First Person: Managing an “Essential” Website Overhaul

As a principal consultant with Latitude Associates (, I was the project manager for the recent upgrade of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) Website. Certainly Website upgrades are nothing new, nor are they always newsworthy. But I thought this case study was worth sharing in part because of the dramatic increase in orders received by the ACC online store ( The improved Website tallied more sales during the first week of operation than the previous version had generated in a month. Prior to the April relaunch, approximately 30% of ACC’s revenue came from online sales; that number soared to 63%, 82%, and 91% respectively for the first three months after the relaunch.

What ACC did
The Arlington, VA based association for chemical manufacturers had been using a rudimentary Notes-based Web store platform since 1999. That platform offered only limited functionality for selling ACC’s industry-related publications and merchandise. Furthermore, the initial support contract had long expired, leaving the site without technical assistance or the possibility for enhancement.

But last year ACC began redesigning its Web presence as part of a three-year multimillion-dollar public education campaign called Essential2. This educational campaign was developed to increase public awareness of chemistry’s contribution to economic growth, safety, health, innovation, and life. An upgraded online store was an integral part of the campaign.

“ACC needed a more-sophisticated site that offered both customers and the council greater control of the Web shopping experience,” explains Lucinda Schofer, ACC’s director of marketing. Working with developers from Syscom, ACC developed a new online store using the Storefront e-commerce platform.

New functionality in Storefront created a more user-friendly environment that allowed customers to create their own logins, track order histories and shipments, and instantly download electronic publications. The platform also enables ACC to charge custom shipping rates for international orders and to include a “tell a friend” function.

The initial step in implementing the new software was experimenting with design options for the navigational scheme, the product pages, and the checkout process. Next came weighing alternatives for the placement of elements such as the shopping cart and the search function. We also identified required software customizations involving unique pricing and shipping situations.

Once the site structure was created, a database transfer between the original developers and Syscom took place. Text and graphic placements were tweaked, and site testing began. ACC established an account with VeriSign so that it could receive immediate credit-card authorizations for electronic publication downloads. Test orders were also placed and processed through Professional Mailing & Distribution Services (PMDS), ACC’s third-party fulfillment house.

ACC manages the store database and accesses sales reports through an Internet-based administrative tool. This complete control over Web content allows for immediate updating of products including descriptions, graphics, promotion codes, cross-sell items, fulfillment options, and third-party advertisements. Sales reports provide real-time revenue totals, with discounts, taxes, and shipping broken out as separate line items. Most- and least-popular products are also listed. Reports can be parsed daily, weekly, monthly, or for a user-specified time frame.

Some of the spike in sales that ACC has seen can be attributed to promotional e-mail, direct mail, and telemarketing. But sales also resulted from customers finding the site through other sources such as search engines, word of mouth, and links. The next step for ACC will be to work with its search-marketing firm, NSI Partners, to maximizing search-marketing opportunities for the store. It also plans to increase the number of links to its site by partnering with other chemical-industry sites.

Lessons learned
So what can other small businesses with limited inhouse technical support learn from ACC’s experience? If you are losing revenue due to outdated e-commerce technology there is a solution:

• Find an IT firm that understands your business requirements and online functional needs.

• Select a software package that is familiar to the developers and that requires only minimal customization.

• Develop an implementation timeline that allows for unforeseen problems– because they will occur.

• Include all inhouse departments and third-party vendors affected by the e-commerce process, including marketing, finance, and fulfillment, in the testing phase.

• Finally, arrange for an ongoing support contract with the IT firm to ensure a smooth operation and assistance with future site expansion.

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