What are the four challenges of maintaining a retail website whilst simultaneously developing a brand-new website?
For many businesses, choosing to invest in a brand-new website means that you can start to focus on the future of your e-commerce strategy. You can take the time to look at the look and style of your website. You can use analytics to assess the user experience, creating solutions for known pain points. And you can find innovative new ways to help shoppers maintain their journey through the sales funnel.
But all of that requires a considerable amount of time and investment in resourcing.
It’s a common issue for many retailers and as a result, many teams are tempted to focus all their attention on designing and developing a new website, often at the expense of their existing website. After all, with so many hours in the day, it’s easy to see why it’s seemingly more important to focus on a new creation than spending time on something which will be imminently replaced.
But what happens if you find yourself in a situation where you need to pay dual focus upon maintaining (and even enhancing) the performance of an existing website whilst simultaneously developing plans for a new one?
This the exact scenario that many of our clients found themselves in over the past year.
Our experiences of project managing a dual-focus project.
Let’s take the example of the project that we recently completed for ScS, the sofa and carpet retailer.
As a leading High Street retailer, we were making significant progress in the development and project management of a brand-new website that would amplify their online performance. The existing website was functional but had reached a performance ceiling. Therefore, the company knew that it was time to create a new website that would help them to reach their online retail potential. For a brand which focused heavily upon their in-store experience, taking the time to focus on a new website was the right approach. After all, most of their sales were conducted in-store.
Yet almost overnight, ScS had to transform its business model and adapt to being an online-only retailer.
The closure of all non-essential retail outlets in March 2020 meant that we had to simultaneously deliver the launch of a new website as well as ensure that the existing website remained functional. As an additional challenge, we also needed to ensure that the current ScS website was able to exceed its existing online performance to make up for the closure of its stores.
It was a challenge, but it was one that the Sherwen Studios team could deliver.
We look back on what some of the key challenges were when managing an existing website whilst simultaneously preparing for the launch of a new one. As well as focusing on the project management challenges, we explain how you can combine the experiences of the old and the new and drive your future e-commerce strategies.
Challenge #1 – Is your existing website continuing to drive sales and enhance customer experiences?
For retail brands, having an online presence is almost vital to the ongoing success of your product sales. It is increasingly rare to find a retail outlet that doesn’t have some sort of e-commerce strategy. According to the latest research from the Office of National Statistics (dated November 2019), “The proportion of users shopping online in the last 12 months was 82% in 2019, up from 53% in 2008”. We can anticipate that this percentage will increase enormously in the next round of reporting as shoppers were forced to make the switch to online shopping because of the lockdowns.
For those retailers who are reluctant to embrace online shopping, the consequences can be costly. Clothing retailer Primark famously refuses to invest in website technology, claiming that to do so would require them to increase their low prices. However, it is thought that their reluctance to embrace online shopping could cost them up to £1bn in lost sales.
So, it’s important to ensure that your website is always working as effectively as it could be to drive sales.
For those during a website redevelopment project, it can be tempting to focus all the attention on the new website but that can come at a cost.
In our opinion, until you have made that final transition into the new website, it’s vital that you don’t neglect the maintenance and care of your existing site. Your customers won’t know that you are working behind the scenes to make changes, and if they have a poor experience online, it can be hard to win them back.
During our experience of working with ScS on their web development project, our dual focus helped us to identify the best possible changes for the new website. We were in the development phase of the project when the stores had to close.
In hindsight, although it was stressful, it meant that we never lost focus of what we were trying to achieve with the new site. By having a team who took responsibility for enhancing the customer experience on the existing website, we were fully aware of all the pain points that needed to be addressed. We could proactively fix any problems to improve the customer experience and use this information to drive changes to the new website.
This meant that ScS were able to adapt well to the switch to online shopping. Customers felt that they were receiving the same care and attention that they would receive in-store, and the performance of the existing website remained consistent.
Challenge #2 – Are there are unexpected changes to consumer shopping behaviours?
Comprehensive web development projects can be lengthy. It’s not unusual to spend over 12 months planning and developing a new website, ensuring that its performance is perfect before it’s officially launched.
But consumer shopping habits can change quickly. And how you believe a consumer uses a website at the start of your planning may be vastly different when it comes to the launch date.
These days, we can have access to advanced audience analytics. We have the technology to track what consumers are doing and how they are behaving in real-time. We often remind clients that their retail websites aren’t about them; they are about the customer.
The retailer may think that a shopper uses the website in a certain way, but our analytics may tell us something completely different. It’s therefore important to use these data insights to drive your e-commerce strategy to maximise its effectiveness.
You should be continually assessing the audience analytics of your existing website throughout each stage of your web development project. This will allow you to see if customer behaviours are changing, and you can use this data to influence your new design and build.
In 2020, online shoppers changed their approach to shopping completely. They were no longer looking to browse intending to purchase in-store; they needed to complete their transaction entirely online.
Therefore, e-commerce teams had the opportunity to use these insights to drive new approaches and increase product sales. For some retailers, they were able to change the navigation, making the sales journey much quicker. Others made the most of discount codes and other incentives. Some retailers implemented new techniques to ensure frictionless checkout – from making the most of PayPal through to launching online financing options such as Clear Pay and Klarna.
Challenge #3 – Have you maintained consistency between the old and the new?
Maintaining a consistent brand is vital for businesses.
Shoppers like to be reminded of the familiar; they recognise and trust brand identities. They want to know that the experience that they have shopping online will be the same as what they would expect if they were to visit a store in-person.
For retail websites, this strive for consistency means that most website redevelopment projects are much less focused on the overall look and feel of the site. Instead, they are more focused on improving the technology which drives the website performance. This may be the introduction of automation and artificial intelligence. It could be about improving it’s loading speeds. Or it could be about linking in with in-house systems and technologies. If you’re focusing more upon a technical overhaul than a visual restyle, your shoppers may be unaware that you’ve even launched a new website.
The biggest challenge with launching a new website is ensuring that it works in the same ways as the old one, whilst ensuring that it also works in better, more productive ways.
Retail websites are extremely complicated. The direct link between the shopper, their chosen product, and the available stock levels needs to be finely tuned. This link must be ready to work effectively from the very moment that the website launches. If that technological consistency isn’t there, you could harm your sales processes and your supply chain.
At Sherwen Studios, we work closely with our clients to understand what technology they use in their internal systems. This means that we can ensure that the technology will work as it is supposed to in the new system. You want your new website to drive progress, so it’s important to look at what was working well in the old system as well as identify areas for improvement.
The growing use of automation and AI in websites means that retailers can now take advantage of new opportunities to maximise their sales. For instance, on the consumer side, shoppers can benefit from tools that will allow them to visualise how a piece of furniture would look in their home. And marketing teams can use improved data analytics to track the customer journey and use this for wider marketing purposes such as email marketing opportunities.
Challenge #4 – how can you manage your resourcing if you are working on two projects at the same time?
As a digital agency, we know better than anyone how challenging it can be to manage internal resourcing when you are essentially working on two projects at the same time, your existing website, and your new website.
It is a big commitment and it’s an enormous workload which is why companies are often keen to focus only on the new website. They may take the view that if more resources are put into the new development project, it will launch quicker. But whilst that may be theoretically true, there can be numerous reasons why a project may be delayed. And during that timescale, your customers will receive a sub-par online shopping experience which can be hard to recover from.
From a project management perspective, running two distinct website projects (maintenance and development) requires extensive communication. The insights that you gain from your maintenance project will drive your development team, so you must facilitate regular dialogue between the two teams.
This dialogue is also important to maintain client relationships. The client will need to know who to talk to about different aspects of each project and understand the role that each team member is playing.
Simultaneously managing two website projects for the same client can be extremely challenging, however, in our experience, it’s vital for the success of your new website.
When your launch date arrives, you want your new website to be as accurate and up to date as possible. This can only happen if you’ve been proactively managing the existing site and tracking any changes. Without monitoring how your existing site performs and examining how your shoppers are behaving and using this intel to adapt your plans, you could inadvertently launch a website which is six-months out of date from the very beginning.
We understand the importance of effective project management.
At Sherwen Studios, we have extensive project management processes and methodologies in place which allow us to aid effective communication between all staff members. At a time when we’ve had to work remotely, this has been vital for the ongoing success of all our projects.
Communication with clients is also vital.
Our approach to project management is based upon creating a detailed specification for clients. We outline exactly what we think our clients need and set out realistic timescales so that they know whether the project is on track.
We take a two-step approach towards our website development projects. The first phase is about creating a prototype that makes the most of new functionalities and technologies. It also considers the impact of data insights, stakeholder feedback, and user testing. This is where we heavily rely upon the work of the team maintaining the existing website. Once this is all finalised, we can evolve this into the final project which simplifies and optimises the user experience and ensures that the resulting website has adapted to the latest market conditions.
In our experience, effective project management is an important element of any website development project. When managed correctly, all team members know exactly what their role is and what they are trying to achieve. And clients should know what to expect and when. It’s a vital component to ensuring that projects are delivered on time, and on budget.
For more information about how Sherwen Studios work with retailers to proactively manage their existing websites as well as design and develop new e-commerce platforms, please contact Matt directly on 01244 340 023 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.