New Website Behind the Scenes (warning: long and boring)

We recently launched a new website. It’s a bigger shift than what it looks like. The text below was first drafted by Andy, the project manager for the switch, then I added some commentary. One of our tenets to live by is Lead with Transparency. So here’s a lot of the what’s and the why’s. Read at your own risk, other than the fact that all those “new” colors you see on the site have sub 5 units, this is really, really boring.

 

OVERALL THEMES:

  • No info > bad info
  • This was not a front end update to a theme or skin, this was a 100% platform change and we did it all in house. Gained some control and agility over the brand (which we know best), lost some expertise and best practices in terms of pure IT. Life’s a trade-off, we usually error on control over the brand.
  • We have proprietary software called “Event Manager” that is API integrated into our shopping cart platform, now BigCommerce. This means that events and event management are fundamentally separate from other products and the “basic/straightforward” shopping cart/e-comm platform. We at GORUCK chose to combine them years ago because we care about both (no separate swag shop with BS tees and headbands and no outsourced event registration flow to active dot com or wherever) which exponentially increases complexity for both us and you. GORUCK is one brand, gear and events. Neither is an afterthought, so we have to combine them. As far as we know, we’re the only company in the world that takes this approach. If not, we’d love to see another company that does it like this. In our estimation, the brand warrants the complexity in this case.
  • Somewhat in conflict with the above, we play to our strengths and our marketing strength is brand building, not IT, analytics, or all the detailed work involved in a website migration (maybe one day–but this was still 1000% smoother than the previous 2 migrations for all the GRTs that remember).

 

CUSTOMER ACCOUNTS & ORDER HISTORY

  • First off, account history is not lost–it just wasn’t exported, cleaned up and remapped to the new platform. Again, this was a full on platform change, not a redesign.
  • It’s a bummer and sure, it was possible with some data massaging–but worth it? Maybe, but probably not. Was it worth delaying the platform change for weeks, and having our only lead architect spend all of his time on this data massaging and migration? Doubtful. Full disclosure, it was on the to-do list, but we were already behind and upon review it was a big task so it got cut and double cut when we were already 6 weeks behind schedule. In theory we could re-import it moving forward at a later date, though that’s unlikely mostly because of the time and cost. Plus, isn’t a fresh start kind of exciting sometimes? 🙂
  • Last time we did a platform change we imported more bogus orders than legit and it hurt more than helped (and we had outsourced help for that one). Anyone remember that? Many people have multiple email addresses, they place orders for their friends, with different delivery addresses, the product structure in the new catalog doesn’t match the old – anything not the easy path adds complexity and complexity costs time no matter what we’re talking about in life. And time has to bring in real value.
  • The previous catalog was messy. We couldn’t delete anything by their design (one of those save you from yourself limitations) and we didn’t 100% know what we were doing building it out initially because as early adopters of that platform we had to figure it out as we went along–that’s not an excuse, but it is a bad combo. The new catalog is simpler and clean as of now (contains only active products moving forward with a simplified structure–product colors are combined–that type of thing) so actually backfilling old order data would have been a fair amount of extra work for no other reason than for some percentage of folks to log in and see what they bought.
  • While it would have been nice to show you everything you’ve ever done at GORUCK via your order history of gear and events, we weren’t sure what exactly it would have been used for. Meaning, what’s the real value? We still have access to it – our CRM app (Customer Relationship Management) is not our shopping cart (e-comm data is just one source–Event Manager is another, email is another, etc) and we currently don’t initiate returns or do much in your account section anyway.
  • Anything events related with your order history is safe, untouched in the migration, and lives in Event Manager, our proprietary event database/scheduling app (see below).

 

EVENTS

  • Events are products on the site, but only kinda–all the important Event information (participant records, history, credits) is passed on to Event Manager, completely separate from the shopping cart customer account/order history.
  • Other than actually taking money, event related stuff/process has nothing to do with the actual website/e-commerce platform — transfers, credits, upcoming events, etc. are all independent of customer accounts on our shopping cart platform: Mozu (old) or BigCommerce (new). The only thing our shopping cart platform actually cared about events is your event ID and how much you paid–the rest just gets passed along.
  • In the previous site, we tacked on an account feature that listed “Upcoming Events”–this was 100% not supported and pretty much a hack that attempted to display some Event Manager data in the customer account section. It worked, but we still had (and have) the issue of sometimes not being the same person to both system, ex: when you sign up other people (officially not supported due to the waiver signature). We’re working on adding the “Upcoming Events” feature to the new site and we will for Events moving forward, but not retroactively–figuring out purchases from the previous e-comm platform and verifying them with Event Manager then marrying them to both the new e-comm platform and Event Manager again is just a lot of work for some good feels – so we’ll rely on the email correspondence to remind you of your upcoming badassery aka your next event.

 

DISCOUNTS & GIFT CARDS

  • Discount codes are not auto carried over by design. Much like cleaning out a messy basement, this is an opportunity to organize codes, and manage their lifespan. The idea of some codes living in perpetuity is a recipe for careless things to happen in terms of check-outs. Maybe one or two of you got lucky on the old platform, good for you. So, all past discount codes for things like partner gyms or ambassadors got nuked and now legitimate codes will be re-created upon request (that sucks and we’re sorry). This isn’t to say that currently held discount codes won’t be honored, just that there are a lot of old/expired and bogus discount codes in our system and it makes little to no sense to move them all over without review. The best way for our small team to create an accountable system is to turn them all off and see what people actually need and bubbles to the top.
  • Gift cards were late to the migration so if you tried them day one they probably didn’t work, but we have successfully migrated/recreated all gift card codes. Gift cards are clean and straightforward–anyone who bought one should have one still.

 

301 REDIRECTS – making sure that the old URLs go to the right spot

  • Ideally these are done before bringing a new site back up. It matters for things like Google search rankings and Search Engine Optimization and other super sleek Silicon Valley type things. They weren’t at launch and objectively that’s bad. It comes down to the time/resources thing again.
  • Old site supported wildcard URLs so we took advantage and ended up with multiple URLs for the same page–it’s been challenging to redirect them all, many of which are also redirects of redirects but we’re working on it.
  • Most (~ 80%) of our URLs have redirects in place–they just weren’t in place the second we said go. The other 20% are either too complicated/unpredictable to account for or not worth it to dig around every sitemap we’ve ever had in existence across all our platforms, ever. Some url’s don’t matter anymore, frankly. Many/most do.

 

INVENTORY

  • There is always competing data. What your warehouse verifies as on hand vs. what your IMS (Inventory Management Software) says is on hand. Here’s how that happens – there’s any variety of human error associated with anything such as oops we sent two of a product instead of just one. That permanently reduces the true inventory even though our IMS says we still have that extra one.
  • In this case, we had surplus inventory on a lot of items, mostly rucksack colors. Most of those items have a quantity of sub-5, and most are not on the docket to get rebuilt. So if you like that kind of thing, have at ‘em.
  • This stuff will always happen. Someone orders something, returns it, it sits in returns for too long and gets forgotten about. So it sits there. We sell out of that item, don’t build it again. But then we do a massive warehouse cleaning party (aka count all the inventory and verify the quality) and then we focus on selling those items in onesies and twosies. This is that.

 

 

NEW GOOD THINGS

  • Pre-orders will be much more supported, organized, and less messy than in the past. The platform supports them from a data management perspective, which means we don’t have to hack our way through creating pre-orders.
  • The sitemap is more straightforward to navigate, browse, and buy stuff
  • Checkout issues have been minimal–something we always seem to screw up and so far (knock on wood) haven’t. The first order we got on the new site was an order using the earned service discount via ID.me that also shipped to an APO address. When these sort of exceptions take the easy, normal path work, it’s usually a good sign. And it was.
  • BigCommerce isn’t going anywhere, it’s proven as a good and simple to use ecommerce platform. It doesn’t offer or promise a lot of bells and whistles, the lack thereof forces simplicity upon our team. That’s a good thing btw. Hey you can do anything and everything on our platform — that usually leads to confusion, failed attempts at making something perfect, and generally a sloppier experience for us and for you. Two good answers in life: yes and no. Maybe is the worst. And when you can do anything, everything is yes with infinite time which means no but people don’t love saying no. So it’s always a maybe. Our goal is to stay far away from maybes, even as they encroach.

 

VISION FOR BENEFITS, INTERNALLY

  • Pre-sale gear will be possible, and integrated from a data collection and management process. That means we can “float” ideas for new colorways, or T-shirts, or events, or ________ (you tell me, you always have a vote), and agree to build/execute if enough people vote yes with their wallets. We forced ourselves to do this in the past, but the execution of data management and shipping and timelines and such proved too difficult of an exception to manage well. So we killed that process, even though it’s really valuable to us as a company. Pre-sales let us offer gear and other stuff for products with unknown demand curves. That mitigates a lot of risk for us in terms of cash. Order too many and eventually you’ll have to liquidate the inventory. Order too few and you missed an opportunity. But the real risk is in over-ordering, not under ordering. Pent up demand for a product you can’t get anywhere else (ours) is not really a bad thing.
  • We scrubbed a lot of pics and turned them into squares, which is a better use of space on your browser whether you’re on your phone (increasing hugely) or on your desktop at work, not working. 🙂 Objectively our catalog is cleaner, more beautiful, better quality, that kind of stuff. But we also lost a little personality in the migration. There are fewer of Monster next to the gear, stuff like that. The question for our team has philosophically always been do you publish a blurry smile or a perfect nothing. It depends on the other photos surrounding it, but the goal over time is to have clear smiles, and Monster, and the things that make us us. But in summary, Real > Perfect so we have some work to do to marry up the brand and who we are, our voice, with the quality of the content you see. It’s not bad right now, and it’s definitely cleaner than ever. It just means that I don’t want us to lose our personality for the so-called perfection of a beautiful boredom. So I’ll be spending a lot more time on this. Step 1: take the best content (pics) we’ve ever had, put that on the site. Step 2: improve the collaboration of photos and descriptions in a location where everyone has access to review, but uploading new product stuff has more process. Step 3: control future new product launches by ensuring they’re all on point at launch. If/when they’re not, we have to have the discipline to gather more better content prior. Step 4: go on offensive planning, then execution of photo shoots and so-called campaigns. Which for us would happen at Events and other destinations.

 

But in order to focus on the front end of what you see, the stories we tell instead of just the things people buy, the back end has to be as beautifully boring and so-called perfect as possible, meaning it’s supposed to just work and then a team of non-coders has to be able to manage it, not just a wizard with magic code dealing the only antidote to chaos. So it’s a big upgrade in simplicity and process for us like that, a good thing that hopefully I won’t have to come on here and re-explain again anytime soon.

 

I’m happy to take any questions. Though I’d be shocked if any of you actually got this far.

 

 

7 comments

  1. MissJ says:

    Criminally boring, but thanks for taking the time. Love that GORUCK is so willing to be transparent and be open with the community.

  2. Jason Hyer says:

    Thank you, Jason. I appreciate the transparency and candor.

    A suggestion/question for you… Have you considered ensuring that the product pictures actually match the product? As new models come out, old pictures are left in place, and there are significant differences represented. Most of the product photos do not show models with the arrowhead logo, but there have now been two separate iterations of this addition. Also, the angle of the product photo does not readily reveal if a product has a logo or not because is positioned in a way that prevents the viewing of the logo side of the bag (Bullet Rucks).

    I realize there is a time and costs investments for new product shoots, but when you’re in the business of selling product, it’s part of the business. After all, I don’t go place an order for an iPhone 7 and see an image for an iPhone 6. Much of these changes and updates can be made in programs such as Photoshop or Illustrator and not require a full environmental setting photo shoot.

    Keep up the great work.

  3. Audrey says:

    Enjoyed the read.
    The school district I work for was hit with a cyber attack last Friday, have you thought about hacks and worldwide cyber attacks, our cafeteria software system is still offline not working correctly one week later with the student accounts.
    I am sure you think about security all the time, just curious.

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