Client: Handy Distribution

Automatic Price and Stock Updates for Retail Websites

Handy Distribution's Highly Automated Online Catalogue

Handy Distribution is the largest and most well-known garden machinery and spare parts wholesale distributor in the South West of England. Their head office and distribution centre are located in Swindon.

Handy works with many brands supplying machines, parts or both. At the same time, they trade with over 3,000 companies across the country, from large nationwide outlets to small repair workshops. Each of them has individual discounts rates for the different families of products, which the website must cater for.

With the vast range of products and varied commercial agreements, Handy wanted a flexible and reliable technological solution to streamline their sales and delivery processes.


The Challenge

Handy required:

  • An efficient, fast performing, responsive, secure and flexible web solution
  • Automatic and fast hourly updates of prices and stock levels from a feed supplied directly from Handy's back office systems, which contains over 70,000 products. Each stock update results in an emailed report listing products that have been modified
  • Flexible and fast faceted and open search system to allow users to quickly find what they are looking for
  • Streamlined product image handling with automatic resizing and padding to preserve aspect ratio
  • Presentation of complex assemblies where users can browse and purchase the parts contained in them
  • Smooth transition from Handy's previous web platform, including the over 3,000 registered users, with their profile, billing and shipping addresses, discount and tax arrangements, phone number, usernames and passwords
  • Automated feed of orders into Handy's back office systems, ready for processing
  • Automatic daily adjustments of discount rates and tax rules for the different families of products and clients
  • Automatic upload of new users
  • Content audit system to help identify products that are lacking images or descriptions
  • Advanced auto-assessment of payment options made available to shoppers, according to their profile settings

Our Approach

To deliver to this brief, SilverDisc put together a team of database experts, information architects and web developers who worked closely with Handy's commercial, marketing and technical teams to fully understand their history, their processes and their expectations, so that we could build a system that could fulfill their present and future requirements. Given the complexity, it was key for SilverDisc to find excellent, knowledgeable counterparts in the Handy team.

We worked from the bottom up, starting with database design where we could:

  • efficiently keep track of the latest product inventory supplied by Handy
  • allow users to perform efficient search
  • develop flexible and timely reporting systems

Once the inventory database had been designed and validated by Handy's engineers, we started working with Handy's feeds of products and commercial rules. We needed to understand the structure and data in the feed, and make sure this was clean, consistent and complete. Due to the size of the feed - over 70,000 products - we decided to write custom software to run these validations. Once we made sure that the feeds were clean, we worked on the components that would upload the feeds to the database and then apply the hourly updates. We developed differential analysis software to identify the differences between the feeds, so we could focus on updating only the products that presented changes.

We then worked on the user authentication and profiling logic, adapting the content management system to hold all the data necessary for the required functionality. We analysed the database of users from the previous website and could see that it was inconsistent, so flagged this to Handy and asked them to clean the feed before we could import it into the new website.

The next step was the website's logic and search facilities. Initially, we worked with a rudimentary but functional user interface that we could validate with Handy's staff, who knew the search requirements of their end users.

Having validated the functionality, we started working on the presentation tier considering look and feel, branding and mobile usability.

The time came to involve SilverDisc's dedicated system administrators to find a suitable server to host the new website with its underlying database and search facilities, and tune it to ensure the required security and speed, given the volume of traffic.

After having run the new website in parallel with the live one and making sure all systems were consistent, we went live.

The Results

In only five months, Handy made a smooth transition from a dated, inflexible website, to a secure, responsive, resilient and flexible platform where they can manage the content themselves and have automatic hourly stock and price updates. End users can enjoy a slick purchase experience from desktop, tablet or mobile phones, which has resulted in more and better sales for Handy Distribution.

The new platform integrates seamlessly with Handy's back office systems and also with third party platforms using thin API interfaces that are agnostic to data formats and operating systems.

All in all the website has run continuously since March 2016, allowing Handy Distribution to focus on growing their business.

Combining Technical Knowledge with Strong Relationships

The strong relationship between the two companies, as well as SilverDisc’s extensive technical and strategic knowledge, were all contributing factors to the success of this project and ongoing growth for Handy Distribution.

Handy has since been commissioning new functionality and adjustments for their online platform, like the integration with Partsmart eCatalogue, where visitors can select parts not present in Handy's catalogue, and easily add them to their shopping basket. Also, the development of websites for their Webb Garden Power and The Handy brands, which are automatically updated using a subset of the same feed that is used to update the Handy Online website.

SilverDisc and Handy Distribution look forward to continuing with our strong and successful commercial relationship.