I wanted to talk about our program of work on Reviews and Advice and the work that the digital team has been doing, with some of our key milestones….
2013 & the beta
We were set a challenge in early 2013 to re-imagine the design of both our product reviews and the accompanying advice content. The goals of the project were:
- to create a completely new look for the section – using the very best user-centred user experience and design techniques
- to attract more new Which? members through this section of the website
- to test our proposed solution with our members using a beta site, eliciting feedback to help with the ongoing product development process
- and in-line with our overall digital strategy, for the new site to be fully responsive – for access on mobile, tablet and desktop
So we spun up a cross-functional project team and had 12 weeks to create a proof of concept. The ideas was to take a ‘slice’ through the whole process, which meant overhauling the editorial processes, re-engineering the back-end architecture and completely redesigning the user interface.
It was clear that we should prioritise the features which help users choose the product they want to purchase
The resulting beta was a fully formed prototype, for one product (televisions) launched in June 2013. Alongside the beta we ran a number of questionnaires and surveys for users so we could see what was working and what wasn’t.
Prioritise knock-out features – but don’t degrade what’s already there
As with any site for subscribers, we continually ask ourselves what do users want and need. Organisationally Which? is concentrating on making the ‘choosing’ part of a consumers purchasing journey as easy as possible, so it was clear that we should prioritise the features which help users choose the product they want to purchase. For us, this took the form of a number of key features:
- extend the coverage of products tested
- add the ability for users to “favourite” products so they can come back to a shortlist later;
- added owner reviews from our partners at Reevoo so users can read what people that have actually bought the product think
- added a price prediction feature so users can tell whether it’s a good time to buy
With each of these features we knew, that even despite user testing we were never going to get them 100% right first time – but the beta would help us here. It meant we would be able to test in a live(ish) environment, gather feedback and make changes before the official go-live.
Rolling out more products into beta
We closely monitored user engagement and feedback of the beta site for about 3 months. All the signs were positive, so we took the decision to push a number of additional products out in this new style (in a category called TV and Home Entertainment), to further test the water and see the impact on traffic and crucially for an organisation based on subscribers, the impact on acquisition. From October 2013 to August 2014 we rolled out a further 8 products in the new reviews style: sound bars, home cinema systems, blu-ray & DVD players, TV & DVD combis, washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers and vacuum cleaners.
Scaling a beta product
By the end of summer 2014 we were confident that this new Reviews experience was working better for our members, and also helping us attract new members to join Which?. However these 9 products were built onto what was essentially a prototype which was not architected to scale and support more products. Each new product took about 6 weeks to migrate into the new Reviews experience, and required developers to write code specifically for each product. With another 150+ products to move into this new experience, we knew we had to go back and re-architect the software to enable us to quickly on-board new products into the new experience, and improve performance and stability of the site with this larger number of products and users.
By October 2014 our software engineering team had reviewed and redesigned the technical architecture of our new Reviews experience, with the goal to deliver a code base that would allow Which?’s content owners and scientific advisers the ability to roll out new products and modify any of its details without developer intervention. Our challenge was then to rebuild the underlying software as quickly as possible so that we could then roll out the rest of our products to the new Reviews experience, as well as further add new features and functionality to the site.
A new Reviews experience, ready to grow
After 8 months of intensive development, we’ve built a robust and scale-able software architecture that can now grow to support as many products and categories that Which? tests now and in the future.
Next for the Which? Digital team on Reviews is to bring back some of the features we tested during the beta that we couldn’t get into this first release of the new architecture, and then continue to evolve and iterate the user experience, so that we can deliver to our members the best guide to choosing products that are right for them.