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  1. #1
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    Scotweb Contest - you'll like this prize!

    CONTEST NOW OPEN - SEE BELOW!

    --

    First, many thanks to the X Marks mods for the real honour of making us their inaugural featured Vendor. As we're not just retailers, but kilt enthusiasts ourselves who take real pride in doing all we can to promote and preserve Scotland's authentic traditions. Our boast of offering the world's largest range of tartan products is based on not only being able to produce any tartan to order in short lengths, but also in having producers able to affordably make up practically anything that can be made from tartan, from cufflinks to bedding, teddy bears to... you name it. So we're just delighted to be a part of this wonderful community...

    ... and now we'd like to give something back! To help launch this new X Marks initiative with a bang, we've decided to give away a unique prize that we hope will have many of you salivating. The prize will be a top quality hand-sewn traditional eight yard kilt, made to measure for you in ANY (non copyright) tartan pattern - including our woven-to-order range of thousands of tartans recorded by the Scottish Tartans Authority but not generally in production, made by our artisan weavers. You can even design your own tartan if you like, and we'll produce it for you! So it's literally true when we say this prize is unique. :-)

    Want to know how to win it? Read on. It's a level playing field for everyone, however expert or new to the game. But first, here's why...

    For years we've been mostly known here as the Kilt Store. That's because until now we've chosen to market our huge range of products under multiple umbrellas, to help anyone with specialist interests find what they're looking for. So we've also had Bagpipe Store, Celtic Store, and a couple of dozen other identities. But the company has always been Scotweb. And this has sometimes caused confusion. So we've decided that from now on that will be our main name.

    You may notice our banner at the top of this page which links to the special X Marks discount has recently changed. This is part of a root-and-branch redesign that we'll be rolling out over the next few months. This isn't just about design, but we're producing an all-new site from the ground up - faster, more efficient, with lots more features. And we'd like you guys to be the very first to get a sneak-peek at it...

    I'm going to post a special link here some time very soon. This will show you our Development site. (Please note - it's not live yet, and you can't enter the contest until it is, so please do not send us feedback on our current site!) The new site is not all working yet, and it will keep improving over the coming weeks. For example, right now you can't even Check Out on it, but that will come soon. It's a work-in-progress.

    But we'd like your help! We've really valued the feedback on our amazing tartan finder and other things we've had over the years. So we'd like to invite you to take a look at it, and give us your feedback. This could be anything from criticisms about layout being unclear, to ideas for features we might not have thought of... or anything else we might not have thought of. I say it's a level playing field because I know some posters on these forums work in the web biz themselves. But I also know that sometimes the most naive observations are the most helpful, and novice web users are often the best testers. So just tell us what you think!

    The prize will be awarded soon after the end of May, and we'll give it to the entrant who we judge to have made the most useful contribution or contributions. This might be one incredibly simple and obvious observation that's simply escaped us, or it might be a bunch of micro-criticisms that help us resolve lots of bugs. We're deliberately leaving that open. And to ensure that the judging is free of bias, I'll mostly leave the decision to our wonderful tech team, who don't hang out on X Marks and so won't know a Moderator from a Newbie. It's all in the value of the feedback. Fair enough?

    I'd also ask that all entries are submitted via a special email address: <competition@scotweb.co.uk>. We'd ask that people DO NOT post their comments here while the competition is running, again to ensure a level playing field. But if there are any questions about the rules, prize, or other aspects of this contest, I'd be glad to answer them here so everyone can see the replies.

    Watch this space for the test site address soon... again, please don't enter comments on the current live site! Any questions?

    And thanks again to all concerned for this opportunity!
    Last edited by Nick Fiddes; 15th May 08 at 04:18 PM. Reason: emphasising that the competition is not open yet!

  2. #2
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    Okay, here's a bit of background about Scotweb. It occurs to me that this may be helpful to anyone entering our (imminent) competition, since understanding our goals and values may well help with interpreting the new site and suggesting relevant improvements. So there's perhaps an incentive to read this...

    We launched in 1995, before most people had even heard of the interweb. One of our favourite claims is that we were Scotland's first secure ecommerce company, because we were the first Scottish company to buy a secure certificate for online transactions. I think this matters, as the fact we did this long before most people knew online security would be an issue shows (a) that we care about doing things right, and not just seeming to; and (b) that robust security is important to us.

    As the name suggests, Scotweb's mission has always been to bring the best of Scottish goods and services to the wider world. My own background, as it happens, was in the academic world - Social Anthropology to be precise. How I came to start designing web sites is another story. But, again, this background I feel has helped us in several ways. Firstly, one particular seminar by a postgrad initially made me aware of just how huge Scotland's cultural heritage is internationally, but at the same time oddly invisible, meaning the web is ideal as a uniting force. (Think of how many US cities have a Chinatown, and Irish, Italian, Polish, etc. etc. areas... but you rarely find a Scots ghetto... we just spread out and got on with the business of prospering.) Academia also gave me a good training in 'doing it right'. And Anthropology taught me a lot about communicating between cultures, which is curiously useful in what we do, 'representing' Scottishness to others with greater or lesser immersion in our traditions.

    For the first few years we worked in partnership with real-world retailers whom we cherry-picked for offering what we thought were the best-of-breed examples of Scottish goods and services. Remember, the web was in its infancy, and no one believed you could sell kilts etc. online. So we developed a unique 'offer'. We'd say to retailers, "we won't charge you a penny upfront - it's our risk". We'd build sites and promote them online, and leave the dispatch side to them, sharing the profits.

    The key here is that unlike most web businesses who'd develop a pretty site, charge a wad, then walk away, we had a real interest in finding what customers liked and doing it well, continually improving the service, removing barriers, and upping our game. We learned a lot! And so usability has always been close to our heart. One of our key design goals with the new site was not just to look good but to work well, obviously, intuitively. This helps our customers, and so helps us sell more! Win win. So all personal experiences where something's not immediate obvious probably means 100 other people have the same problem but don't tell us. So please tell us. The more naive the better! :-)

    We also for these first few years developed a vast free information resource on all sorts of subjects from Scottish recipes to History. Our Robert Burns site (www.robertburns.org) is sadly fossilised but still useful, and is about the last surviving element of this, as it all just became too uncommercially costly to keep up. But it did teach us the value of providing genuinely valuable information.

    In our annus morribilis of 2001 it all went a bit belly up, due to the triple whammy of the dotcom crash, 911, and particularly the foot & mouth epidemic in the UK which devastated tourism. Our cashflow went off a cliff, I personally lost stacks of money (at this point, and still for some years to come never having yet taken a penny in payment from the business, it being all about investing for the future) and we did some serious thinking. Basically we resolved to build on what we did well, but cut out the middleman, partly to increase our margins, but also to be able to improve service standards in ways that we were finding some of our partner-suppliers a little frustrating. We wanted to be known for exemplary experience both in terms of product quality and service quality, and to guarantee this we needed to bring every aspect of the service in-house.

    Since then, that's what we've been doing. The first couple of years of "new Scotweb" (my partner Adele came on board about this time, and was key to the new direction) was about groundwork. By 2003 we were ready to launch, and spent six months before going live, building a robust technical back-end infrastructure to cope with the complex demands of this business. All our systems are built from the ground-up by ourselves, which was an expensive investment, but gives us the flexibility and reliability we need...

    We have literally thousands of products, produced by hundreds of specialist suppliers. We keep a lot of stuff in stock, but a great deal of what we can do is only possible to make to order (custom sizes x 1000s of fabrics = millions of permutations, for just one garment like a kilt). As I've described in other threads, this is frighteningly complex. A kilt (still, for example) requires fabric to be ordered from a weaving mill (or commissioned for weaving), received by us and checked, sent to one of our kiltmakers with the correct dimensions etc., received back again, combined with other pieces in the order, and sent to the correct address. Sounds simple? Imagine doing this with dozens of orders daily. Then remember that a single kiltmaker working from home can get sick, and forget to tell us. Or a dyestuff can suddenly be in short supply, meaning one colour of thread is unavailable, so a weaving schedule gets delayed, so the fabric doesn't arrive when expected... etc. etc. We are not a just-in-time multinational electronics company. We're dealing with a network of mutually-dependent small suppliers. And we're supplying goods often for time-critical events like weddings! And our customers, reasonably, want to be kept in touch if delays do arise. The fact that we have such high standards of reliability, usually, is testimony to the robust back-end systems we've built.

    And these back-end systems are by no means only technical (though that's important). Our team is, even if I say so myself, simply fabulous. We are very unusual today in how we try to train and nurture our staff. Most high street retailers in Scotland today employ minimum wage travellers who know little about the products. (This isn't about knocking competitors - just describing the facts.) We give all new customer-facing staff a full month's training before they are let loose, plus regular ongoing training, appraisals, support, etc. etc. both on product and service values. I believe this both gives our customers a much better experience, and helps everyone who works with us enjoy their job more than many places, and hopefully feel valuable and valued.

    Our mission, as I've said, has always been about supplying the best range of Scottish products available, anywhere. As soon as we took the decision to provide a full retail service ourselves, it was immediately clear to us that key to this would be tartans. We'd already built a couple of 'tartan finders' for other clients. But now we knew we had to start again from scratch and build the best tartan resource on earth, which we believe we have. This combines every fabric produced by all the main mills, with every tartan recorded by the Scottish Tartans Authority, plus any others we come across, which we can have woven to order in as little as a kilt length, affordably. Our great technical challenge has always been to help experts and novices alike find what they're looking for (whether this is by name, colour, material, etc.) in a user-friendly way, with the right amount of information available, obviously but not in the way. This applies whether you approach the tartan finder via the main finder interface, the site search, or via a product (when you'll be limited to tartans available in that product). Getting this right is key to us, and the latest version you'll see soon is probably our eighth major iteration, and hopefully improvement. So feedback welcome.

    Ditto our Outfit Builder. People (of different experience/expertise) generally value help with being offered suggested outfits for different occasions at different price levels. (And they also like the discounts that a multiple buy outfit enables us to give.) And many people are perfectly happy with the combinations we suggest. Other people, however, prefer to change, remove, or add items to their outfit, whilst still getting that discount (and without being able to remove things down to one item and still get the discount!). We've tried to find the best way to achieve all this in one interface. But doubtless there are things we've not thought of...?

    TO BE CONTINUED...

  3. #3
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    ... CONTINUED...

    This is going on too long, so I'll try to wind up...

    Another major design goal has been to project the quality of what we produce. In recent years, there's been a huge growth in what our local media here calls 'tartan tat'. The notorious Gold Brothers are behind a lot of this. In case you don't know, they're an extended Asian family who started on cheapo market stalls then moved to the high street, and who now have dozens of outlets both on the high street and online, trading through countless fronts like 'Heritage of Scotland' (ha ha), John Morrison, McCalls, the Old Town Weaving Mill, and many more. Their trick is to copy authentic goods and have them made overseas, badly, to undercut the traditional suppliers. I can't tell you how much damage they have done, and continue to do. It's not just the loss of trade and death of indigenous skills. This year's annual Trade Show in Glasgow was practically devoid of innovative products, as traditional producers have now learned that if they invest months of effort in designing successful new products, within weeks they'll be shoddily copied by these people, knocked out by Pakistani or Chinese etc. producers, and sold a few weeks later for a fraction of the price. Tourists don't know the difference. I don't want to make this an extended diatribe. But one design goal is to 'say' the truth, which is that we only offer authentic locally produced goods, from the best producers. We never ever sell imported knock-offs. We want our site to project this, without looking stupidly expensive (which we're not, unless compared with shoddy rubbish).

    Finally, as I referenced earlier, providing information is important, in the right degree of prominence, not to get in the way, but to be easily findable when needed. Colin mentioned my Kilts & Tartan Made Easy e-book (soon to be available on paper) which you'll find a link to in the footer of this message. This is linked all over the site, but not too much? There's also our Frequently Asked Questions, which is being turned into a Knowledge Base (won't be live with the first site you see). There's also product information, with new photography and videos enhancing much of our range for the new site, and hopefully giving enough information needed for a buying decision. But what's missing? What could be clearer? What's too dense? Please tell us!

    Okay, I'm going to leave it there for now. I'm rambling. The new site, I'm still hoping, should go live this week. I've not been into the office for a day or two, as Adele and I are having our first child which could appear any time in the next few weeks, and today I've been buying carpets for the nursery!! But our wonderful tech team is getting on with it, and I'm hugely looking forward to your feedback. Hang in there. Soon. :-)

    Thanks to you all!!

  4. #4
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    CONTEST NOW OPEN !!
    PLEASE READ THIS !


    With apologies for the delay, we can now reveal the first working version of our live test site for review. The link is below. But before entering, please read the following notes...

    1. The main site features are mostly working. But big parts like the Members' Area and the KnowledgeBase are not yet done; several features are not yet implemented, such as pop-up pictures or information, or extra images/videos; lots of bits are still to have their presentation layout tidied up (e.g. reviews); and in a few places there are obvious bugs (such as a big price drop whist choosing a tartan for an Outfit). Please DO NOT yet report bugs that are clearly broken or just not done yet. What we DO really want are suggestions for improvements to our usability or presentation based on what it's meant to be like when finished. This may take some reading between the lines in places! :-) Many of these bugs may indeed be fixed before the end of the month when the competition closes, so you could hold off entering until then.

    2. The site is "live", using our current data, and if you checkout you'll be placing an actual order. So if you want to see the order process through to the Receipt page, please include a clear note to our Retail Team at the Checkout that this is a TEST order for X Marks and it should be ignored. (On the other hand, if you want to place a real order we'll of course be delighted... but you get no extra contest brownie points for this!)

    3. If you haven't yet done so, you may find it helpful to read my intro to this contest at the start of this thread. You will also find helpful information in my brief 'History of Scotweb' above, as that gives clues to our design goals and values.

    4. As mentioned earlier, please DO NOT enter comments on the site here on X Marks (at least until after the contest closes). Entries MUST be by email, to <competition@scotweb.co.uk> where they'll be read and considered by our whole tech team.

    5. The address you want to look at is http://www.scotweb.co.uk/newsite/ :-)

    Any other questions happily answered. Thanks all!!
    Last edited by Nick Fiddes; 15th May 08 at 04:18 PM.

  5. #5
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    Thanks Nick.

    To keep this thread clear, I have moved all the previous comments to another thread, which can be found at http://www.xmarksthescot.com/forum/k...231/index.html

    Good luck to everyone.

  6. #6
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    Heads up - one week to go!

    We've had a few entries already, for which many thanks. (As I've mentioned to a couple of folk, we're not intending to respond to entries in detail until after the contest closes, so simple thanks meanwhile.) But given the early flurry of interest, we're a little surprised there haven't been more yet. This may be a sort of compliment if you're not finding so much to suggest. Or it may be that many of you are leaving it until late, until we've added further improvements as we go along.

    But the relatively small number of entries (and I'm being truthful by the way) does mean that if you get one in with useful stuff to us you have a great chance of winning our rather special prize! Just thought you might like to know this... :-)

  7. #7
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    FINAL ALERT - LAST CHANCE TO ENTER

    Just a wee note to remind everyone that we're accepting entries up until the end of the month (i.e. effectively first thing Monday UK time) so if you're wanting to get a submission in, remember to do so soon!

    Thanks again to those who we've heard from so far. I trust you'll understand our decision not to respond individually until after the contest closes.

    FYI, we're hoping to find time next week to sit down with the whole team and go through the entries, to then be able to decide a winner, which will of course be announced here. If there's a delay, it will quite likely be something to do with our increasingly imminent first child... so please bear with us! :-)

  8. #8
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    Thank you again to Nick and the whole Scotweb team for such an great contest offer and opportunity.

    I think I speak for the whole moderator team and the members here when I say thank you for your continued support and contributions to XmarkstheScot. We are proud to be supported by such a well respected and reputable firm such as Scotweb.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Colin View Post
    Thank you again to Nick and the whole Scotweb team for such an great contest offer and opportunity.

    I think I speak for the whole moderator team and the members here when I say thank you for your continued support and contributions to XmarkstheScot. We are proud to be supported by such a well respected and reputable firm such as Scotweb.
    Very well said Colin. We all most definitely appreciate everything that you do for Xmarks and the Kilted community.

  10. #10
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    Erm... apologies to anyone trying to submit a last-minute contest entry this weekend. But ALL our sites have been offline since late last night, due to an explosive failure (bad enough to knock walls down!) at The Planet (which claims to be the world's largest server farm) where we host some of our key services. It's affecting many thousands of other firms too.

    In the interests of fairness, we'll accept further entries for at least 24 hours AFTER services are fully restored worldwide. We're not sure when this will be yet. We believe our actual servers are unaffected and it's just the power supplies and DNS for them causing problems. Could be hours... or considerably longer.

    Sorry for any nuisance.

    Nick

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