Case Study: E-commerce website from Goods & Services empowers homeowners to 'protect their boundaries'

Case Study by Carey George RGD, Partner and Creative Director, Goods & Services 


Protect Your Boundaries (PYB) is a Toronto-based website and online store that was created in 2014 to help people in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) purchase an existing survey plan of their home (or potential property) in addition to providing a comprehensive source of land-survey information, tools and professional services for residential property owners. 


To begin the process, Goods & Services worked with PYB to create and implement a survey of homeowners from the GTA; our sample of 400+ homeowners revealed that half of the properties had boundary discrepancies that could lead to disputes between neighbours. PYB hypothesized that many GTA homeowners, as well as those buying, selling or renovating, were unaware of these potential disputes and unfamiliar with what their rights and responsibilities would be in the case of a boundary issue.


With these results in hand, we worked with PYB to develop their brand identity and a website that would be both an online store where people could purchase survey plans, and also a resource with a vast amount of information and resources to help homeowners feel empowered to truly protect their boundaries. 


We also created offline assets, including a trade show booth and printed collateral. The timeline for design and development was approximately six months from March to August 2014.



As part of our methodology for designing or redesigning brands, we would normally conduct an audit of the marketplace for similar services to see what kind of language and imagery was already being used. In this case, PYB is the first of its kind both in terms of the technology and breadth of resources that the company offers and the consumer-friendly experience that it provides. Because this was a truly new product, there was no existing marketplace to analyze, which presented both challenges and opportunities.



We presented two potential identities: one that would be an extension of PYB’s parent company brand (a land-surveying firm) and one that would be independent. As we began to understand more about the client, it became clear that an independent brand would make more sense for the company's future business, which could potentially extend to selling survey plans on behalf of other surveyors within the field. For that reason, it made sense to differentiate PYB as its own brand. 


Our first step was to identify how the PYB brand identity would be implemented. By considering all of the various applications, both print and digital (website, social media, OOH, etc.), we ensured the design system we created would allow the final logo, imagery, colours and typefaces to work well in any application. 



Our full in-house resources—strategy, editorial, design, web development, motion graphics and account services teams—were used.



Technical challenges were the greatest hurdles we faced with the development of the e-commerce site. Because this type of service had never been offered before, there was no blueprint to follow for the back-end development. The client wanted to push the boundaries of what was possible, and as a result, the site has truly cutting-edge functionality that was achieved through innovative thinking, experimentation and hard work from our web development team.


One example of our innovative approach to the site was in the development stage. We developed the site using Magento (an open-source e-commerce platform), but needed to 'bend' the platform to fit the requirements of what we wanted to achieve. The new interface needed to be able to search a virtual catalogue of hundreds of thousands of survey plans, in addition to generating the final downloadable product on the fly when the customer makes a purchase. We also integrated Salesforce, which allowed PYB to use the same CRM with their offline and online efforts. Our development team worked with leading experts in the field of geo-informational data to merge land-parcel data and municipal-address registries with electronic survey plans.



An interesting challenge was figuring out a way to present survey plan 'previews' in a way that the average homeowner would be able to understand before making a purchase, while also obscuring the information enough to preserve copyright. We resolved this by writing an algorithm to detect various types of images (for example, a hand-drawn image from a century ago vs. contemporary CAD versions of the plan), and apply an appropriate level of noise to the image. 


Another challenge we faced was that land surveys are a complex topic. To help consumers feel empowered rather than intimidated by this information, part of PYB’s identity included a friendly, icon-driven system to help property owners understand the eight easy steps for using a land survey to protect their investments.


In addition to the online store, PYB was created to be a comprehensive resource for information. To achieve this vision, we created interactive tools such as “How to read a survey plan”, Live Chat and the option to book an appointment with a surveyor directly through the website. Other features included a step-by-step boundary issue resolution process, Toronto Star columns by a property lawyer, a library of glossary terms and an FAQ section.



We also helped PYB to create and implement a social media presence (blogFacebook and Twitter) to increase SEO and drive traffic to the site. With the client managing their own social media presence moving forward, our role here was to advise on the initial strategy and help decide which channels would be most effective. 


We also created a motion-graphics video to explain why homeowners need the service, which was recognized with an Award of Excellence in the 2014 Videographer Awards. 



The client has set measurable and ambitious revenue goals, which are on track to be achieved. Because this is a new product, the client has also identified opportunities to expand beyond its current marketplace.


Designer & Client Takeaways

  1. When launching an innovative product, it’s critical to have a deep understanding of the project’s business and strategy. This understanding allows all members of the team, on both client and agency side, to react quickly and decisively to changes.
  2. When you’re working with experimental technology or a complicated product with aggressive timelines, there’s a natural tendency to try to fast-track some aspects of the project. It takes a lot of discipline to leave ample time for testing. Just because something makes sense to you doesn’t mean it will resonate with your audiences.
  3. When working with multiple stakeholders, it’s important to ensure that roles and responsibilities—on both the agency and client teams—are clear from the outset, and that procedures are in place to keep the project on track and meet deadlines.


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