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E-commerce App Development

Here’s how we helped one of the UK’s largest and best-loved book retailers stay relevant and profitable by enabling online shopping via their iOS and Android apps.

75k
Monthly active users

300k
Sessions every month

Waterstones App on a Pixel 4 illsutration

Waterstones is one of Britain’s largest book retailers. Founded in 1982, there are now over 280 Waterstones bookshops across the UK. The chain has been focusing on maintaining steady growth since it came under the new ownership of Lynwood Investments in 2011. Since then Waterstones was acquired by Elliott Advisors Ltd , who bought a majority stake in the company in 2018.

Even with strong competition from online giants like Amazon, Waterstones have invested heavily in their high street store experience. They know there needs to be a real draw for customers to visit and purchase in-store, something that clicking a button online just can’t replicate. That’s why Waterstones stores focus on what all passionate book-lovers know: that buying and reading books is something to be savoured and enjoyed.

When they came to us, we were immediately on the same page.

We were tasked with the relaunch of the company’s iOS and Android apps, and we knew it was essential to maintain a strong connection to the physical Waterstones’ stores.

From cover to cover

Waterstones’s goal was to refresh their commercial Android and iOS apps, adding e-commerce capabilities as well as bringing the branding up to date.

Our friends over at UX and UI design agency, Ribot took on the scoping and design challenges of the project. Then it was over to us for the development work, expanding the initial apps for e-commerce to enable their customers to buy books within the app.

From the start of the design process right up to when we were ready to begin building, we collaborated with Ribot to offer project management support and consultancy from a development perspective.

The project was split into seven phases:

  • Research
  • Idea generation design sprint
  • Wireframes of the core customer journey
  • Feature analysis and prioritisation
  • Feature sprints
  • Visual design refresh
  • Design feedback/design changes

The Story with The Data Challenge

The average Waterstones store has around 30,000 individual books on its shelves.

That’s a lot of stock to manage, and it means the database for its apps is vast and complex.

Waterstones’ extensive product database needed to be handled efficiently through Category Pages – so we developed an intuitive system for a complicated category hierarchy which included search functionality.

We also made sure the app enhanced the in-store experience by integrating Waterstones’ ‘My Plus’ loyalty scheme. Using barcode scanning functionality, a loyalty card barcode can now be scanned on a mobile device at the in-store checkout. What’s more, this delivers environmental benefit by replacing the need for plastic loyalty cards.

To deliver the best user experience, we built a component-based app which allows the API to build the content of each screen and enables a dynamic homepage, which is unique to each customer.

The plot thickens...

With three companies banding together to build a significant digital offering, we needed a reliable project management process to keep everything progressing efficiently.

Ribot led the upfront design process, involving us in the initial client workshops. We collaborated on ideas around the app flow and structure, and created wireframes for each screen.

Designs needed to be signed off by Waterstones before we could start developing... which could well have added more twists to the storyline. In order to make sure we all had the best chance of keeping to the project timeline, we made the decision to design and build the app in a modularised way.

Opting for component-based development meant that Waterstones could choose which of the reusable widgets were used on each screen at a later date, using their API to control this, rather than building the app statically, screen by screen.

We worked closely with Ribot at every stage of the project, using Google Hangouts for daily standup calls and communicating regularly over Slack. We also had weekly progress meetings with Waterstones to demo and discuss our collective progress.

Communication needed to be efficient and effective between all three parties so that each of us knew:

  • When designs were ready for review
  • When designs had been signed off
  • When designs were ready for development to mitigate potential blocks

Driving the story

Were proud to have led the way in the following chapters for Waterstones’ iOS and Android app build:

  • Project Management
  • Client Internal Consultancy on Backend
  • Front Development
  • UAT Support
  • Post Launch Support

The next chapter

We’re thrilled that Waterstones have now entered a retainer agreement with us to help them beyond app release with ongoing support.

As dedicated bookworms ourselves (it’s not all about digital here, you know!) we hope we continue to work closely with Waterstones for many many future iterations.

Can we help with your app development?

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