Case Study: Customized WordPress and WooCommerce Dev & Design @ COWM


AUQ was originally asked to design a new website for the Chicago Oriental Wholesale Market (COWMinc). While they already had a site, they wanted to modernize the look and feel while also adding online ordering and extensive client management capabilities, and improving their SEO. After parting ways with their original development partners, they asked AUQ to develop the site, as well. The AUQ team used Figma for the design collaboration, and created a site based on WordPress and WooCommerce with a heavily customized checkout process.

The Client

COWM is a large high volume distributor of food items for Asian restaurants in the Chicago IL area. They provide a full range of food and drink items, as well as food service supplies—everything from packaged noodles to whole ducks to take-out containers.

The Challenge

COWMinc had an existing site. However, the ordering and fulfillment process was entirely manual and telephone-based. They wanted to move as much of the process as possible to their website. So we focused on a few main points of the process to create an ideal experience.

  1. COWMinc wanted a website that would convince new clients to sign up with them, and speed up the ordering process by displaying an online catalog and allowing orders to be placed directly from the site.
  2. WooCommerce had to be heavily customized to work for a situation in which orders could either be collected in person or delivered directly by the company—with each offering different options and granularity for time and date—rather than being shipped by a carrier such as USPS or UPS.
  3. The site needed to include a section where clients could save their commonly ordered items for easier reordering
  4. It had to be optimized for SEO to bring in new clients.
  5. Many sections of the site required a different layout and functionality depending upon whether the site visitor was an existing customer or not.
    • Non-customers were to see only a limited selection of items, as this is a very competitive market. Rather than account management and order tracking abilities, they are presented with calls to action (CTAs) to encourage them to submit their information so that they can be contacted about becoming customers.
    • Logged-in customers, on the other hand, are presented with the full range of available products and are able to place and track their orders from their account area.

As the site would now be the primary interface with their clients, it was imperative that it be extremely reliable and that the information presented always be accurate and up to date. While they were very specific about the design and functionality they wanted, and understood that this would require quite a bit of custom programming to achieve, they wanted to economize on cost and delivery time whenever possible.

The Approach

AUQ began with a series of meetings to determine the client’s precise goals and how to best achieve them. The company knew what their design goals were, and understood the difficulties involved, and were able to formulate and communicate aggressive but realistic objectives which they wanted the site to meet. Unlike many clients, COWMinc was already quite tech-savvy due to having their own in-house technical team. From the beginning, AUQ worked closely with this team to ensure that communication between the groups and systems would be handled in an optimal way.

While their needs could not be met by an off-the shelf solution, a fully custom built site with its attendant high cost and lengthy development schedule was also not required.

AUQ designed and developed a WordPress site using WooCommerce for displaying the available stock. Since COWM is a wholesaler and deals with what are sometimes very large orders of perishable food items, orders have to be verified over the telephone and completed using their internal order processing system, with status changes and order updates sent back to the WordPress site. While the WooCommerce files had to be heavily modified to work with their unique order and fulfillment process, we were able to create a fairly straightforward WordPress site that prioritized speed and usability over flash, with little modification needed to admin area.

For the saved items page, the team chose to modify a third party wishlist plugin that already provided 80% of the desired functionality, so as to reduce the cost and development time compared to creating a completely custom solution.

WooCommerce had to be modified to remove pricing and most of the checkout process, while also allowing for a complex system for scheduling customer pickup appointments and delivery schedules with over 100 variations dependent upon the customer’s location, and then integrated with their internal system. We combined the Cart and Checkout pages to streamline the ordering experience and eliminate wasted effort by their customers.

It was decided that a staged deployment would be the best fit. This allowed the AUQ team to first develop the basic site which could be presented to some of their larger customers, and then add interactive features as the internal processes were put in place to work with them, and they received feedback.

The Outcome

The site has been active for a few months now, after undergoing two major rounds of development. COWM is slowly rolling it out to a progressively larger number of customers every few weeks.

They report that it has proven very popular with their customers. And is driving new signups as well as an optimized workflow for current users.

They are currently gathering feedback before the third and final stage of development commences, at which point SEO will also become a major focus.