My Top 10 Favorite Tastefully Driven Features

Since the launch of Tastefully Driven I’ve been intending to do a post similar to the DI Features and Lessons Learned. But since this project had less “unknowns” there weren’t a lot of “lessons learned” from the programming side. We knew what we needed to do, and it was more about execution than figuring out a way to get stuff to work.

Nonetheless, there’s still a lot of cool stuff on TD that isn’t completely obvious if you just scan the site for a few minutes. So below are my Top 10 favorite things about the site:

10. One Account
When you have a forum on an e-commerce site, I think it’s utterly important to tie the two accounts together. Instead of just throwing up a copy of vBulletin and making the colors match, we took a bare bones copy of bbPress and hacked it apart until we were able to mesh it seamlessly with the shopping cart. Right now the only benefits of this are that you log in once (at the top of any page…another cool feature) and that you have the same username/password across the board. In the future – assuming the forum becomes somewhat popular – this opens itself up to all sorts of interesting social-networking-type opportunities: for example, imagine getting product suggestions (via PM, email, or displayed inline on the site) based upon your previous purchases and the threads you participate on the forum. In 2-3 years this could be how we make that jump from large e-commerce site to “social shopping” platform. It’s a ways away, but we laid the foundation now.

Tastefully Driven Login

9. Integrated Affiliate Program
A lot of affiliate programs make it ridiculously difficult to sign up and create links. Using a 3rd party affiliate software is something we didn’t want to do for Detailed Image and we brought the same system over to TD. Our payout rates are posted for everyone to see, and signing up is really easy: in your My Account page there is a message enticing people to sign up:

Tastefully Driven Affiliate Program

If you click ‘Apply Now’ you only have to choose a payment type, click ‘Apply’ and you’re good to go. We also make it super-simple to create links. In addition to a tutorial page, we now display an affiliate link on every single product page for that specific product when you’re logged in:

Tastefully Driven Affiliate Program

8. Forum Product Recommendations
When you are viewing a forum topic we display a banner ad of up to five related products at the top of the page. So if you’re in a discussion about caffeine it will “recommend” the caffeine capsules for sale in our nutritional supplements section. Again, this has large potential to be highly customized in the future based upon more than just the forum topic.

Tastefully Driven Forum Recommendations

7. Personalized RSS Feeds
This is one of the few features that came with bbPress that we kept in tact. Every user can mark their favorite forum threads and then subscribe to a custom RSS feed to track the progress of the conversations they’re interested in.

Tastefully Driven Forum RSS Feeds

6. Blog-Forum Sync
One of the other things I saw as absolutely necessary was merging the blog comments with the forum. Each time we post in WordPress, a corresponding thread is opened in the forum. If you click to comment on the post, you are redirected to the forum. Blog posts also pull the conversation from the forum and display under the post just like normal comments.

Tastefully Driven Blog Forum Sync

5. Upsells
Inline upsells offering a 5% discount was one of the most fruitful moves we made with Detailed Image. Average order value went through the roof. With TD we changed the page structure around and moved the upsells up “above the fold”. This may or may not be better – we’ll see.

Tastefully Driven Product Upsells

4. Image Upload System
One of the most time consuming aspects of Detailed Image was uploading pictures. Each picture needed to be re-sized several times, watermarked, and then linked to in the database. For TD, I built an image upload system to automate all of this. After we’ve entered the product info in the database, we can log in to our admin section and upload a 500 x 500 png file and the script automatically re-sizes it, saves it, watermarks the images, and creates the appropriate database relationship. Big, big time saver.

3. Shipping System
Sure, this is basically the same as DI, but it’s the backbone of our company. This system is the single most efficient process we’ve put into place. If we didn’t have it we would have a full time employee processing and shipping orders right now. Each morning we click “Process Orders” in our admin section: the PDF receipts pop up to print and save, along with a text file to import to FedEx Ship Manager, which prints the shipping labels and gives us a text file back with tracking numbers, which we upload to auto-email each customer their tracking info. It’s a 2 minute process whether there are 5 orders or 25 orders (or 250 orders down the road).

2. Design
The design of the logo and the site was all Mike. I think he did an A+ job aesthetically conveying exactly the image that we want our customers to see….especially by differentiating each store with it’s own unique color scheme. The Games store, for example, has an orange color scheme but you still know that you are part of TD:

Tastefully Driven Gaming Design

1. Commerce with Conscience
The icing on the cake for me: we’re donating 5% of our pre-tax profit from the site to local charities with our Commerce with Conscience program. Sure, 5% isn’t much now, but it will be as we grow. We’re choosing new charities quarterly, and the first charity – The Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY – has been very supportive (I got an email back from the Executive Director, which is pretty cool). Along with participating in events like the Climbing UAlbany Event, we hope this program is how we funnel some of the money we pull in online from all over the country/world back to our community. I anticipate that as we grow we will spend more time personally working with each of our charities so that we give back more than our money – our time and expertise can do equal amounts of good. My favorite part about this program is that it ensures that no matter how big we grow we are giving a corresponding amount back to the community. Target does the exact same program and you see the immense social impact they are able to have because of it. If we can even have a fraction of the impact locally that they do nationally, it will be a huge success.

We’re also all rocking Commerce with Conscience wrist bands:

Commerce with Conscience Wrist Bands

The bands are included with any order over $100 for free, or can be ordered for $4.99 on the site (with all of the profit from the wrist band being donated).

———

What’s next? I’m a firm believer in letting things settle for a bit before diving back into more development. Aside from a necessary focus on marketing, I’ve learned (the hard way) that you need to provide ample time for data/feedback to accrue before jumping to any conclusions about what you do and don’t need. By the end of 2009 I hope to have expanded the forum functionality with the aforementioned social-shopping stuff and to also integrate some AJAX into the cart in places it can really help (coupon codes and add/update cart come to mind), but other than that changes will be dictated by our users and the data.

All in all, we couldn’t be happier with the site we put out. We’re a small team and we did it on an extremely tight time schedule. I’m ridiculously excited to see where this cart takes us over the coming years.

7 comments on My Top 10 Favorite Tastefully Driven Features

  1. Anthony says:

    Great job Adam. From a pure development perspective, I’m wondering how you handled #8 – Forum Product Recommendations. Are you searching the topic subject against fulltext in mysql to figure out what products might be applicable? moderating the x-sells manually? something else altogether?

  2. Adam McFarland says:

    Good question Anthony.

    It’s not too overly complex at the moment.

    It actually uses our internal search engine that I created a while back for DI. DI searches used to take forever because when you do a product search you want to factor in categories, keywords, and manufacturers in addition to just the product name. Those things were all stored in different tables and the process was labor intensive and time consuming.

    As a solution I set up a nightly cron job that creates a “search” table in the database which essentially has only the critical information in 2 fields: item id (to tie it to the items table) and a keywords field with every search-related kw for that item.

    TD uses the same little search engine, so what I did was build a plugin for the forum that runs a search based on the title of the topic and displays the results as recommended products. If there are less than 5 items returned, it fills the remaining slots with random products from the site.

    Definitely lots of room for improvement, but it works pretty good for now.

  3. Anthony says:

    Ah, good system… For the past year or so now, I’ve been going back & forth in my mind about the best way to handle search for scaled apps/sites. If you ever find yourself outgrowing the method you’re using, the best thing I’ve come across *so far* is Sphinx:
    http://www.sphinxsearch.com/
    It essentially does the same thing you are right now, except it stores the search indexes in text files instead of the database, and uses its own separate process on the server to scan through those text files, so it’s much faster (especially for real time searches vs. product suggestions) and generally more accurate. You can request info from Sphinx via PHP with simple API calls, and the results are returned in a neat array which you can then just link up to the actual MySQL records with ID #s.

  4. Adam McFarland says:

    Anthony, thanks for the link. Sphinx looks great – I’ll keep that in the back of my mind for the future. I do anticipate that at some point we’ll need a better system, especially if we want to use more data like purchase history or forum conversation history in the equation.

  5. Netcan says:

    On the whole social commerce front, here’s an interesting stat:

    http://www.grokdotcom.com/2008/04/17/customer-reviews/

    With all the talk of providing valuable content, a powerful research tool etc., most e commerce have stayed either dull catalogues where you can (perhaps conveniently or cheaply) order the things that you need when you know about them already.

    It’s only now that they are coming to life and actually driving purchase decisions. As usual, Amazon is leading the way. Of course they have the volume advantage. But discussions and reviews are really excellent on Amazon, the best does seem to surface. A really interesting thing there is that they get known tech reviewers submitting reviews. Brilliant, if this is where products get reviewed, this is where tech reviewers need to go to do the reviewing.

    Social Commerce isn’t going to be an easy thing to drive. Mostly because we don’t know how its going to work yet. Do you look (and think) at ‘funnels’. ‘How do I get these people from the landing page to the checkout page?’

    Or do you take a different approach and look at ‘time on site’-like metrics and try to improve those (I like the idea of being able to pick someone who has conducted genuine research on the site & trying to increase the number of these)?

    How do you measure your success at being a ‘resource’ it’s not your conversion rate (if your trying to attract early stage, browsers researchers etc.) or revenue per visitor or any other commerce metrics, really. If this is more of a bloggy sort of a thing then you do you want to be measuring bloggy sort of measure of success (comments, subscriptions, mentions on other bloggy things, etc.).

  6. Adam McFarland says:

    Netcan,

    Thanks for the great comment.

    Customer reviews are changing the way people buy online: I know that I don’t purchase anything without reading some form of customer reviews. Because of that, more than ever I think it’s important to only carry products that you truly believe are extremely high quality. If you don’t, your customers won’t be happy and will likely influence other customers by posting reviews on your site and other sites. In a way, you turn over a bit of control to your customers, but if you have sound customer service and great products it can be a HUGE asset to have your customers ‘closing’ the sale for you.

    Now, to your point about measuring success. That’s a bit trickier. The metrics for old-school e-commerce are clearly defined and relatively uniform across the board, but now we (and other companies) have to decide which other numbers are important in our success and which ones are ‘nice to have’ but aren’t key players in the bottom line. I think each site is unique in and of itself, and over time we’ll refine our metrics for TD based on the data we collect and analyze.

  7. […] stream of revenue so it’s hard to look at it as anything but a positive experience.   My #1 favorite feature of the site is the Commerce with Conscience program where we donate 5% of our pre-tax profit to local charities […]

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