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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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:
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.