Park Royal Jewelry was an e-commerce store that sold fashion jewelry. I’ve always had the ambition to create something new, where I could use my programming and design skills to realize an idea. It was a practice in seeing something through, working from an initial vision to completion. In the end, working on Park Royal Jewelry gave me a brand new perspective to view things from.
In a lot of ways programming can be like living inside a bubble. We deal with the intricacies of software, thinking about obscure implementation details that nobody except for other programmers really notice.
So, we have the ability to build products, but what about everything else? We want people to find our products useful, we want them to see the value in using them. How do we demonstrate this to people? You really need to understand how people think, what motivates them and how they make decisions.
At the core of marketing and sales you have these established ideas that have been formalized from years of marketing knowledge. Establish marketing channels to generate qualified leads. Write a headline that outlines the key benefit. Add a clear call to action on your landing page. Copywriting that illustrates benefits. Beyond this, it’s much more subjective. How do you appeal to your audience? Are you their advocate? What tone do you use when communicating?
It’s interesting to think about how people’s perceptions are influenced on such a fundamental level. Down to shape, colour, composition, people have built up an intuitive sense of meaning of these elements. Your job is to think logically and use these elements to portray yourself in a way that aligns with your strategy.
When it comes to the function of a design there is usually some behaviour that you want to encourage. With this in mind you should emphasize the proper elements or structure the design in a way that supports this behaviour.
This kind of thinking leads you to see that there is much more to a design than looking good. There should be purpose or concept behind the choices that you make. You should have a cohesive strategy that brings together all your elements to reinforce the vision, all the way from appeal to function.
It’s all about iteration.
There is a common saying that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. This is where analytics comes in. With data you can make insights, answer questions, and understand how people are interacting with your website. Really, it’s a part of this idea that you should use data to help you make incremental improvements towards a larger end goal.
Once you start looking at metrics you will realize that it gives you ability to start asking questions from the opposite direction. You can essentially debug aspects of your business. If you see that the average lifetime value of a customer is lower than your average customer acquisition cost, well, then you’re losing money. On the plus side you have a solid quantifiable metric to start improving from. As long as you keep a larger perspective in mind about how changes can have a broader impact, this idea of using data to progress is powerful.
The age old question, use a pre-built solution or roll your own?
I had previous experience modifying a pre-built shopping cart, even with a templating engine it isn’t fun. It’s easy to fall into a situation where you’re just fighting with bad documentation rather than moving forward. The major problem with pre-built solutions is that they are built very general purpose. It’s difficult to offer something that fits everyone’s needs. Often you’ll find that they’re a good solution for everybody, but perfect for no one. If you’re not using all of the extra razzle-dazzle and want heavy customization it might be better to start with a bare-bones framework and build up.
CodeIgniter has a basic shopping cart functionality built-in that makes building an e-commerce store a little easier. You’re still left implementing payment or shipping integration by yourself but in this case I thought that the trade off was worth it.
After an SEO campaign and ranking for some first tier search terms we were invited to be included in a magazine feature. The magazine was the holiday issue of ‘Shop Smart’ magazine, which is a Consumer Reports brand. There was a few eager months of waiting before the issue was released. Even only being a small blurb in a magazine we had great visibility, bringing in 1000’s of visitors. This experience gave us some validation that we were at least doing something right.