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Half Price Computer Books

It was a chain of seven retail stores in British Columbia, with serious ambitions about Internet sales.

Founded in 1996, they had recently gotten a new web site (their second build), but the sales were minuscule. As an investment, the site looked like a dud.

They had been willing to live with the first build being a dud. This time around, the CEO was ticked off. He called us, and we had a look.

The thing looked like a quality ecommerce site. Clean, fast graphics, and it was compliant with 97% of browsers. The home page hit us all wrong, though. Too much "about us." Not enough "here's what you want and how to get it."

The CEO asked "How much to rebuild it in one month?" We proposed another concept: "One month? There's no time for a plan. We start carving, and it'll cost what it costs." The CEO was either crazy or smart – he OK'd it, and we dug in.

Looks were definitely deceiving; we mapped over 700 usability and code problems in a week. It was the rebuild from Hell. We cleaned up the top levels as fast as we could, hid the dirt under the carpet, and then rebuilt the lower levels. When we had a navigable architecture in place, we cleaned out the dirt and took the new build live. Total time: 35 days.

Weekly sales instantly increased 800%. They recovered the amount we billed in 10 weeks – out of profits.

Then we handed them the keys and taught them how to drive it. Sales have increased another 85% in four months.

Screen shot

From Jim Heath's famous Business Web Site Pointers:

"When Amazon.com started, it flowed like a powerful current between high banks. You went there to buy books, or find out about books. All the site's skill was bent to help visitors do that.

"Gradually it spread out like the Amazon river delta – books, and everything else. (Or maybe everything else, and books.) Which makes your eyes go out of focus, no matter what the marketing people at Amazon.com might say about their strategy. Ditto for all those other gigantic sites that spread out, and out, and out.

"Here is a bookseller that is a mile deep, and only one inch wide. Half Price Computer Books keeps right to the point (offering you low-cost computer books). As soon as you land there, you breathe gratefully again about the web."

January, 2002 – Heath's review was for the Hastings Research build, pictured above. The site has since been altered significantly, and has almost disappeared from the Web. (We had successfully indexed over 2,500 pages with the search engines.)

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