The Integra Woocommerce Exploration Journey

Article Details
Published Date Tuesday, April 27, 2021 GMT +0800
Reported By “Holloway” Chew, Kean Ho

On Feburary 14, 2020 Malaysian time, ZORALab Enterprise teamed up with WY Kwan Enterprise to revive an old but usable integration technologies used to call ZPress. WY Kwan Enterprise wanted it to be upgraded with e-commerce feature where she can manage the store independent of 3rd-party absolute control.

WY Kwan Enterprise (201703052131), founded by young woman entreprenur Kwan, Wen Yi (“Wen Yi”) has her passion to establish her online business for her crafting business. She’s an adventurous wife + entrepreneur who passionately wants to focus on selling authentic yet artistically creative goods that can bring prestige to the people.

It took big courage to start her own business. Please go ahead and support her by purchasing her goods and services via her platform:

WY Pristine Homepage

Prologue - The Meet Up

Wen Yi approached Holloway regarding of her idea of setting up a store under sole control of her own. Just nice, ZORALab has our old ZPress, a WordPress product deployed using our process-oriented technology. However, the process needs to be upgraded from the existing “website-only” product into “web application” product.

With that said, Wen Yi proceeded to fund Holloway for the exploration and Holloway proceed to refurbish a copy of ZPress for the project.

Google’s Timing of Offering

Surprisingly, Google Cloud’s Free Training was available at the same time. ZORALab has been using Google Cloud and its datacenter services eversince it was founded. Hence, this is a good timing for Wen Yi’s exploration project.

Google Free Training

Holloway is the primary and the sole person from ZORALab benefited from this offering. He even created his own technical Google Cloud Platform Notes repository to capture all his learning and memories.

ZPress Status Quo

ZPress was originally designed for hosting static website with publications using WordPress as its core and some proprietary tooling plugins. With ZPress, creating an elegant and beautiful customer-front facing website is as easy as simple blogging. Another good side is non-technical individuals like marketer can update the platform easily without being needy to the technical developer.

ZPress was ultimately discontinued as ZORALab is proceeding to develop a new static website graphic engine called “Bissetii” due to various reasons.

The primary reason is the needs of databases, a list of heavy Javascript libraries, and a redundant blogging application just to generate static contents. On ZORALab side, we believe with those resources, it should be developed into an application or something similar.

Another reason is that ZPress constrained the web developers to using PHP and their own version of front-end codes. This was the tipping point as we never like being unreasonably constrained by anything; especially not in 2021 where more advanced technology is available for hosting static website.

The third reason was the move towards serverless. Since static websites can be hosted in various serverless solution, it makes no business sense to pay for server maintenance.

Upgrading ZPress

However, if we take ZPress and upgrade it with some application functions that would turn out to be a different story. WordPress has a very powerful plugin called WooCommerce that is capable of turning itself into a full fletch e-commerce platform. That’s a number 1 upgrade we need to explore.

Secondly, thanks to Google Cloud free training program, the backend server can now utilize the infamous Kubenetes to automate and orchestrate the tiny servers based on traffic heuristically. That’s a big gain considering having a person to constantly monitoring the traffic and manually scale server all the time.

Thirdly, the capability of using stateless storage via Google Cloud Storage. This is thanked to a specialized plugin available called WP-Stateless. This plugin alone solved a lot of huge hurdles faced in the past where we need to sort out local storage spaces. Also, it frees up the disk space to only focus on the website and data processing alone.

Fourthly, Holloway developed and upgraded a proprietary tool called “ZCloud” to systematically capture and continuously upgrade the ZPress process with all the new perks above. That said, ZORALab can duplicate the solution easily for scaling.

Deploying a Result

We successfully deployed the WY Pristine using our ZCloud deployment tool with compulsory securities in mind such that:

  1. No database API to public exposure.
  2. Let’s Encrypt automated SSL cert management using Cert Manager.
  3. Load-balancing using Nginx’s Nginx Ingress Controller.
  4. Stateless static content storage using WP-Stateless.
  5. Common persistent code storage with routine backup to Google Cloud Storage as backup.
  6. CloudFlare as frond-end DNS resolver, CDN distribution, and DDoS protection.

Compulsory Security Plugins

Apart from Woocommerce plugin, we installed some critical security plugins first before setting up the rest. Among them are:

  1. All in One WP Security
  2. WP 2FA - Two-factor authentication for WordPress
  3. GDPR Cookie Consent
  4. Content Control
  5. User Menus
  6. Redirection

These are basic plugins that is required to let our developers and security analyst to have some peaceful sleep. 2nd factor authentication (2FA) is enabled by default for internal staffs as we no longer can trust rely on password as the sole authentication exchange. The rest are just access controls and basic security and legal requirement checklisting.

Expanding E-Commerce Features

Apart from the basic brick and mortar e-commerce store, Holloway expanded the e-commerce platform with additional features like event ticket selling and inventory management.

Event Ticket Selling

The event ticket selling covers the capability of advertisting the event on the store itself and facilitate a way to purchase the ticket.

event ticket advertising capability

The control system is quite simple: describe the event from timing to organizer, way to purchase ticket, and where to purchase. It’s quite simple to use.

The actual sales transaction happens on Woocommerce platform itself.

Inventory Management with Point of Sales

Woocommerce prepared quite a large number of built-in features like inventory management feature with SKU integration, Stripe payment gateway, and logistic services.

Woocommerce inventory management tool

Topping up with our styling tools, we can produce a very stylish and working product page. It’s stylish and animated accordingly.

Woocommerce product page

Email notifications are in place and in order when customer interacts with the site commerce. The email even includes informing ground staffs to prepare and ship the order too!

Accidental Upgrade: Progressive Web App

Let’s face it: mobile is above all. Holloway wanted to test out the progressive web app: a very powerful interface where it can skip stores entirely for mobile users to install into the mobile devices. By installing the PWA plugin, Holloway accidentally opened the pandora box (with a good concequences of course).

PWA device installation

This allows any mobile users to quickly install the e-commerce platform on-the-fly without needing to create dedicated applications. On merchant side, this saves a lot of source codes development while maintaining the same effectiveness as a native app.

However, there is a known hiccup: it is noted that push notification is not working on Safari at all. Until Apple sorts out their Safari browser software issues, this method is quite constraint to non-Apple platforms.

Gaining Back Incentives

Holloway tested the user ability of to purchase and pay the product without incurring the Apple or Play Store commission incentive and appearently it shown promising results: there is no need to pay an extra of 30% commission rate as dated to this article is written.

PWA app purchase

The conventional native app on Apple Store and Google Play Store is that they both requires you to use their payment system with 30% commission rate. This creates a lot of known dispute like:

  1. Epic Games vs. Apple
  2. Hey.com vs. Apple
  3. Spotify vs. Apple

Now, with PWA, at least the merchant needs to commit the server maintenance fees and the payment gateway rate (usually floating around 3%~7%). While this is good news to merchant, it does not stop Apple and Google from finding ways to get back their high commission rate cuts back. It may also because of this reason, PWA development on Apple platform is slow since Apple is on the losing side from business perpectives.

Reviewing Metrics and Analytics

After allowing the platform to operate for nearly 2 months, we gathered some insights where it is necessary to maintain the platform. Due to the heuristic nature of the platform, it’s best to observe production data rather than being purely on using calculator.

High but Stable Maintenance Fees

No matter how Holloway optimizes the solution, the average monthly hosting fees (or in layman terms: “space rental”), is floating around MYR400~MYR600 a month. That’s a lot compared to current dedicated solution like Squarespace or Etsy which offers constrained features but at a lower rate.

Monthly expenses for maintaing the e-commerce-services

Unless Holloway go to the extreme optimization domain like OS image binary packaging technique, that will incur a different cost from development human resources perpectives.

Hence, this solution is not for startup but a well established business that is looking for constant billing (instead of commission based costing).

Dedicated Tech Operator Needed

At this point, this solution needs a tech operator to operate it for the non-tech business executives. Wen Yi tried to operate the platform on her own while being overwhelmed with on-the-ground tasks, still find it somewhat complicated to operate.

As for Holloway, it is quite easy but do expect a technical training related to inventory management like SKU planning, product packaging, logistics, and etc.

A tech operator costs typically around MYR500-MYR3000 per man-month depending on the total working hour rate.

Utilizes The Features to Gain Back ROI

The properly gain back the return of investment, the merchant MUST fully utilize all the integrated features and not just the e-commerce alone. Only by using both events and inventory system will then be able to justify the hosting fee.

Heavy WordPress Front-End Loads

As usual when deploying any WordPress Front-End solution, the end-user is getting some unusually heavy libraries downloads.

Overly heavy frameworks on frond-end sides

As we mentioned above, if mobile is above all, then this solution loses out greatly just by looking at these heavy libraries downloads. Some of the imported libraries are plain silly such as React, Backbone, and Angular JS all at once where one of them is suffice for client-side “respond and render”.

This is not something Holloway can control as most of them are required by the installed plugins in order to operate properly. Hence, this reinforced ZORALab decision not to revive ZPress and proceeded to discontinue it in favor of developing a lightweight rendering engine solution.

High Risk Due To Many Attack Surfaces

The plugin concept for this project was a terrible approach as the more plugins we include, the wider the attack surfaces can be. It is difficult to control all access surfaces with that many plugins integrated together.

This is definitely unacceptable even for ZORALab.

Aftermath

After discussing with Wen Yi about the pros and cons, as a startup, the decision was to use existing e-commerce solutions like Shopee and Lazada. As for domain, Wen Yi will pursue our Integra Program - Website Listing to establish a business listing on the web and allow visitors to get to know more about her business.

As for ZORALab and Holloway, we wrapped the exploration with a conclusion and publish our findings. To us, it was a great journey as we gained so much and particularly, the zcloud tool was developed and tested intensively, allowing us to scale peacefully both on the cloud and on the edge computing.

As for e-commerce solution, we shall not visit woocommerece solution in the future and retire ZPress product for good. In fact, we will be exploring and expanding other dedicated and specialized e-commerce solution via our Integra Program integration services in future.

Epilogue

Let’s recap: ZORALab did an exploration under WY Enterprise to explore the WordPress solution under ZORALab process development (ZPress) with woocommerce.

ZORALab did deliver a fully styled and functional results that is very focused on mobile devices, allowing users to perform purchases from the mobile devices without incuring heavy commission rate.

However, due to the hosting cost and tech operator requirement, Wen Yi last calculated and decided to head back to ZORALab web listing Integra Program that is more beneficial for startup. The current self-hosting solution although free from vendor lock-in threat, it not competitive from pricing and technological utilization.

Based on the reviewed metric, ZORALab decided to retire ZPress and all WordPress related products for good. The gain on our side would be ZCloud process-oriented cloud tool where we can use it to scale globally using any cloud and edge computing solution easily and seamlessly.

Lastly, ZORALab and Holloway wish to thanks Wen Yi and WY Enterprise for funding this exploration, allowing us to explore new possibilities during this pandemic moments. It took big courage to start her own business. Please support her by purchasing her goods and services via her platform:

WY Pristine Homepage