First up – we’re back into the swing of things after the holiday break, and working through the orders that came in while we were away. Everything up to September 12th has been finished and shipped out, and we’re making further inroads into the backlog.

Now to a story (we know you like those). The Brigade website has quite a long history. Initially we operated from a bit of free webspace that one of us had as part of their ISP package, and neither of us can remember the address of that ! It was initially written by the mysterious, now-departed Third Brigadier who had a habit of writing everything in capitals – the website did seem to be SHOUTING AT YOU after a while. Sadly we can’t find any record of this first site, but if we do we’ll be sure to let you see it.

According to Nominet we registered the URL in August 2000 and started operating from there soon after. The oldest entry in the Wayback Machine is for February 2001 – at that point we’d just started taking credit cards via PayPal, but there was no integrated shopping cart (orders still had to be sent by post or email) and things looked rather different:

The shopping cart came in early 2003; we’d just forked out for a rather expensive eCommerce package when Tony realised that he could integrate the PayPal shopping cart into the website with a bit of bespoke code – for free. His software read lists of products from text and CSV files and spat out finished HTML pages (effectively it ran an offline database that was manually uploaded each time an update was needed). And this home-made website has run quite happily for 20-odd years without too many hitches, handling tens of thousands of orders. It’s looking a bit dated now – it still relies on frames, which are rather old-hat as far as web technology goes. When it was written, everyone looked at websites on desktop machines with 640×400 screens (800×600 if you were lucky), so there was no real need to handle different screen resolutions or aspect ratios. Nowadays over 50% of our orders are placed on mobile devices (phones and tablets) with smaller screens of varying resolution and shape (which can change depending on which way up the device is held), none of which our website handles.

So it’s time for a change. PayPal have been gently nagging us to move to their new checkout system, which means we had to make some alterations anyway, and the easiest option was to start from scratch. So we have a brand new, WooCommerce-powered webstore which should work much better on mobile devices and is also more secure (you may have noticed the change to an https:// site a while back). The site also allows you to create an account so that you can track your orders, and is also friendlier in terms of generating order acknowledgements and shipping notifications. It’s all just so much … better.

We’ve also been able to tweak our shipping charges. On the old system, small UK orders were sometimes undercharged while larger ones were overcharged; now we have just two flat rates for large letter and small parcel orders, plus the option for adding a signed-for service. For overseas orders (apart from EU ones, which haven’t changed apart from tweaking some individual country rates) we’re able to more accurately calculate shipping costs using the weight of each item (that was fun, weighing and entering over 3000 products…). Some orders will end up costing more, some less than the old method, but it’ll reflect the actual cost of shipping rather than being a best estimate.

We’ll shortly add redirects from the old website to the new one – otherwise all the links from the blog to products and ranges would instantly be broken ! However, this may not cover every single page so there might still be some missing links. We’re also planning to keep working on the look of the new site over the coming months, and restoring some of the older content that we haven’t yet had time to transfer over.

This is all rather scary – 90% of our income come through the website, so even though the new site has been tested, tweaked, tested again, fixed, tested yet again, it’s still a daunting prospect to switch the old site off and move to a new one. Yes, we’ve taken a backup !! There may be some teething problems (no; make that – there will be some teething problems …) so you may have to bear with us while it all beds in.

So where can you find this spiffy new site ? It’s HERE

Wish us luck…