By Daniel Vidoni
Jim Farrell of Aussie Sheep and Wool recently asked me to rebuild his outmoded web site with a brand-new SSL secure e-commerce shopping site. Not only would the new web site need to look good and be easy to use, but it was essential that he be able to maintain the stock lists himself and administer the site autonomously.
There are many content management systems available to accomplish this feat. The most obvious which sprang to mind was using a database driven dynamic web site. Unfortunately, this would prove an expensive exercise for Jim, who runs a small business on a tight budget. I also thought it was an unnecessarily complex solution as Aussie Sheep and Wool's site has a relatively small line of products totalling about 120 items.
Aussie Sheep and Wool have been in the business of producing and selling quality sheepskin products for over 15 years. At their peak they operated five stores, employing 23 people with an annual turnover of over a million dollars. They have an extensive range of Ugg boots, slippers and scuffs, and wide variety of bedroom and baby products.
A couple of years ago their conventional retail operation made its first foray into e-commerce. They began with a basic web site; just enough to give them a Web presence and some basic shopping functionality. Recently, they decided to make the web site a more serious part of the business. They saw and liked the sites which I had created for other clients and decided to give me the task of creating theirs.
The top four points which had to be addressed were:
- Organise and build the site in such a way that it's a pleasure for clients to use
- Add a size, gender and colour option to the stock items (custom fields)
- Allow full and easy access to online shopping cart so that Jim can add, delete and change stock items as required
- Improve the shopping cart and make it secure
Reinventing the wheel is rarely a good way to spend a client's money, and I had a certain amount of time pressure on me to deliver the web site before the Aussie winter arrived. So I began the project by looking at the different shopping carts already available. After exhaustive research, I selected Ezi Merchant Pro e-commerce solution as it is quite flexible, accepts templates made with Dreamweaver, and most importantly, it offers a very friendly user interface for those administering the web site stock items. It's also significantly cheaper than the competition.
It took about a weekend to craft the templates for the site. I am very particular about how I want the designs to appear so I put in extra hours to make sure the final product accurately reflected my original concept art. It took another few days to create the graphics for inclusion and to perfect the CSS style sheets that would be used in the final product. To cut a long story short, I had 70% of the web site complete in a week and the result was beautiful. All that was left to do was the put in the stock items, set up the freight handling, and upload the site.
Entering the data
Putting in the stock items was easy though time consuming. It took some doing as I had to collate verbiage and photographs and create custom fields for each item. Ezi Merchant has an import feature, which in theory should accelerate this process, however, the older web site I was using to source the data was incompatible with the system, and so I had to re-enter all the data by hand.
The Merchant software's built in image resizer made processing the many stock items photographs a breeze. It was simple to use and produced consistent results. As is often the case, the quality of the input is reflected in the quality of the output. It is important to start with a good image otherwise you'll end up with a muddy mess.
Training the client
At about halfway through the data entry I called Jim and asked him to spend some time with me to learn the system by typing in some of the data himself. He learnt the system in a few hours and was able to finish the data entry himself, thus saving himself a considerable amount of money and allowing me to work on some other jobs. The site went live a couple of days later.
In Jim's words
"As soon as I spoke to Daniel and saw some of his designs I knew he was the man to create my e-commerce web site. He quickly understood my needs and ideas and translated them into a fresh, consistent and polished result. It is more functional than I thought was possible and I can now see it will become a core part of my business. Clients from all over the World are raving about the site and business is steadily improving."
Aussie Sheep and Wool average 60 visitors per day on their web site and the number is increasing constantly. With a steady stream of orders the web site has already paid for itself. The major search engines have had no trouble indexing every corner of the web site and during a recent 'Google dance' (the index update of the Google search engine - during an index update there is often significant movement in search results (page rank) for pages) Aussie Sheep and Wool's page rank increased to 4 out of 10.
You may view the Aussie Sheep and Wool web site at the following address: www.aussiesheepandwool.com.au