Skoolkit

In order to take full advantage of growing online sales Skoolkit needed a new, upbeat and intuitive website. But more than that, they needed it to talk to their existing stock control system to avoid many hours of wasted duplicate data entry.

The design of the new site was more than we could have hoped for, with clean lines, a very modern feel, and most importantly for us it is very easy to use.
“I have to commend First Option Software for the whole experience from the design right through to implementation. Throughout the whole process we have been listened to and on the day it went live the changeover went very smoothly. The site was up and running in just over an hour with new orders flooding in.
“To sum it all up, we are so pleased that we chose your company, and I would not hesitate in recommending First Option Software to anyone”.

Kieron Davidson, Managing Director Skoolkit

The Brief

To design and build a new website that would bring extra functionality to the online shopping experience, to make numerous improvements and fix many problems, and to integrate Skoolkit’s ordering/cataloguing and stock control software, Fashion Master.

The Background

Skoolkit is one of the UK’s leading independent suppliers of schoolwear, school uniforms and uniforms for Scouts, Guides, Brownies, Cubs, Rainbows and Beavers. Based near Southampton, they have retail stores in Basingstoke, Eastleigh, Fareham, Totton and Havant but more and more have been developing their online capability. The old website, which functioned well and everyone was familiar with, was not ‘broken’ but needed developing to make it fit for purpose for the next five years and to take advantage of the growth in online orders.

FashionMaster

Fashion Master is the software from DGCS which gives the staff at Skoolkit control over their ordering, their stock control and is the database which contains the 6,600-odd images and the many hundreds of different products, with their numerous variations of sizes, colours, styles and so on. The main requirement, and a key to First Option Software winning the contract to develop the new site, was to integrate the Fashion Master database seamlessly with the Skoolkit website, thus saving hours of administration time, laborious manual entering of ordering information from the website into Fashion master and preventing the possibility of errors and inconsistencies. This was achieved by liaising closely with DGCS, Skoolkit’s IT personnel and by using the API required to make the two systems work together. To quote Kieron Davidson, Skoolkit’s MD, “One of the main upgrades to our site was the integration with our stock control system – this has happened seamlessly and all completed by First Option Software. On the day it went live the changeover went very smoothly. The site was up and running in just over an hour with new orders flooding in.”

User Experience

Browsing habits have changed dramatically over the past few years, and certainly have moved on significantly since the original Skoolkit website was developed. Before starting the redesign, First Option Software’s designers studied the existing site in detail to identify its shortfalls and strengths. The new design features a simplified, restructured navigation which avoids dead-ends and ensures that any area of the site can be reached with a minimum of clicks or levels. Clean lines and easy-to-understand illustrations and icons have helped freshen the site and encourage more product browsing. The new Skoolkit website is an example of great software and design working together.  The whole user experience has been stepped up to a new level of enjoyment and interaction rather than a complicated chore, giving both the Skoolkit staff who maintain the site, and their customers who order through it, an intuitive and user-friendly experience. Kieron Davidson says “My wife Claire had a go as soon as it went live and the first thing she said was how simple it was to use, which is what were after.”

Skoolkit website design detail

The Challenges

From the perspective of the people involved ‘at the coal face’, this project presented a fair number of new challenges: The design had to be innovative yet easy to use, complex in its scope but simple in appearance and navigation.

Owen Jones, First Option’s designer, says “The biggest design challenge was making hundreds of similar products easy and enjoyable to find. The solution was found by studying the site meticulously and identifying its shortfalls. The old site relied heavily on lists and featured a very narrow content-area; these two factors alone made the site feel arduous to navigate and specific products were difficult to retrieve. One key design decision was to remove the side bar navigation, despite it having been mentioned as a key feature in previous briefings. It is often the case with redesigning a user interface that removing ‘digital debris’ is far more beneficial than adding more”.

Martin Luscombe, one of the two developers involved with building the website, comments “taking over the existing order processing code and database and completely re-writing the front end without access to the original programmers or any documentation did present a bit of a problem but the original code was reasonably well written. Cris Maule added “it really went very smoothly once I had got my head around the original CMS and was a great project to work on. I’m looking forward to the next phase”.

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