A Cautionary Tale from the Target.com Redesign

Advertising Age has a cautionary tale about the recent Target.com redesign which calls out some of the many problems that can arise during a large ecommerce project like this.

As I am in the middle of a significant ecommerce website redesign myself, I am always keen to hear about the redesign experiences of other online stores so that I can learn from their best practices and mistakes.

ReadWriteWeb follows up (piles on?) on the AdAge article with their own lessons learned from Target's experience and UserTesting.com highlights user experience issues encountered by their own test subjects with some enlightening videos.

Of all the commentary I've read, AuthorityLabs has a the most scathing post on the redesign — the comment thread in particular is worth reading for the additional detail on many of the problems (although I could do without the ad hominem attacks).

One comment in particular struck a chord with me regarding whether the scope of the project was too big:

This should have started as a platform relaunch without changing the template.

I'm sure there were reasons why this did not happen, but I would certainly agree with the sentiment. Embarking on a 'big bang' redesign that involves a platform change as well as a complete front-end refresh is fraught with risk and (in my opinion) to be avoided wherever possible.

Which is why for the redesign I am currently working on, we are starting with a platform migration (to Magento, if you're interested) with only (fairly) minor design changes to make the site design work on the new platform. Phase two will be a more complete design update, but initially the goal is to safely get off of our existing ecommerce platform (much like Target, who decided to separate from Amazon.com).

Even so, there are many opportunities for us to stumble — from negatively affecting search engine rankings, botching account migrations from one system to the other, employing a new site search, to just having a new site which users will be unfamiliar with.

Putting a complete design overhaul on top of this would be very risky indeed. Even with our limited design goals, there are numerous design issues that need to be resolved — for example, when the new platform offers features that previously did not exist, or when functionality was so poorly implemented on the previous site that it would make no sense to port it over to the new site.

I've been sharing the AdAge article internally, if only to make sure that our stakeholders understand that we should launch when we are ready and not be driven by an arbitrary deadline, no matter how badly we want to move to the new system. We will see if this cautionary tale is heeded.

Posted on: October 9, 2011 | No comments

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