North East Gifts


North East Gifts was founded by myself, Alan Sawyers and Bill Card in February 2013.  The site was my first personal venture into e-commerce and whilst it was originally a sandbox for experimentation, it’s now pushing the boundaries of WooCommerce as our business grows.


Through previously working on projects for clients I have be able to see the flexibility that WooCommerce has and North East Gifts has given me unrestricted means in which to utilise that flexibility. I have created custom code where necessary but we’ve also used some plugins from the WooCommerce extension library to either provide admin tools or an enhanced user experience.

I completed a rebuild of the site in early 2015. I chose to use Storefront as a parent theme on which to base the structure of the site on. I made this decision based upon how closely suited Storefront was to the design of our old site and also from a supportability point of view. One issue with WordPress upgrades are that templates become out of date and in our case this had held back development as it required a lot of man-hours to fix and test upgrades. Now we are guided by Storefront and can focus more closely on issues specific to North East Gifts.


Research shows that in e-commerce, every (tenth of a) second counts. There has been a great deal of optimisation for North East Gifts in order to not give impatient shoppers a reason to leave our site.


The first issue we looked at was our hosting. Our 1&1 hosting was causing us problems so I identified Siteground as a host that could provide us with a better service. The reliability & speed of the site were immediately increased to an acceptable level.

The next was to address the images we were serving to visitors. I hooked the site up to in order to compress the images when they are uploaded to the site. Images are optimised by shaving off, on average, almost half of the file size without compromising the quality. The images are also served from Amazon Cloudfront to speed up the loading times.

E-Commerce sites present problems with caching. In order to use full page caching I had to interact with the WooCommerce Fragment API in order to load items such as the basket totals in local storage via AJAX requests.

Customer Experience

As well as optimising the core processes such as the cart and checkout I looked at ways to improve the customer’s experience. Twitter is a big part of the business and we now use it to send confirmation to customers that their order has been dispatched (if they enter their Twitter username on the checkout).

We also send out emails at key intervals after orders have been placed in order to get feedback from customers. This helps us to get information on our product range and also feeds back into features we could implement to make the customer’s experience a better one.

As CTO of North East Gifts, Steve is the driving force behind the website’s back-end ecommerce capabilities and front-end user experience. With a focus on staying ahead of the game at all times, Steve ensures that North East Gifts continually evolves, from utilisation of the best hosts and optimisation tools, to the complete redesign and redevelopment of the site ready for Google’s Mobile Friendly algorithm introduction. I have also worked with Steve on other e-commerce websites that will, in 2015, have accumulated in excess of £1 million for our clients in under five years.

Alan Sawyers, AS Design North East


Our stats showed that in January 2015, mobile users outweighed non-mobile users as visitors to our site. This is something we hadn’t addressed when the site had launched but had now become a priority.


Optimising websites for mobile is a challenging task, but even more so for e-commerce. The aim was to remove all elements that weren’t essential for buying a product from the site. Anything that’s not part of the purchasing process was deemed supplementary and therefore was stripped out of the mobile view.

There were also additional elements of optimisation for the mobile site such as using the <picture> element to serve different orientations and sizes of images due to work faster and to fit better with the scaled down version of the site.

What next?


In 2015 we’re launching two new sites: North West Gifts and Yorkshire Gifts. The challenge so far has been to maintain one code base for all three sites, however as that challenge is slowly being accomplished it’s just a matter of time before the North East Gift brand expands.

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