October 15, 2009, 12:00 AM

Staples streamlines web design with a systematic approach

Using a flexible four-step process that speeds decision-making, Staples is reducing by 50% the time it takes to implement a major web design project, the senior vice president of Staples Business Delivery says.

A systematic approach to web site design is reducing by 50% the amount of time it takes Staples Inc. to roll out a new advanced feature, senior vice president of Staples’ Business Delivery Pete Howard tells Internet Retailer.

It used to take Staples, No. 2 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, up to 18 months to design and implement a major upgrade to the home page or a product page, or develop a major feature. But by following a four-step process-define, develop, quantify and quality assurance-Staples is now able to turn around a big design update in nine months or less. “It’s an evolutionary process that takes into account a lot of best practices,” says Howard. “With three or four major design updates going live each quarter, our approach has to be systematic.”

Before the start of an extensive site upgrade, Staples first will assemble a team of business and marketing managers to crunch the cost of the project and estimate the expected increase in sales and profits. The business and marketing managers will also work with Staples’ designers and web programmers to define the scope of a project, determine a budget and establish a timeline. The next step-develop-places responsibility for the project into the hands of a single executive who oversees the project and has the final authority to make daily decisions. “We got away from design by committee during the development phase of the design process and gave final project authority to one manager because it’s more efficient,” says Howard. “By doing the development process this way we also eliminate any 11th hour changes.”

During the third stage of its four stage process-quantify-Staples’ web programmers develop and launch the new feature or function, but also build in additional testing and review measures to make sure the project stays on time and budget. “At this point we want to take any guess work out of the process as we head toward a final launch date,” Howard says.

At the final stage of Staples’ design process-quality assurance-the office supplies retailer will assemble a final team to monitor the launch of the new page design or feature, sift through reviews and other interactions with customers to gauge their reaction, and plan future updates.

Other web merchants frequently use a structured planning process to implement a new site design. But what makes Staples’ approach unique is creating a structure that also includes flexibility and streamlined decision-making, says Howard.

A recent example was the implementation of newer advanced personalization technology from Certona Corp. that gave Staples a more sophisticated way to make personalized product recommendations based on a faster algorithm that serves up a shopper’s past purchase history and behavioral patterns in real time. With its four-step design process, Staples was able to define the project, select a vendor and install the application in just about five months.

In the past similar projects took up to a year to complete, says David Hallagan, Staples’ Business Delivery director of information services. “Our design process gets us the biggest bang for our buck in an expedited manner,” he says.

A longer report on Staples’ web site redesign will appear in the forthcoming 2010 edition of the Internet Retailer Web Site Design Guide, complementary copies of which will be given to attendees at the Internet Retailer Web Design & Usability 2010 Conference next Feb. 15-17 in Orlando, FL.

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