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Alen Corp

Command C recently wrapped an ecommerce migration project for Alen Corp, a Texas-based company that sells top quality (and beautiful!) air purifiers and filters. In the course of the project, we delivered solutions to common issues in online retailing, as well as addressed new challenges.

Background

Alen Corp launched their original site years ago. As happens with many online retail stores, over the years, the site needed new features and coding to grow its sales and address new technical issues. In response, like so many retailers, the business added apps and code on an as-needed basis.

The problem is this works–until it doesn’t. When different developers work on a site over time, the code often does not get refactored, and the old additions cease to work with the new ones. As a result, the code gets cluttered and the site gets slow. The user experience grows cumbersome. As ecommerce matures, we see this as a recurring problem. Clients often come to us to address site performance issues due to legacy coding and outdated features. These were the main causes of the challenges that we solved for in this project, too.

Project Goal #1: Improve mobile user experience

Research shows that 62% of smartphone owners have made a purchase with their phone within the past 6 months. Yet, despite rapidly-growing m-commerce, 84% of mobile shoppers experience “difficulty completing a mobile transaction.”

One of the first challenges to resolve was that this store was not mobile-first. The mobile experience was slow, the UX was not optimized, and at times, glitches prevented users from accomplishing mission-critical tasks. Given that m-commerce is integral to retail, the priority was to optimize the UX of their mobile experience.

Solution

By leveraging a pre-existing theme for new site, we were able to get part of the way there. We then worked with the client to identify a list of key customizations and worked together to build those while adhering to brand guidelines.

With its highly customizable products, this store needed highly customized product pages. We added the product image carousel and the product image zoom. In addition, each product inside a collection needed to have the swatches and variants available in quick view. Done.

Project Goal #2: Develop Workflow and Deployment Strategy with Collaborators

This project required some creative collaboration. Alen has an in-house development team, as well as several other partners. One of the core project goals was to determine how we could all work together effectively without interfering in one another’s work or slowing one another down.

Solution

From the start, we maintained an expedient process based on clear communication among all teams. The kickoff of the project included a thorough strategy session. We outlined who would be working in which theme and which dev environment. We also leveraged Themekit to facilitate local development and a code repository with regular commits. Then we built a content and theme configuration plan for the client. And finally, we established a schedule for each party to do their work, noting when we would need to be hands off and when we would need others to be hands off.

The upfront planning and commitment to schedule helped create clear expectations. We set up weekly project status calls and stand-ups.

Beyond the collaboration, we also brought a solid process for working with pre-made themes that need to be heavily customized to the table. As a starting point, we installed the new theme with the pre-existing content. This gave us context for what needed to be changed. It also enabled the client to comb through the site and prioritize what they wanted to keep as is versus what needed further tailoring.

Project Goal #3: Implement a New Theme that Enables Efficient Growth and Iteration

One of the big goals here was to avoid creating a future site with a ton of legacy code and functionality that would slow things down and/or make future improvements difficult. The first step in mitigating this was to review the following questions with the client:

    • How many apps from the old site are we keeping in the new Shopify theme?
    • For the apps that we’re keeping, what customizations are needed?

We often find that sites have multiple apps that do similar things, but each does one aspect of that same thing a bit differently or offers one more feature. Our approach is to go as lean as possible, and where it makes sense, customize apps to do precisely what’s needed.

The alternative often leads to a heavy and unnecessary load on the site. It also creates more potential for conflicts between apps. Now with clean and optimized code in place, the site is in the best possible position for both front end UX and future development work.

Solution

The site’s code is now optimized and clean. There are no longer unused apps taking up unnecessary space and risk of conflict is diminished.

We are big on mitigating risk. In terms of data migration, when moving to a new theme we employ multiple check points. Each is a point of return; at these points, we can revert to the original store if needed. We performed data integrity checks throughout the Alen migration. As Command C’s lead developer says, “Our backup plans have backup plans.”

Outcome

We divided this project in two sprints: a six-week sprint and a two week sprint. The most complex features went into sprint one. This gave us ample time to address any needed changes and ensure desired functionality. The second sprint included all peripheral items.

Our goal is almost always to empower our clients with tools and a site they can manage on their own. Today, Alen has a site that enables them to focus on selling their product over putting out fires. We work collaboratively and sensibly, leveraging our development skills as needed, but giving the client the tools to do what they can do on their own.

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