Case Study

The Wirecutter: Product Platform

The Wirecutter is a list of the best gadgets — like cameras and TVs — for people who don’t want to take a lot of time figuring out what to get.

Consider it a Billboard for electronics and everyday things. The point is to make it easier for you to buy some great gear quickly and get on with your life. (via The Wirecutter)

Problem:

The content management system The Wirecutter used internally was not providing enough insight for business and editorial decisions. Checking for out of stock or discontinued products was a manual and burdensome process handled by The Wirecutter’s staff.

Each product review on the site was an isolated piece of content. All product links were directly input into the content, and buy buttons were hard-coded with a reliance on the content producer to correctly format and tag the link. International products were supported by a free plugin that geolocated users and replaced all product links on the site with international versions, which affected page load speed. Reporting was limited to a CSV export of all the buy buttons on each review, with no insight into other recommended products.

Solution:

The site needed a way to separately store products, handle international visitors (with caching) and report on those products with a goal to also reduce the burden on content producers. We designed and built a WordPress plugin to handle these requirements and provide a solid foundation for The Wirecutter to grow on.

Product Tokening

Products became their own post type with related metadata. Products can be related to reviews with a tokening system, that allows producers to insert a token (e.g. %%P1%%) and have it replaced with the correct product link. This allows changes to be made in one place without having to find/replace within reivew content.

Conversion Tools

Since the initial conversion of reviews to the new platform needed to be a manual process, we built tools to ease the migration for products that search the content for existing ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Numbers) and product links and allow one-click replacements.

The existing system for geolocation used a third-party API that was unreliable and slow. It also changed the links on the front-end of the site for each country. As part of the new platform, we implemented custom dedicated links for each product to handle the geolocation and redirects to third party retailers. This enables the content in the review to remain unchanged, but have the dedicated link send visitors to the correct international storefront. The products also support temporary overrides for when a product is out of stock, a replacement can be substituted and visitors to that link can be seamlessly redirected. This helps with analytics as all traffic to a specific product is now consolidated across storefronts.

The site is hosted on WPEngine and we were able to alpha test their new GeoIP solution. We migrated to GeoIP from the third-party API, as it allowed for faster geolocation and caching by country, so we can serve international users as quickly as possible.

Reporting and Alerts

We built reports to show recent price changes, inventory changes and overall product totals by country.

Price and inventory changes are saved to a custom database table to enable additional reports to be built and analyzed in the future.

When the system detects a price or inventory change on a product, an alert is sent to a slack channel monitored by Wirecutter staff, who can quickly take action on the related guide, without having to manually check through pages and pages of products.

Working on this project with The Wirecutter was a highlight for us to be able to improve the editorial and production process for one of our favorite sites on the web. Check out their recent travel guide: The Best Gear for Travel.

Have an interesting and challenging project like this one? We'd love the opportunity to chat with you about it.