ScaleLife is an online hobby shop that specializes in the of making custom designed 1:24th scale aftermarket parts for model builders and enthusiasts alike.
The back story …
ScaleLife was founded and established around mid 2018. In fact, their opening day was on memorial day! So, back in December of 2017, I was approached by the owner of the not yet established ScaleLife business. He wanted to see how much it would run him to get a server up and running, purchase the domain name and get his business started with an online identity and shop.
Being the helpful guy that I am, I decided to spin up a server on my Digitalocean account for him and set him up with a WordPress and WooCommerce solution. This worked out well. I not only showed him how to use it. I let him play with the back-end and get very familiar with it to see if it would fit his workflow. It did!
Fast forward a few weeks and the next thing I know, he had a theme installed, products up on the store, and went live with the site! If you ask me. He didn’t do half bad. Or at least we thought! Truthfully, it turned out to be a technical debt disaster. It got to the point that he wasn’t able to update his site, the WordPress or WooCommerce framework and any updates to any plugins or themes, would break the site.
The amount of technical debt that comes with a user of a product, trying to develop a solution with that product to suite his/her needs (while on a budget; so you know its DIY), can turn out to be quite a daunting task to correct when something goes wrong. And something will go wrong!
How “fixing the website” turned into so much more!
Back in September of 2018 I was approached by the owner of ScaleLife and he asked if I would like to be assigned the task of “fixing the website”. He assured me that there wasn’t much to fix, and to be honest, when I was on their site checking it out, I had to agree. There didn’t look like much needed to be fixed, but under the hood, it was a disaster.
The site looked beautiful and you can tell it was a mobile first design. I actually took a snapshot of the site and preserved it. You can check it out here. Although beautiful, I found version 1.0 to be lacking. As I spent more time on it, finding and fixing both big and small bugs, I decided that there was just too much technical debt. So I started working on a complete redesign of ScaleLife.
Since this was my first project ever for a small business, I decided to go about it Pro Bono. After all, ScaleLife just launched and they were only open for 4 short months and didn’t have much of a budget for their website. So having this on my resume would be awesome and they get the fixes they need for free. It was a no brainier, win-win.
ScaleLife had all the following and all the support around the globe (quite literally), but for some reason, they just weren’t getting the sales they needed. People wanted the products, they just weren’t buying it. This led me to believe that, somehow, there was a mishap in their UI/UX along the way.
Analyzing the problem areas…
When checking out the original design, I loved it. I thought it was neat, intuitive and it honestly just reminded me of a mobile app. It was flashy and vibrant, yet not too much either. It looked like a mobile app. It felt like a mobile app. These very same features are actually what contributed to the overall failure of version 1.0 of the ScaleLife website.
ScaleLife uses WordPress and WooCommerce to get the job done. The theme that they were using, just wasn’t cutting it. Sure, it was woocommerce ready, they even paid for extended support and updates. But for some reason, it just wasn’t working out. The theme needed needed two different “composing” plugins to create a new page and post content on the site and they had to be designed in a certain way, every time, or things would just get all wacky.
Imagine scrolling on a products page and the product image hovers over the menu bar and stays in your way, covering the content of the page as you scroll. Or pressing the menu buttons and randomly getting a response that wasn’t the one you were looking for. The worst part was, you couldn’t reproduce the issues. They would just happen randomly and on random devices. Working fine one day and not so fine the next, just to be working fine again the day after that.
At the very least, it’s safe to say that their theme was broken and just incompatible with their vision. They received constant customer support emails from customers asking about how to create a user account, and even questions like, “how do I checkout and place my order?”
When running and online business with no physical store front, the question of, “how do I checkout?”, should never even be a question. After reviewing all of their issues and taking in some customer feedback. I decided (together with the owner) that re-branding and re-envisioning ScaleLife would be best.
The key points to touch on for the site were: navigation, layout / design and ease of use.
To clean up, or to start fresh? That was our question.
Starting fresh was the only thing I could think of! But, I couldn’t completely undo all of the owners hard work. After all, he already had his site established and in production for around 4 to 5 months and just began making a name for himself. At the time he was getting a minimum of 2k to 3k unique visitors a day, so shutting down the site just wasn’t an option.
After much deliberation, we decided to keep the entire back-end, just clean it up, and do away with the front end. It was inevitable and a complete overhaul was necessary. This allowed us to keep all of the order history, user accounts, affiliate accounts, order history, products, and so much more.
Let’s get this done… In 2 to 3 days!
On Sunday, November 11th, 2018 at approximately 1PM EST (New York) we put ScaleLife.net into “Catalog Mode”. New orders were no longer being accepted. This was not sudden or unexpected for their customers. The fact that the store went into catalog mode, still made the site’s traffic spike by about 137%.
Although we announced the planned downtime and maintenance window, the influx of emails and messages on Facebook and Instagram were both overwhelming and satisfying. Everyone wanted to know when ScaleLife would reopen and why we were down in the first place. We assured the customers it was regular routine maintenance, yet had something completely different in mind (along with the maintenance of course).
This only reassured ScaleLife’s owner that what we were doing was the right move!
Day 1 (Nov 11th): I started in on the clean up of the back-end immediately. Clearing out data from unused plugins, useless metadata, spam accounts, spam data, and a few other bits from the DB. This felt like an all day task. Going over the DB with a fine tooth comb and making sure not to break any relations within the database proved to be a little daunting. But I was able to get it done within 6 hours.
Soon after that, I started looking at the “Multipurpose Shop” theme. A child theme of the “CorporateSource” theme by eDataStyle. We did not need the “Pro” version, the owner was fine with theme as is. He just wanted to change a few things. This led to me making, what I call, a grandchild theme (a child theme of a child theme).
Now I had to learn how to develop and put together a WordPress child theme. Not just tweak and play with code like I normally do. This, unfortunately, took a few hours out of my time to work on the site itself, but paid off in the end, because knowing how WordPress is structured and how it handles themes is every import for security purposes. It was necessary and worth it!
Day 1.5 (Nov 12th): It was time to pull the theme together. From customizing the color pallet, to fixing the small CSS issues inside of the “Multipurpose Shop“, and even adding certain functionalities to the theme that would have came with the Pro theme (free themes always lack something). But we opted to not have to pay for the Pro theme. I can do bug fixes, updates, and feature support, as a part of my contractual obligations to my client, ScaleLife.
Once the grandchild theme was done, I moved back over to the site’s features, services, and functionality. After combing through the data just a few weeks prior, I new what needed to be ripped out and what could stay. ScaleLife originally had a Gift Card service, a “Credits” system, and paid membership accounts. Without getting into too much detail, it was a bit much and I got rid of all of it!
To me, this was all a waste of valuable resources. A wallet system could take the place of their gift card and credit systems. Not to mention, entice greater customer loyalty through invaluable perks and benefits! I brought to ScaleLife, the same wallet system that I have on my site. But, I did this in a very different way than it is done on my site.
Read more about ScaleLife’s wallet system and why we chose to implement this service the way that we did.
With that out of the way, and a reopen deadline of Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 at 1PM EST (New York) time. I had just a few more hours to go. Sleep was needed but there was no time. There was one last bit of clean up to do.
Day 2 (Nov 13th): Its the final stretch, launch time is in a few hours. I have to get all of the content on every page and every product updated. The site’s pages and post content was made up of composer plugin data, and sat inside of ugly shortcodes visible on every page all throughout the website. This would require recreating forms, graphs, graphics, and honestly, most pages in general.
I got to work immediately. A re-brand was in the works. A domain name change was confirmed and finalized. ScaleLife.net would now become, 124ScaleLife.com and a new business model, centered completely around the customer, would be put into place. The sites content needed to be human readable again, so plugin short codes on every page had to go! I focused on making sure every link was properly forwarded to its respective new home. In fact, if you ever find any old ScaleLife.net links lying around on the web, they will still be valid and lead to their respective homes, not only now, but for forever.
We kept this true especially for the ScaleLife Affiliate Program members. Some members have their links established and out. Some have already created QR Codes with their links, NFC chips and even put it on their social media accounts. We didn’t want to have to worry them with changing their affiliate links everywhere across the board. By keeping the domain and forwarding it properly, they can continue to pass around their original link and still get credit for completed sales as if they were passing out their new link.
Time to launch…
With the hard cleanup work finally done, a new and cleaner theme, and bot to mention a whole new business model centered around customer loyalty. I think you’re all set…
Me: That’s it! It all works and it’s ready to go… I think we should launch!
SL: Only if you truly believe it’s ready. I’m ready to reopen.
Me: Boom! *as I press the launch button on my dashboard*
The rest is history
ScaleLife went on to make 902% profit the month of November over October and an average of over 874% overall for every month that they were open prior to that. Their growth in sales has and continues to increase and ScaleLife’s customers continue to enjoy magnificent perks! From the great customer service, to their A1 packaging and products. They genuinely give the best bang for your buck. If you haven’t already, you should read up on that ScaleLife Wallet system and see why their customers love it so much, and check out their blog post for even more details.