Deals2u is a well-established retail website with a catalogue of over 60,000 clearance consumer and As Seen On TV products, processing thousands of sales a month through the websites, eBay, call centre and partner sites.
When CoSource was contacted by Deals2u in late 2006, the website consisted of a custom web application running on ASP.NET 1.1 and Microsoft SQL Server 2000. The original development company had dissolved and the codebase maintenance had been neglected with some of the site features starting to fail. On top of that, important issues were present: there was no SSL support;
the site was virtually invisible to search engines, the catalogue contained only 6,000 products and performance was very poor.
CoSource was contracted by Deals2u for a one time project with the immediate goal of restoring the failing functionality and implementing SSL support.
A Cloud ERP
An Upgrade to Dynamics 365 Business Central
An Upgrade to Dynamics 365 Business Central
The first step upon receiving the project was setting up and updating the codebase to the latest technologies available at the time, which were ASP.NET 2.0 and SQL Server 2005. It also presented the first big challenge, which was finding out that important parts of the source code were missing and since the development company that created the website had disappeared, the developers were unavailable to provide any assistance let alone providing the required source code. As a result, a reverse engineering process had to be done in order to gain control over the codebase.
Once the source code was restored, it was updated to ASP.NET 2.0 and the database upgraded to SQL Server 2005 –the latest technologies at the time-. The reverse engineering and updating process also allowed for the solution of issues and bugs in the original code. SSL support was implemented at the end of that stage.
It is important to mention that this initial project had to be done in record time, since the website was increasingly losing sales day to day due to bugs and issues that couldn’t be addressed. The whole process took only one month from the initial meetings up to the deployment into a new production environment.
The upgrade was very successful as it solved most of the bugs present in the original code which ranged from minor annoyances to big time performance and accuracy problems. The website performance increased exponentially and with SSL in place, customers could purchase with confidence. All of this resulted in an important increase in sales figures for Deals2u.
After the success of the initial upgrade and features implementation, Deals2u requested CoSource to continue working on the implementation of more features and functionality for the website. As a response, CoSource devised and proposed a tailored agile development process to manage the increasing list of feature requests in a way that could optimize the delivery according to the business priorities of Deals2u. This work partnership has proven so successful that has continued uninterrupted since 2007 up to the time of this writing.
Over the years CoSource has implemented many software features that have brought Deals2u to important milestones in its business development history. Some of the most important ones are narrated below.
Deals2u is supported by back end business system called Univex which handles accounts, purchases and other aspects of the business. Since very early on CoSource has maintained and enhanced a CSV integration interface between the website and Univex.
OO.com.au is one of the biggest e-retail websites in Australia, which is why in 2008 Deals2u established a business partnership between the two companies to allow Deals2u customers to access the OO.com.au catalogue at special prices. This commercial agreement would bring a set of 20,000 new products into Deals2u offerings but several challenges had to be overcome for this to happen.
The daily operation of a large scale e-retail website is very dynamic. Many variables have to be watched closely to avoid loss of sales, diminished profit or even liabilities. Variables like prices and specials, stock levels and product availability, product description and images, categorization, SEO, content duplication and postage costs have to be constantly updated. This is difficult to achieve when managing a proprietary catalogue; but it becomes very hard when hosting 20,000+ products from an external database.
The biggest problem was that OO had no APIs or established means to transfer its products and update their parameters in Deals2u. The temporary solution at the time -while OO set up a data interface- was to crawl the OO website and scrape the product information from each product page and obtain all of the important parameters directly from OO’s website. All product updates in OO would have to be applied as soon as possible in Deals2u.
The crawler-integrator for OO was architected as a modular and reusable system service meant to run at regular intervals managing the full data extraction, transformation and load process with fail-safe reliability.
And it was a big success. When the service was deployed, the 20,000+ products from OO became available through Deals2u in a few minutes. The constant data update stream provided by the integrator application maximised sales opportunities and profit, which resulted in an immediate benefit to both companies as sales increased.
Although the crawler-integrator was only meant to be a temporary solution, it operated uninterrupted from 2008 to late 2010 when OO finally released an API that allowed automatic B2B purchases between Deals2u and OO.
Since the OO crawler-integrator was architected for modularity, it is capable of handling different data sources, from the original web crawler to CSV, XML and other text based data interchange formats and implementations, which made it easy to upgrade to the new OO XML API when it was made available as well as integrating with other e-retailers with the same reliability than OO.
FactoryFirst and MMT product catalogues where integrated with Deals2u in a similar fashion, taking advantage of the integrator capabilities to connect to different data sources and discarding the web crawler functionality as it was no longer required.
Deals2u catalogue now contains more than 60 thousand products and increases daily as commercial partners add products to their own databases.
Another facet of the integration with partner e-tailers is that Deals2u also moved up from being a consumer of product data to a provider of catalogue items for its commercial partners. CoSource implemented providers feeds into the integrator application which allow customising the data that is made available to the partners own integration solutions according to each partner’s needs.
Deals2u recognized the potential of marketing its products via eBay Australia and after running some promising commercial trials decided to integrate directly to eBay through the eBay APIs.
The integration was accomplished in a staged approach, focusing on listing the products in eBay first by porting all of the sales content and appropriate data to eBay’s requirements. In the next stage, it moved on to fully integrate stock levels, availability and purchase information back and forth the two systems.
Using eBay as an additional outlet has increased the total income of Deals2u with a minimum cost.
Deals2u has a sister site called TVPDirect which focuses on the As Seen On TV section of the catalogue and is as big as Deals2u in terms of activity. The original platform of 2006 did not allow for communication between the two sites, which meant everything had to be done twice from catalogue and stock maintenance to development tasks as well as regular maintenance with the risk of data falling out of sync which in fact used to happen with an unacceptable frequency.
CoSource modified the website code to unify both websites and provide a multi-store solution based around a single database. With this, Deal2u reduced its workload by at least 40% which impacted positively in costs and ultimately on sales.
A big portion of Deals2u sales are made through its call centre. In the past, Deals2u used to rely on third-party software to conduct its call centre operations but as business grew, propelled by the agreements with commercial partners and investment in marketing, it was made clear that a third-party solution that was not integrated with the main product database was not going to be sufficient to support Deals2u operation. This is why CoSource developed a call centre module that is tied in to the website and has a set of features which are specifically tailored to meet Deals2u needs, such as optimized search, marketing cues and hints, on the fly postage calculation, optimized layout, POS mode and editable marketing wizards/scripts.
Besides what is described above, CoSource has implemented hundreds of new features and improvements into an e-commerce system which used to be out dated and falling apart. Some of these features are: