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Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Singing the Shopping Cart Blues

Jean Sexton writes:

There comes a time in any software's life that without a major overhaul, it becomes dated in style. Either the major overhaul or new software will have a learning curve for the users and for the admins of a site.

We had started hearing that our old shopping cart (which is in some ways a massively complicated software package) was looking "tired" and "dated." It didn't handle mobile devices well. It did lovely lists of items with itsy-bitsy thumbnails of the pictures. (Of course, those thumbnails got even tinier on a smartphone.) It was time to move -- a complicated process for us. We didn't have just a few items or even just a few product lines. We had 14 categories! Those 14 categories had 56 subcategories! We had thousands of items to redo.

Changing software packages is never easy, it seems. Of course, the manufacturers don't want to lose you, so nothing is going to be a straightforward move, not even the banner for the cart. We started doing the research in February and moving in March. An outside person helped us make the gross move and set up information. From March until the end of May, we ran a dual system with the new cart hidden from view.

New banner designed by Simone Pike

Leanna did a lot of the behind the scenes work to make the items show up where customers would expect them and to make the items have the same options as before (bound, unbound, hole-punched or not). When Leanna had her stroke, that put us a week behind -- and our deadline for moving or paying for another three months of dual carts did not change. We asked a few trusted shoppers to try out the cart and report any bugs. And I worried because we had just done promos for three brand new titles. Now my links probably wouldn't work. (We subsequently got the outside contractor to make it so they didn't go off into the Never-Never Land of 404, but landed on the main page of the new shopping cart.)

Then came The Day. At that point, we were hearing not all items had pictures and text. Of course, not all of them had pictures and text on the old cart, but we were worried -- what if they did have them? Leanna was busy dealing with over-arching problems so Steve Cole, Steven Petrick, and I divided up the universe and checked every single item. We found a few items that didn't make the transition, a couple that had been deactivated (because we didn't sell them anymore) that had come back to life, and some missing text for categories. I coordinated the reports and Simone pulled the pictures and text for the items from the old cart.

At the same time we were dealing with customer questions. Their information was supposed to be transferred, but that didn't happen very well. So we immediately got the word out and changed the shopping cart information to reflect that. The mobile site is different from the main site, so we depended upon our customers to let us know of glitches (we have "stupid" phones and my tablet reads as a computer, not a mobile device).

Now we are at least back to where we were with a list of improvements to be made over time. What would we do differently? Not let Leanna have a stroke two weeks before a hard deadline is the biggest thing. Not release three products shortly before a changeover so that the design team would be able to help sooner, the marketing director wouldn't be worried about obsolete promotional material, and the sales director wouldn't be swamped with orders on top of dealing with getting the new shopping cart ready. Give the test shoppers a bit more of a lead to check things out.

What did we do right? Getting an outside contractor who was familiar with both software packages to do the primary transfer and to fill in blanks from one cart to another. (He also handled forwarding the old cart URLs to the new shopping cart front page.) Making a list of the priority changes that needed to be made for the website. All chipping in even if it "isn't in the job description" to make sure the cart was as good as it could be. Getting the word out on social media and having the fan pages pick it up. Having a designated person to handle all inquiries so that the same information came out everywhere.

If you are ever in the situation of making such a major change, be aware that not everything will go smoothly. Have a plan for dealing with the cart and any problems that crop up, with information and its distribution, and for helping customers. Then you won't be singing the new shopping cart blues.