Case study - Inghams
Consultancy: website audit, recommendations, and prioritisation
At the start of this year I made a decision to try something new with regards to how I was working. During my first year I’d done mainly long stints with digital agencies, but I wanted to try working directly for more clients that I was personally really interested in, and where I thought I could make a difference.
I started getting in touch with a number of companies, including Inghams, who are one of the UK’s biggest specialist tour operators. They do great business in ski holidays (a subject close to my heart) and I had numerous things that I wanted to speak to them about in terms of improvements to their website. I found an email address for one of their team via a job posting on their website, and sent a message explaining who I was and why I wanted to work with them.
As with a lot of speculative approaches, I didn’t initially hear back. I did follow up, but this kind of silence isn’t unusual. I was however still passionate about the subject matter, and so rather than give up entirely I thought I’d compile a subset of my thoughts into a blog post, where I compared a number of the industry’s competitors.
Inghams fared pretty well in terms of their peers. It was clear that there were improvements to be made, but I could also appreciate that they had made an effort to embrace concepts like responsive design, and that they seemed to be improving in stages (which is much better than waiting 4 years to roll out something that’s instantly out of date):
It was to my great delight that a couple of months later I heard back from Inghams’ eCommerce Manager after all. The company were juggling a number of streams of digital work, and wanted an independent outsider’s perspective to audit their sites as they stood, to come back with recommendations and suggestions, and to help offer a view of prioritisation. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.
For the majority of the contract I was based remotely, which was partly down to geographical practicalities, and partly Ingham’s desire for me to maintain a level of detachment with my review. That said, I work best when I can get to know my clients, so we held an initial all-day kick off meeting at their offices. During this we went through my extensive list of initial questions, I was given an overview of how the website fit into their technical architecture (and what other components are involved), and we discussed the fact that certain developments were already underway. Although I was aiming to maintain an outsider’s perspective, it was vital that I understood all of this – I wanted to validate decisions, but didn’t want to be auditing a system that had already been superseded.
After the kick-off meeting there were a number of things that I requested to review, and I spent a period of time remotely investigating these and carrying out a thorough review of the sites I’d been given access to.
The outcome was a day of presentation back to Group-level senior stakeholders at Inghams’ offices, a report collating all of my information, prioritisation in terms of next steps and focus, as well as useful references and educational links. As they were going through a digital period of change, there were several fundamental suggestions I made with regards to development practice and processes, and my aim was not only to report back on these, but to leave Inghams with some resources for them to learn more about the subjects involved.
Things I covered included the following:
- Company digital strategy and vision
- Sanity check of architecture and technologies
- High-level usability review of site including visibility of current content/structure
- Responsive review of current components/presentation, improvements
- Responsive research/stats/case studies to help inform strategy
- Suggestions for workflow and process changes, including discussing the concept of front-end style guides.
- Booking system review
- Code review using third party tools (no access to source)
- Suggestions for potential new features
- Performance review using third party tools
- Accessibility review using third party tools
- Analytics considerations
- Third party agency deliverables review
- General bug capture
- Summary of action points and prioritisation
Thoughts and learnings
I absolutely loved working on this project, and ended up telling my clients that far too many times throughout the course of the project! This was due to a combination of things – the subject matter is one that excites me, I was working with very savvy people, but also there was great potential. As I mentioned in my blog post on the subject, Inghams were definitely heading in the right direction, and it was really enjoyable to work on something where I felt like I could help make some of the on-going change happen. The travel industry in general has been slow and reluctant to adapt to many changes in digital, and it was great to work with people who were open to so many possibilities. I’m really excited to keep an eye on the site over the coming months and into the ski season to see how it continues to evolve.
I would have loved to have done more work looking at the booking API, seeing whether there was more that could be done with integrations, and maybe creating some little prototypes and working on the codebase directly, but sadly this wasn’t possible at the time. There are also a number of other sites that Inghams have (or are in the pipeline) outside of the main website and booking platform that I’d really enjoy getting my mitts on. In general I’d love to work with the team there again, so hopefully there may be some further opportunities to pair up in the future.
From a business perspective, when chatting to one of the stakeholders it became apparent that my blog post had played a part in them deciding to hire me. According to them, it helped to set me apart from other speculative enquiries. I like to think that it helped to show that I was thinking about the improvements, but balancing them with the inevitable challenges we all have. Some of my comments in the post turned out to be quite insightful, with hindsight! As I mentioned within it, I’m not a huge fan of speculative redesigns or offering unsolicited judgement, but I’m very glad that Inghams took my feedback in the way that it was intended, and gave me the opportunity to build on that by working with them.