This website development project included researching, designing, prototyping, developing, and deploying a functional e-commerce website for my family’s business, a lumberyard and hardware chain in northern California. This lumberyard and hardware chain includes Close Lumber, with locations in Sutter, Yuba City, and Williams, and Corning Lumber, with locations in Willows, Orland, and Corning. This new website, featuring an online store, would help market, advertise, and sell the company’s products and services.


Technology — HTML/CSS/JS, PrestaShop, Google Analytics, Google Data Studio, Google Ads

Client — Close Lumber, Inc. — Sutter, CA
Duration — 3 years of development and research

Background

As commerce continues to move to online space, many retailers have began to invest in development online stores or portals. In 2018, the US Census Bureau found that e-commerce sales made up for 10% of retail sales in the United States, a figure which has doubled from just five years ago. This projected growth in online sales has lead many companies, including small business such as Close Lumber, to research and invest in developing online stores as another channel of commerce and product advertising.

Strategy

Strategy began with analyzing what the company views the role of the online store both could be and should be. After extensive market research and discussions within the company, we viewed the online store to have three primary functions: to drive sales in store and by phone by informing customers of in-store product selection, to be a gateway for online advertising, and to provide an additional channel for purchasing.

The first function, drive sales through existing channels (phone and in store), helped guide the principle of the website functioning as an online “catalog” of products. Many products listed online would not be purchasable online, but rather the user would be directed to call to place an order or visit a local store.

Next, the online store was to function as an online advertising gateway. In essence, by developing a larger online presence with listings of individual products, the company could now purchase online ads.

Finally, this new online store would also provide a new channel for purchasing—online. For select products which could be easily packaged and shipped nationwide, users could purchase online using a credit card or PayPal account. These orders could then be shipped to a customer’s home. Ship to Store is also offered, where shipping is free. This free incentive was also viewed to help drive in store traffic.

I was a part of this strategy development effort, reporting to the company my research and expertise in what tools were available and what was generally found in online commerce.
It is important to note that the only part of the strategy developed looks at the online store as a place to purchase products online. Rather, the online store’s primary function is to further drive sales to in store locations and increase phone orders. Online sales is only viewed as part of the website’s strategy.

Research

Extensive research was done prior to and during the development of the online store, and had two parts: marketing analysis and technological exploration. Marketing analysis primarily consisted of competitive analysis, exploring how the company’s direct competition as well as market leaders marketed themselves online, as well as the characteristics and features of their online stores. Technological exploration attempted to answer the question of what platforms, software, and tools would be needed to be purchased, developed, and maintained. The technological exploration was also responsible in reporting the needed budget for this project.

I was responsible in leading both of the research efforts. Through the marketing analysis, I was able to advise the company of what would be expected of our company, based on what comparable websites featured. Technological exploration found out what was possible, and its initial cost and operating cost.

In summary, the research found that the online space for companies in our industry, building materials, was behind most other industries, having limited online presences and limited to no online stores. This was viewed as a strategic advantage, enabling us to move ahead of some of our competition. After research of what platforms we could use to deploy our online store, we chose to build using PrestaShop, and open-source e-commerce solution. We viewed the open nature of this product the best for the company, which allowed us to build a more custom solution to fit our outlined strategy.

This flowchart I created early in the research process attempts to explore the various steps needing to be taken to fulfill an online order.

Design Solution

The design solution to encompass the company’s strategy looked to build a online store that would visually be similar to other online stores. Customers could browse products by category or using a search tools. The online store would also be fully responsive, able to adjust to mobile device or desktop screens. Users add products to the cart using an “Add to Cart” button on the product’s page, navigate to the cart, checkout, and place an order.

The design of the website also looked to creating custom search and filter tools for the unique product offerings of the company. For example, a search tool built just for lumber is available when browsing through the lumber selection. This “Filter By” tool makes possible the ability to sort by lumber material, lumber dimensions, length, and if pressure treated. This tool was viewed very useful, with regular search tools having difficulty understanding the unique characteristics of lumber products.

the “Filter By” tool on the left filters lumber searches by material, dimensions, length, and if pressure treated

In addition, users can create online accounts where they can save their preferred shipping address and check on the status of their orders.The Close Lumber Online Store was published in August of 2017, after weeks of internal testing. The website can be found at closelumber.com.

Challenges

One challenge was visually identifying products which could be purchased online, and which products must be purchased by phone or in store. After research, I developed a custom solution which gave all products a new property, called “Stock Status”. From the backend, administrators can select from a dropdown the type of stock status a product has, such as “In Store Only”, “Available for Purchase Online”, or “Call to Order”. The product’s page would then show the correct information to the user, and would also hide the “Add to Cart” button if not purchasable online, instead showing a phone number or a link to the store locations page.

The stock status (labeled “Availability”) highlighted on a product page on the left, with several “Availability” chart options on the right.

Effectiveness

After just over one year of being live, Close Lumber’s website has seen around a 200% growth in total organic users visiting the site per day, and the addition of ad-based users leading to an additional growth in traffic compared to the previous Close Lumber website, as well as a significant increase in organic search users. In addition, online commerce has shown signs of becoming a portion of the company’s customer base. Phone call sales have also shown growth, with online advertising and the online store the source of this increase.