New Website is Live - Here’s Why

Posted by Steven

I’ve certainly noticed that as I get older, I like change less. I fight against it, which I think is helpful to maintain perspective, but it gets harder over time. You establish habits, you sink into routines, and any disruption to the “way of doing things” feels more like wasted time and less like progress - a feeling which, certainly, can be true (Twitter -> X, anyone?).

But I think that’s why we see so much tension and judgement around big changes, like YouTube removing the downvote, brands changing their logo, or my Dad having to click a new icon because his printer is too old. It looks like disruption instead of progress because we lack the context for the change and/or the interest in re-learning how to use the tools that we’ve mastered.

So, with our new website going live, I wanted to provide some of that context that is too often missing - because it definitely requires a bit of eCommerce “relearning”.

Local Store, or Steven Learning About APIs

The genesis of the new website actually started with the local store planning that began in 2020. We were discussing how to better implement store memberships and potentially build an app that would seamlessly integrate with accounts stored in our existing database. If you had a local app, for instance, you’d want it to be able to access the stored payment methods, orders, and membership status of those using it.

We knew this would be a big project, so we hired a full time developer to begin laying the ground work in anticipation of a store launch in 2021 or 2022. Larry came onboard, got caught up over the next few weeks with our current WooCommerce + Wordpress architecture, and came back with a brutally honest assessment of what needed to happen.

The reality is that we would be severely limited if we remained on our current “stack” (I would later google this and find out it was basically all the tools that you’re using to make your website work). All the prebuilt eCommerce providers are particularly slow with integrating the newest trends in web development because they have a massive user base that is, as mentioned above, disrupted by any changes to “how things work”. As such, changes are extremely slow and must be vetted for months if not years before implemented. We’re on their timeline whether we want to be or not.

One such trend is extremely open APIs and platforms that are hyper specialized at one thing. I like to think of it like Plato’s Republic. Instead of having one big system that does everything - email receipts, email newsletters, order placement, order fulfillment, blogs, image management, database management, etc. you use multiple systems that are all ideal for the one thing that they do, and then you allow them to talk to each other easily through API calls.

By doing things this way, you can easily and securely share only the data that is needed when it is needed for each platform to do what it needs to do. Our local app needed access to data that could not easily be shared out of WooCommerce, Shopify, or any of the other prebuilts (on top of a number of other downsides).

So after doing a deep exploration of those platforms, particularly BigCommerce, we decided to go fully custom and build it all from the ground up.

Total Freedom

It’s pretty wild to go from a “this is how it works, here’s what you can customize” to “how do you want everything to work?”. We’ve had to compromise so much on subscription functionality over the years that it’s actually difficult to take that tabula rosa approach. Same with things like checkout flows or shopping pages.

But that freedom really opened us up to a new vision of what our website can be. Examples of this are the removal of product grids - a feature we didn’t really need given our small catalog and focused subscription approach - untying subscription activation from order placement, and providing visual references to subscription release histories. There’s so many things like this that suddenly opened up. It actually gets so big that you have to limit the scope of things or you’ll never launch.

That limited scope is what we’re launching with today, and behind it is months, if not years, of feature requests and improvements that are already set for week over week implementation.

This is an unusual place to be, as the vast majority of store owners will concur. Usually you get one shot to make all your changes, get it quoted out by a third party developer, get it implemented (hopefully well), and then you wait and save up money until you can maybe do it again. To have this spirit of constant improvement that is a big part of our culture finally accessible on the web is, frankly, a new era for Covenant.

Major Changes

While this change was spurred primarily by the way that connections happen behind the scenes, here is a list of the major changes that will impact anyone who is familiar with our old site. Hopefully this helps ease the transition into a “new way” of doing things.

  1. Subscription and Order checkout are separate processes within the same system - previously, you would add a “subscription sign-up” to your cart, along with any other items, and it would all be placed in a single order, with the former being a line item on that order. Now, subscription activation is its own process. If you are activating subscriptions and buying products at the same time, first you’ll activate the subscriptions, then you’ll order the items. It should be a pretty seamless process, but separating these two gives tremendous benefit on our side and removes extraneous subscription sign-ups from order receipts (and the infinite confusion that creates).
  2. All subscriptions use your default shipping and payment information at time of processing - previously, changing your shipping and payment info on subscriptions was tedious and confusing. Now, when you update your defaults they are automatically used for all of your subscriptions.
  3. Release histories have been added to provide a visual reference for subscription timelines - previously, there was no appreciation of the history of a subscription; only a “next release” field. Now, the next charge, processing, and shipped subscription items are visible on the front-end.
  4. How It Works and Purpose sections have been added - previously, these sections didn’t exist. Now, the former gives way more clarity around our policies and will continue to be clarified as needed over time, while the latter gives a lot more context about why we’re here, including a year-over-year history.
  5. Improved email clarity and helpfulness, particularly around failed subscription payments - previously you received one email if a subscription payment failed. Now you’ll receive an email every 24 hours after a failed payment until the 72 hour window closes. Additionally, we’re working in the ability to proactively notify anyone who has an expired card in their account.
  6. Local page now gives the full picture of our progress on 3.0 - previously, we had our old local store page up, even though we’ve been closed since Covid. Now, you can follow along with all the updates and track the progress that we’ve made.

And many more changes waiting to be discovered.

The Future

We’ve gotten through the most difficult part at this point, which is transferring everything to the new database. That encompasses the following:

  • All accounts that have placed an order in the last two years.
  • All active subscriptions.
    • Payment method
    • Shipping address
  • All processing or pending orders
    • Unshipped subscription orders (Champions, Ashes)
    • Pre-orders (Sorcery)
  • All products, images, etc.

Moving forward, we’ll be working on the back-end and front-end improvements that we’ve been dreaming about for years, and will finally be able to take action on the feedback that comes in regarding anything that is confusing or annoying for all of you.

In addition, we’ll be able to build new tools that utilize data points from your Covenant account to make life easier.

We’re going to get some sleep now, but I’ve just got to express how happy we are to still be here and to be creating things that, while never perfect, are a consistent reflection of how much this hobby - and everyone involved - means to us. We’ll keep at it until you force us to stop.

Enjoy the site.

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