LNOF launched back in 1999 and is today one of the UK’s market leaders in Stag and Hen weekends. In 2006 a web development department was formed within Last Night of Freedom to completely rebuild the website and back end systems, this department would eventually branch out on its own and become e-volve.
With increasing sales, there was a need to both re-develop the existing website (through which virtually all sales were generated) and to develop a staff/customers and booking/tour operator system.
Year on year, sales have increased, and LNOF have both moved premises and increased their staffing levels, all as a direct result of increased exposure through search engines. They have currently sold well over 10,000 stag and hen weekends both within the UK and abroad.
In early 2007, we were asked to develop a customer, bookings and staff database and associated administration system.
This was followed in 2007 by an online shop. This shop would sell novelty costumes, accessories, dares, games, masks and t-shirts, as well as many other lines. The shop was launched early in 2008, and has gone from strength to strength.
Project #1: Website
At the beginning of 2006, the current website had pretty much run its course. It had proved to the management of LNOF that selling stag and hen weekends online was a viable business model, and the current staff had huge success converting online enquiries into sales.
Initially, the management at LNOF wished to upgrade the existing site with minor changes, but it had already become large and unmanageable. Therefore, a decision was made to start from scratch with a brand new design, brand new MS SQL database, and a brand new C#.NET web application.
The brief for the new website was simple – to provide as much information as possible to the customer, all in a fun and friendly manner. This was to be achieved by providing hand-written copy based on LNOF’s experience, numerous relevant photographs and genuine customer feedback.
e-volve.co.uk worked closely with the management at LNOF over the initial weeks to design what is the current website layout. The management wanted a website that would be easy to distinguish from competitors. It also had to provide customers with confidence in their products and services, as well as keeping the fun and friendly feel that was present in the old website.
The website is essentially split into two distinct parts, a stag side and a hen side, and because of this, each element of the database had to have 2 distinct versions. Page copy was written with the gender in mind and absolutely no duplicate content exists around the site – just ask Will and Paul (the copywriters) about the hours of fun they had coming up with catchy punchlines and one-line gags!
Once the user selected their given gender, the website then guides them to the location of their choice. Each location was built with numerous elements: weekend packages, night-time packages, a build-your-own function, resources, location history, how to get to the location, an image gallery, location reps, and feedback to name but a few. All of these elements are dynamically generated via the database and administered via the Administration web application (Project #2).
Since LNOF use multiple Tour Operators to fulfil the packages that they sell, each tour operator was added to the system and an associated scheme was linked to the operator and package so that relevant data (such as Terms & Conditions) could be displayed only where appropriate.
LNOF do not sell packages directly via the website, the ultimate goal of the site is to generate a customer enquiry. The customer can enquire from almost every page on the website, and depending on which location they are interested in, the system automatically forwards the enquiry to the relevant sales team member. For example, any enquiry for Riga is passed to the Eastern Europe team and highlighted in their system, whilst any enquiry for the UK is both sent to the UK sales team, as well as automatically being uploaded to the UK Tour Operator’s system. (Sales teams are entered via OWED – the staff/bookings management system (Project #3)). The new enquiry is assigned to a new sales team member on a random basis – however, the system counts the current days enquiries and assigns new enquiries on a fair basis.
A popular facility on the website is the ability to ‘Build Your Own’ package. This gives the customer a better idea of what they can get out of their stag/hen party. Customers can select the accommodation of their choice (should they need it) and any daytime/night-time activities that they would like to participate in. The system then generates an estimated cost, and sends the customer this quote via email. Depending on the system settings – the management at LNOF can either show the price immediately, or they can force contact details to be entered first.
To promote the locations that are available on the website, Top 10 lists are visible from the top navigation, and the right hand navigation. These lists are generated on LNOF’s calculated income for the past 50 days. This provides the customer with an honest assessment of the latest favourite destinations without any bias.
Google Analytics is used to monitor all traffic hitting the website and various goals have been set up to monitor where customers leave the website.
The new www.lastnightoffreedom.co.uk website was launched in January 2007 and sales have increased year on year, with the current record sales week being in February 2010.
Project #2: Admin System
The administration system was developed alongside the main website, and was also launched in February 2007. This system allows the staff at LNOF the ability to add/edit locations, activities, packages, tour operators (including all relevant schemes), special offers, page content, themes, dares, pranks, movies, jobs, flights, hotels, accommodation, extras and affiliates.
The admin system also records all customer enquiries and displays reports showing enquiry data.
Project #3: Accounts and Weekends Management System
With increasing sales, and a subsequent increase in staff numbers, a system was required to deal with both staff (names, personal details, sales) and bookings (customers, tour operators, sales).
In September 2007, e-volve.co.uk were asked to essentially translate an Excel spreadsheet into an online MS SQL, C#.NET web application. This Excel file contained a large amount of data, and a lot of inter-related sheets and cell references, so the new database had to replicate this format.
This system is a hugely important business tool since it contains all booking numerics, staff salary details, sales team commissions (both paid and future), tour operator data, customer details, customer feedback, foreign currency exchange batch information and business reports.
The ultimate goal of the company is to generate bookings. A booking requires a customer (who usually enters the system by way of an enquiry via the website, a location (and therefore an implied Tour Operator), the current Tour Operators commission level, and a staff member).
When a new booking is entered onto the system, some sales figures are generated to monitor the income that we should expect from the booking.
- Booking Gross:£xxxx.xx
- Commission Rate:xx%
- Commission Calculated:£xxx.xx
- Commission Modified:£xxx.xx
- Commission Returned:£x.xx
- Commission Actual:£-x.xx
- Staff Commission Rate:x%Staff First Payment:£x.xx
- Staff Second Payment:£x
At the point of sale the above figures are calculated. Of course, the sales team member can agree a commission figure with the tour operator which is different from what is calculated – if this is the case, they overwrite the commission modified value. This commission modified value is used to generate the staff members’ first payment.
After the event (bearing in mind bookings often change after the initial sale), the tour operator enters the actual booking gross value using the tour operator system (Project #4). This subsequently updates the Commission Returned and the Commission Actual values. The system also updates the staff members’ second payment value to balance with their commission rate using the Commission Actual value.
LNOF then invoice for the commission actual amount at the end of the event month.
The system utilises a Windows Service (Project #6) to automatically notify the customer of the new booking, as well as any marketing emails that LNOF wish to send.
All personnel data, including National Insurance numbers, contact details, holiday entitlements and salary data is held in the system. Each month, the system generates a breakdown of all pay (including expenses and bonuses). In the case of the sales team members, their salary is comprised of a basic wage, plus commission based on the bookings they have sold.
3. Other functionality
The system groups staff members into sales teams, and targets are assigned on a monthly/quarterly/yearly basis. Staff performance is based on achieving these targets (or not), and reports are available to the management highlighting this data.
Locations are also grouped into regions, and staff members are linked to these regions, thus allowing LNOF to monitor region sales.
Staff absence is monitored via OWED along with holiday entitlement.
It is worth noting that LNOF accounts do not run on calendar months, so a complete set of financial year data is imported into the database for each financial year.
Customer feedback is requested by email a few days after the event. All feedback is collected and an administrator checks the comments and scores before displaying the feedback on the website. Any negative feedback is passed onto the relevant sales team manager.
Bookings can use any currency available – the management simply need to enter the currency codes and relevant exchange rates. If a supplier pays LNOF using a foreign currency, the cash is converted into GBP at a regular interval, and an exchange rate batch is entered into the system to enable us to calculate the correct margin for the relevant booking.
Multiple reports were made available to the management at LNOF. These included (amongst others):
- Bookingstime, date sold, event date, staff, location, commission, gross
- Staffabsence, pay, bookings, gross per booking, top sales
- Locationstop sellers, frequency, income etc
- Customersmultiple bookings
- Tour OperatorsVolume, Gross, Net, Income from, payment history, shrinkage
- Sales teamTargets
- FeedbackRankings, comments
Project #4: Tour Operator System
Tour operators can keep track of bookings we place via the tour operator system. Within this system, they have the ability to cancel bookings, and update the booking numerics where necessary. Customer feedback is also displayed for their information.
The tour operator system is essentially a smaller, restricted version of the Last Night of Freedom accounts and weekends management system.
The tour operator system also has an instant messaging style function where LNOF sales staff can correspond with tour operator staff. This is useful when checking prices and availability at the point of sale.
Project #5: Sales Screen Application
This is a small web application that is displayed on the monitors in the sales office. It shows current targets, and sales required to achieve the current targets.
All of the data for this web application is pulled from the OWED database.
Project #6: Windows Service
A windows service is utilised to perform day to day administrative tasks. This includes automatically sending emails, notifying tour operators and cleaning the database.
The windows service is installed on e-volve’s dedicated server.
All of the LNOF websites, windows services, and email accounts are hosted by e-volve on our dedicated server. This enables us to fully configure the individual application to suit.
Project #7: Online shop
In Early 2008, an online shop was launched selling novelty stag and hen costumes, accessories, games, dares and t-shirts.
The management of LNOF had identified a new market that they could easily tap into, and wished to utilise the large volume of traffic that went through the current website. Hence, in late 2007, e-volve.co.uk was asked to develop an online e-commerce shop.
The brief for this particular project was to become the number one online stag and hen novelty shop in the UK. In order to achieve this, a system was required which would allow staff to quickly and easily add new products, or make changes to existing online descriptions and prices.
A new C#.NET web application was built to cater for the shop. This would hold all product/sales/customer/payment details, and some new pages were added to the current website to display the products and the order process.
Products are displayed by way of category on the website. Each product has its own page data, and is ranked by margin made. The customer can purchase the product by way of the category page, or by way of viewing the individual item.
Customer feedback is highlighted to the user, and a stock level is always displayed. When viewing the individual products, other products can be displayed should they be linked via the ‘Also Like’ administration option.
Individual products are also scattered throughout the website (i.e. themes and dares etc), and help LNOF cross-sell their services.
Throughout the website, the top 10 products are displayed in the top navigation and on the right hand side column.
An option to enter the shop is available from the home page, and most other pages on the website.
When a customer adds an item to their cart, the database records the product against the individual session. The user updates their quantities and selects their required postage method, before inputting their personal details and delivery/billing addresses. They can then review their order before adding their payment card details.
Discounts can be applied to the products total should a valid code be entered.
A Google Analytics goal was created to monitor where a customer exits the shopping process. This information provides valuable information regarding where users drop out of the purchase process, and therefore allows us to streamline each step of the users experience to minimise the drop-out.
Google Analytics also allows to monitor our website traffic over different periods, and to easily compare data year on year. Common search terms can be identified, and frequently viewed pages can be highlighted and therefore promoted.
LNOF use SagePay to process their payment card transactions. SagePay offer a variety of services, but in this case, LNOF wanted to keep the customer on their website for the entire order process (some services require the customer to be redirected to a card handler for payment).
e-volve liased directly with SagePay when integrating their services, and have subsequently integrated SagePay into multiple other online payment applications.
In essence, SagePay take the card details, they then go to the card issuing bank for authentication of the cash to be released. If this is successful, they return an authorised response and hence funds will be taken. If authentication fails, a reason is returned and displayed to the customer.
Once payment release is successful, an order is placed.
On completion of the order process, the customer sees an order review screen detailing their unique order number. They are also sent an automated email. Any new (and successful) order is displayed in LNOF’s warehouse on the ‘Orders To Go’ screen.
It was decided to keep the shopping process simple; hence no facility was required to handle customer accounts.
Project #8: Warehouse System
The warehouse system handles all product information (page data, stock levels, margin calculations etc), all supplier details, all order data and all feedback.
Each product can have 2 sets of data (stag and hen) and require all relevant page data, images, categorisation and supplier information to be added.
Products are entered onto the system by way of a product batch. A product batch is essentially a group of products all supplied by the same supplier, linked to a particular invoice. The quantity and line total for each product is entered which equates to a cost per item value. This cost per item value is used to calculate margin throughout the system.
2. Child Products
Attributes can be added to an individual product (e.g. colour or size). Since we only want to display one product and allow the user to choose their required attribute, we link two products together – a parent and a child. The parent only ever is displayed on the website
Categories are required on the website to both reduce the volume of products that are displayed, and more importantly, to provide an easier method for the customer to find what they are looking for.
When a customer is moving through the shopping process, they are asked what postage method is required. Generally this is First Class, Second class etc. Since LNOF wanted the ability to send orders overseas, multiple postage costs were required for individual countries. These are set costs that the customer selects.
An order is comprised of:
- Shipping Information
- SagePay Parameters
- Logistic Status Details
The SagePay parameters determine whether the order is a success, and hence payment will be taken from the customer, and the order enters the ‘Orders To Go’ system.
A new order can be created directly from an existing failed order. This is useful should the customer have had difficulty with the payment process.
A telephone order service is available – a new order can be created by the administrator whilst the customer is on the telephone. In this instance, the payment process bypasses the 3D Authentication process.
Based on the postage requested, the warehouse staff determines the appropriate shipping service and assign this service to the order. In cases where order tracking is available, the customer is notified by email when the order is dispatched.
Currently, LNOF use the courier CityLink to deliver orders. CityLink provided LNOF with some software (XTend) which we had to create an XML output for so that the warehousing staff could automate their end of day.
Multiple types of packaging are included on the system, each of which has an associated cost. A particular packaging method is linked to the order during the fulfilment process.
Any successful order can be refunded. The system can only refund up to the amount of the original transaction. If necessary, stock can be brought back into the warehouse by way of a new product batch (zero cost). When a new refund is created, the administrator is prompted for a reason why.
9. Replacement Items
If a customer requires an item to be replaced, a new order is generated (which bypasses SagePay and has a zero income) and is entered into the fulfilment process. We can replace as many items as required, although each replacement requests a valid reason from the administrator.
Supplier information (company name, address, telephone, primary contact, our account details) is held within the system. Each product is then linked to as many suppliers as required (although each product must have one primary supplier). Products enter the warehouse via a supplier invoice and an associated product batch.
Margin and sales reports were made available at the request of the management team at LNOF
12. Payment Cards
Various types of payment cards are displayed to the user in the shopping process (VISA, Mastercard etc). Since LNOF have direct costs attributed to the processing of each, payment card costing data was inserted into the database. These costs are then used when calculating margin.
Margin is calculated by income or expenditure of the following items:
- Shipping Costs
- Card Charges
- Packaging Costs
- Refund Costs
- SagePay Costs
Project #9: Internal network and Server/PC installation
In mid 2008, LNOF moved into larger offices in Morpeth, Northumberland. These offices required a complete internal network fitting, along with brand new hardware (servers, network switches, routers, PC’s, printers, telephones and televisions). LNOF asked e-volve to procure the equipment and oversee the integration of the hardware.
e-volve have subsequently been contracted by LNOF to provide help and support for the network. This includes diagnosing and dealing with hardware and software problems, buying new hardware/software, and supporting the LNOF websites in Payment Card Industry (PCI) Compliance Testing. E-volve also provide all PAT testing for electrical equipment.
Project #10: Payment Card Industry (PCI) Compliance Testing
In late 2009, the management at LNOF received a letter from HSBC (their business account holders) requesting them to pass Payment Card Industry compliance testing. HSBC’s preferred testing partner is a company called www.securitymetrics.com who scan any particular domain for security vulnerabilities. The reason being that with the growth of online sales comes an increase in online fraud. LNOF do not store customer payment card details, but the management at LNOF still wished to pass this testing – and hence e-volve were asked to look into it.
Essentially, PCI testing requires the domain to be scanned by securitymetrics.com who then highlight any security leaks. These leaks then needed fixing before re-testing.
Security leaks can either be software (validating user input, preventing SQL injection hacking, avoiding the disclosure of detailed error messages) or it can be hardware (firewalling, limiting user accounts, web server configuration, port closing, IP restricting etc).
Since e-volve host all domains for e-volve, it was a relatively easy task to re-configure the IIS web server (although finding the solutions to the problems was problematic to say the least), and all LNOF domains are now fully PCI compliant. All domains are tested on a 3 month cycle.