes using it an enjoyable experience.

Of course, along with this we are also users of e-commerce ourselves and base new features and improvements on those experiences. There is one such issue we’ve experienced on most sites that drove the development of our newly created feature ‘Notify Me’.

Let’s set the scene: you need to purchase a product but when you go to the site it’s out of stock. You check back some days later only to find out that the product came back into stock but sold out again, if only you’d known as soon as it was available again you could have completed your purchase there and then. While browsing you notice a product that you would like to purchase but find that it’s price is a little high. You don’t need it right now and would prefer to purchase when it goes on sale but how will you know when this happens unless you check everyday which is time consuming and a frustrating way to accomplish this.

Right now your own customers may have experienced this on your site but why should they have too? Why should they have to continuously check back for availability and the next promos instead of your site reaching out to them with the information relevant to allow making those needed and well informed purchases. They shouldn’t and that’s why we development this great new feature.

Simply put: It allows customers the ability to register for notifications for when items that are out of stock and become available again or when they go on sale. An email gets sent letting them know when any of these situations arise so they act fast to take advantage.

Really this kind of feature does all the heavy lifting for you and your customers in terms of staying informed and we won’t be stopping here but over the coming months adding more useful notifications that keep customers shopping on your site. This is an essential feature that you should have on your site so make sure to contact us to find out more.

Mobile First

We previously wrote a blog post on why having a responsive & mobile optimised site is essential.

Essentially, with the trend towards more and more users browsing the web on mobile devices and search engines determining your ranking based on how well your site performs on mobile the questions isn’t when to make this move but how soon can I.

At Terracor we’ve been building websites that are responsive and mobile friendly for some time now although knowing the importance of this and that the requirement will only get more stringent as time goes on we made the decision to make a complete overhaul of our zeckoShop frontend to make it a mobile first UI.

So what does mobile first mean? Simply put, it’s about designing and developing for a great mobile experience first and only then scaling it up to other devices and screen sizes e.g. desktop.

Why is this better? with the number of people browsing the web from mobile devices being in the majority and increasing it’s incredibly important to ensure that the mobile experience is the best possible and to make that the primary focus when creating and building a UI/UX experience. By constraining yourself to mobile and the smaller screen size you will have to make decisions based on what is truly important in terms of functionality & visual elements, that otherwise you wouldn’t if designing for desktop first. This results in a cleaner and more focused overall design and experience.

How did we do this? We removed all the existing styling in zeckoShop and built a whole new UI on top of an existing, popular and very powerful mobile first framework. This meant that we got to take advantage of a lot of hard work from a lot of very talented people who built a framework perfect for both mobile and desktop and then we added what was required for our needs.

Make sure to reach out to use so we can discuss making your site mobile first.

Facebook Pixel

Most people know the importance of having a site optimised for SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) yet most don’t give the same amount of importance to having initiatives in place around SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and conversion tracking.

In summary, SEO drives traffic to your site based on improving your site in order to increase your organic search engine rankings e.g. through keywords, rich content etc whereas SEM drives traffic to your site based on paid advertisements e.g. Google Adwords etc. Conversion tracking allows you to determine how often users are completing the actions that are most important to you on your site e.g. completing a purchase.

Once you’ve made a decision on what paid services you’d like to use to drive traffic to your site and what conversion metrics are most important you then need to determine which of the paid services are driving the expected and right amount of traffic to your site and in turn what the conversion rates are.

There are lots of ways to measure and track this but we’d like to highlight one where we recently released full support in our platform, Facebook Pixel.

So what is Facebook Pixel: simply put it’s an analytics tool that allows you to measure the effectiveness (conversion rate) of your advertising by gaining an insight into the actions that your users take on your site. By tracking and in turn analysing this traffic you can ascertain which sources the traffic is coming from and ensure your ads are being shown to those you intend.

Our integration not only tracks the pages visited by users but also several actions such as when a user adds an item to cart, goes to the checkout, completes a purchase, performs a search, registers for an account and visits a product details page.

By tracking and reporting on these events, you can then determine the effectiveness of the advertising services you are using and from there make an educated and data driven decision on which are the best to help you get the right traffic and highest rate of conversions.

To discuss not only this new addition but all our other features & services surrounding SEO & SEM make sure to reach out and we’d love to discuss.

Customer Part Numbers

As the popularity of e-commerce grows, competition is getting more fierce and demands that your website offer unique and truly useful features to your customers so they not only enjoy shopping on your site but continue to return and choose you over the competition.

It’s been known for some time that personalisation of a website makes users feel at home and once they start to create that unique experience for themselves they are less likely to go elsewhere as losing that personal experience is important to them.

We realised this ourselves some time ago and went about building several features into zeckoShop that allow your customers to personalise their website experience and tailor it to their needs.

As part of this on going effort we recently created a new feature we call ‘Customer Part Numbers’. It’s an incredibly simple yet powerful concept: instead of using the part numbers you’ve set up, whether that be to search for or be displayed alongside product, the customer gets to use their own part numbers that are unique and meaningful to them, thus personalising that aspect of the website experience.

From the moment they enter the site and see their part numbers in product previews to having those part numbers follow them through the whole shopping experience whether that be search, favourites & cart/checkout, your customers will feel at home with this and the myriad of other personalisation features we have available.

So why not differentiate your site from the rest of the pack and give your users a great new way to shop, just for them. Contact us to find out how you can go about adding this new feature to your site along with the others we have available to help add that personal touch to how you do business online.

CRM Integration

In a previous article we told you about a new feature of ours, ‘Salesperson Quotes’.

This was part of our initiative to help sales teams better utilise their zeckoShop website so that it not only serves their customers but also their needs in one integrated system.

Following on and expanding on this even further we’ve now implemented integration to CRMs which essentially adds that missing piece and makes zeckoShop a full salesperson portal, providing an incredibly powerful way to not only create but analyse and drive new sales.

The idea is that instead of your reps needing to jump between the ERP/accounting system, zeckoShop and the CRM itself in order to determine information about customers, including their past sales history & shopping habits, they can now garner all this directly from the CRM, the place where they typically spend most of their time.

Specifically, we push all your customers & contacts, along with orders, quotes and invoices to the CRM so your reps can use this when working with their customers to drive new sales based on current and historical knowledge. Also, website events such as when a user logs in/out, goes to a product details page, adds an item to cart & completes a purchase is also pushed to their profile to give the sales rep some insight into the customers interests and buying habits online.

There are a myriad of CRM’s out there and we intend on supporting dozens over time but for now our initial rollout will include Hubspot & Pipedrive, two very popular, powerful & flexible CRM’s that should satisfy all your needs.

If this sounds useful and exciting to you make sure to reach out so we can discuss with you further and get your sales team fully equipped with the tools they need. Even if you don’t currently or intend to use the CRMs mentioned in our initial rollout just let us know and we can discuss the specific integration you need and who knows, by the time you contact us it just might already be in place.