February 14, 2012, 2:35 PM

IRWD 2012: Meet the Dr. Frankenstein of e-commerce

Two IRWD speakers share the perils of random site additions and how to avoid them.

Lead Photo

David Goldsholle found that merging two sites onto a single platform can produce several undesirable effects.

Adding features, content and functionality to an e-commerce site without a consistent roadmap in place can create major site problems that two speakers called “the Frankenstein effect” at Internet Retailer’s Web Design and Usability Conference in Orlando, FL today.  But with foresight, it’s possible to avoid such monstrosities, said the speakers.

“Planning, documentation and communication are the three cornerstones of preventing the Frankenstein effect,” said speaker Stuart Silverstein, director of strategy and user experience at Fetch Creative Marketing.

Retailers should sketch out a roadmap for future expansion, he said. “Plan update cycles in advance and communicate that to the rest of team.”  Forward planning also should include at least once a year–more often if possible—a scheduled site review in which every feature on the site is tested, he said.  Inventory what’s not working on an Excel spreadsheet and fix it, working down the list systematically, Silverstein said. The entire process takes about two days, he said.

Document established visual and copy style, as well as a site’s file structure, including naming conventions. Retailers should also document the current site architecture to ensure that future additions are consistent with the rest of the site, he added.

Communication is another key factor in maintaining consistency through future site additions, he said. “Everyone should know where that documentation is,” he said. “Senior people should enforce adherence to the documentation and preach that culture.” Otherwise, he said,  the effort spent on the documentation is of little value.

In the same session, speaker David Goldsholle, chief executive officer of Hardwareandtools.com, said his own site replatforming experience shows  what can happen without such advance planning.

Goldsholle merged two sites, the information-focused Doityourself.com and the e-commerce site Hardwareandtools.com, onto a single platform and site to better expose products to visitors seeking information. However, initial efforts to reconcile contributions from two web sites that resided on two platforms led to significant trouble.

“It took 30 to 45 seconds to load a search result page and 15 to 20 seconds to load any dynamic web page,” Goldsholle said.

The inconsistencies on the newly blended site damaged the customer experience, crippled ad revenue, reduced sales, and exceeded the capacities of its hosting partner to fix problems.

Goldsholle eventually resolved the problems by selling the information site and replacing the e-commerce site’s hosted platform with an open source solution. Today he maintains an organized approach to site additions with the use of a sandbox, a duplicate version of his web site that runs on a smaller server, to test site modifications and enhancements before they are made live.

“Test every update on the sandbox,” he advised attendees. “Do not add too many features at one time. Deploy changes via script after complete testing. Without controls, you are out of control.”

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