A do-it-yourself Web site update

Project Objective

Bob Palmer, vice-president of IT at Lenox Collections, a division of Lenox Inc., set out with a team of developers to revamp LenoxCollections.com. Key drivers for the change were the need to reduce the number of clicks in the checkout process, more closely align the site with its other sales channels (namely its catalogues), provide consumers with more information about their purchases and update the site design.


Palmer says he didn’t hit any technical snags with the project because he was confident that his own developers could build the new Web site. While he says he looked at bigger-budget Web portal software from Redwood City, Calif.-based BroadVision Inc. and IBM’s WebSphere line, he chose instead to let his team use San Francisco-based Macromedia Inc.’s over-the-counter ColdFusion Web development tools.

“If you have experienced, talented Web developers, and we have, then it’s not that difficult to do,” Palmer says. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to bring in an army of consultants at (US)$150 or (US)$200 an hour when the organization has very talented Web developers who understand our business and cost less?’ ”

The project budget was set for US$105,000, with almost half of that figure slated for design. The design phase began last March and was completed in mid-May. The development phase took less than three months.

Business Benefits

Once the job was finished, Palmer’s team took that experience and applied it to other Lenox Web sites. He says that about 70 per cent of the code used on LenoxCollections.com was reusable, allowing his team to put up a site for U.K.-based retailer Brooks & Bentley in less than three months. Palmer says his development team can now quickly implement new features when customers request them. “Now that we’ve got the basics right, additional features aren’t difficult to add,” he says.

Bottom-line Payback

As for return on investment, Palmer says the work has already paid for itself. LenoxCollections.com saw a 115 per cent sales increase in the fourth quarter of 2001, compared with the same period in 2000. Much of that was driven by a boosted browser-to-buyer conversion rate, up from 4.5 per cent to more than 8 per cent. And since the site’s launch, Lenox has continued to add features, such as order status updates.

“The ROI comes when people use the site more and you complete more sales,” Palmer says. “Sometimes you have to be practical and realize you get an ROI by delivering things your customers want.”

Lessons Learned

Palmer says he learned that Internet projects expose a lot more than just catalogue offerings.

“Where you’re taking phone orders, there’s always been a veil a human being between a company’s back-end systems and the customer,” which has hidden a lot of system deficiencies, he says. “The Web opens up your business processes to the general public, and if those processes and systems aren’t consumer-focused and clear, the deficiencies will be exposed to the world.”

Palmer says Lenox also had to re-establish who needed to be in the loop when decisions were being made. Lenox needed to better address communication and project goals when members left or joined the development team.

“People need to know not only what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it and how it fits in with what others are doing,” Palmer says. “It’s basic stuff, but that’s what tripped us up.”