Over the past few months, we have been thinking about the possibility of blogging about the entire process of pitching, negotiating, designing, developing, deploying and marketing an e-commerce site. The reasons were twofold, and for complete transparency I will list them here.

Firstly, we thought it would be a very good idea to outline the entire process as we ourselves had been discussing variations on our own processes earlier in the year, so this would be a great opportunity to try a few new things (warts and all) and see what does and doesn’t work, at least for us, and have it documented at the same time.

Secondly, it would provide a forum for discussion on a topic that is everyday becoming more popular, and the expectations higher. Obviously e-commerce stores are nothing new, but the type of client walking through the door over the past few years seems to be changing. Clients with businesses that had little interest in ‘going on-line’ are either starting to see the benefits of making the change, or just as likely, just don’t want to get left behind. And again in both cases their expectations are much higher, and rightly so.

So last week we had the opportunity of blogging about the entire process of creating a new e-commerce project, start to finish. Now we did of course have to make a few concessions. We wouldn’t reveal what the project was until the very last (one month after go-live), we would run every post past the client before putting it out and we would not reveal any costs associated, times however were fine. This seemed more than reasonable and we would just like to whole-heartily thank them again for their involvement and cooperation!

Based on this agreement, each week we will document what occurred during that week, give our thoughts on what went well, what went wrong, how things could be improved etc. and discuss the overall process in general. Equally, through the week we will blog about anything we deem to be especially interesting.

A Bit about Us (Minus the Spiel)

Before we start however, I just wanted to let you all know; in case you didn’t already, who we are.

You’re Red Monkey Goo right?

Well yes, but so you have a real feel for what we are doing and why, I wanted to spell it out.

We are a small (read 5) group of designers, developers and strategists (business, marketing, SEO/SEM) who between us have about 50 years’ experience in the industry. Having all worked for companies/agencies of varying sizes (in various parts of the world) we eventually bumped heads here in Melbourne Australia, and got to talking about doing something different in web design/development. By different we meant bringing the focus back on quality and on customer service, which in our experience seemed to be getting less attention every day (at least in certain previous places of occupation it certainly did!).

It’s a simple idea but that formed the crux of what we talked about during those first initial months mid-2011. Eventually (within an hour) we all decided this was something we really wanted to do and started going about it. Over the next few months most of us transitioned away from working full time at our current jobs and focusing more on Red Monkey Goo. We started small, and we’re still small, which suits both us and our clients.

OK with that out of the way, let’s talk details…

The Initial Sit Down with the Client

The initial contact with the client came about from a word of mouth referral from a previous client we had worked with. This means some of the initial stages will work slightly different than they would, say if had we been tendering for a project or replying to a completely new project prospect (though in this case the process would actually be very similar to the one discussed here).

After the initial phone conversation with the client we arranged a sit down in a café close to both parties and went through the client’s vision, objectives and concerns.

We kept this sit down quite informal and it really was an overall discussion of everything the client wanted to do, their motivations for doing so, their own resources to do so, their previous experiences, a little about the industry they are in, their time lines, a very broad idea on price (by determining the clients overall approximate budget you generally know what you can offer from the outset, and we find this is a much better alternative than over promising and having to cut back later based on budgets), their expectations for their business as a whole and for the web presence itself. By creating a forum for good conversation and trust you open channels of communication that are vital to the success of the project later.

The actual brief at this stage was very simply and revolved around the notion of designing, developing and creating a broad marketing strategy for an online store selling a line of high quality imported products, simple enough. The client wanted to ensure that the product would be the principal motivator and take pride of place on the site, it might sound like a cliché, but the site was to be all about the product, and nothing else should overtly interfere with the customers’ interaction with the product and its purchase.

During this initial conversation we discovered there was no branding around the business, that the products should speak for themselves through the images, that there was not a mass of content, that simplicity was the key and that the site should pervade an essence of class and style. We would also have access to high quality product imagery from the manufacturer, extremely important to costing in a project such as this.

We also discussed the benefits and disadvantages briefly for the use of open-source technology against the use of proprietary software, and as we are huge supporters of the use of open-source and this is where our expertise lies we were happy to see that the client agreed. Basic budgets and time lines were further discussed and it was determined for the project to be a success it would need to be launched upon the arrival of the first shipment of goods, excepted the first week of July, at an approximate price (which would then be further refined in the project proposal)

We advocated the use of the Magento e-commerce platform for this project, given our experience with it, and its general standing as the open-source e-commerce platform of the moment (why should this matter, well, with popularity comes attention, and the Magento community has a lot of information around it and users who help support it. We find it to be a serious, enterprise grade, e-commerce application).

The Initial Informal Project Brief

In conclusion the project brief was this. An e-commerce store selling a line of high quality imported products running on the Magento platform and delivered by the end of June 2012. We also agreed upon some general ideas on functionality and usability that would be further defined and elaborated on in the project proposal, and subsequently the wireframes in the design phase.

The main suggestions were that we would have a full page sliding hero showing off a number of products along with at least one lifestyle image of the product.

The home page should be clean, simple, elegant and classy. Again product was the key.

The category pages would also be all about the product, without the need for a filter bar or much text denoting each product it would be extremely image based. The number of products not being too large also allowed for the removal of the typical pagination feature, which again kept the category page clean.

The product page itself would be centered on one large product image, with a small amount of thumbnails and a very brief product description. One idea mentioned was a quick view of the products to the left and right of that product via arrows at the extremes of the page with quick view images of the products themselves.

The overall branding, style and feel was also addressed and with that information in hand we were able to begin work on the more formal project proposal that would be sent to the client for approval.

In the next blog, we will look closer at the initial stages of the project including the project proposal we developed, the branding discussions that came about after the project proposal was accepted and the beginnings of the site itself.