Ecommerce and integration specialist company Solutionists explain how it turned the ambitious idea of an online booking system for Smith & Caughey's Santa experience into a lucrative, innovative and sophisticated technical solution for its Queen St store.
Smith & Caughey’s is a department store selling luxury brands in cosmetics, fashion, apparel and homeware. Its online store launched in August 2013 and since then there have been numerous ecommerce growth opportunities identified and implemented successfully.
In May 2015 the retailer approached Solutionists to discuss an exciting new project. Every year Smith & Caughey’s create a magical world of Christmas at their Queen St store with an enchanted forest that the whole family can enjoy before meeting and getting photos taken with Santa. The Santa experience had been hugely successful in past years. However, a common request was the ability to be able to book a time slot and avoid the sometimes lengthy queues. Smith & Caughey's decided it was time to complement the queuing system with an online booking system.
The brief was to create a versatile online booking system that would need to be able to fulfill the following functions:
The ability to use for events other than Santa bookings in the future
The ability for Smith & Caughey’s to have full control over the creation of new booking events without the requirement of technical assistance
To allow Smith & Caughey’s to manage online bookings on multiple machines and devices
Bookings to be real-time
The ability for Smith & Caughey’s to identify photos by customer
The ability for customers to browse, purchase and download their Santa photos online
Mirror the customer experience on mobile
Booking and photo purchase system to be hosted within existing web store and be able to handle heavy traffic
It soon became apparent that this was going to be a grand undertaking, which had to be up and running in time for Christmas. If this project was going to succeed, decisions had to be made around deliverables to be able to guarantee its completion on time and within budget.
The first step was to evaluate each requirement from the brief, identify key components and create an integrated framework incorporating all elements. These consisted of:
The aim was to develop an easy-to-use booking form with the ability to theme it using merchandising areas. This booking form was divided into logical steps where users would first identify which Smith & Caughey’s store they wished to make a booking for and then select the month, date, number of attendees and preferred time of day.
Depending on these variables, the booking form would present all available time slots with a call to action to book next to each slot. Bookings would be sent through to all connected systems instantaneously to avoid double bookings.
Upon selection of a certain time slot, it would be held for a 15-minute period to allow the user to continue through to the checkout. Solutionists successfully leveraged on the existing checkout but also made some modifications to fit the theme and ensure that the Smith & Caughey’s shopping experience was maintained.
This user interface was also replicated on mobile to accommodate for the ever-increasing mobile traffic.
In-store booking interface
In order for all of Smith & Caughey’s staff to manage online bookings, an admin interface was created. This interface was integrated with the front-end user experience and allowed Santa’s helpers to view bookings live, make changes or cancel them. To ensure that the interface was accessible anywhere and at any time, it was designed to be compatible on a tablet device.
There were many variables to consider along the way and due to the levels of complexity and time constraints, it was important to get it right the first time. As a result the project was approached in a highly collaborative manner.
As each of the components was being developed, it was presented to Smith & Caughey’s at regular work-in-progress meetings. Feedback was encouraged and decisions were made as a team. This meant that once the components were ready for user testing, there were no surprises – the client knew what to expect.
A highly collaborative approach can be daunting, as you run the risk of getting caught up in the details and lose sight of what it is that the project is trying to achieve. However, for an undertaking of this size, it was important to involve the client at each step of the decision making progress.
While each of the components was identified during the extensive planning phase, it was trust in Solutionists’ abilities and its understanding of the requirements that allowed the booking system and its features to evolve throughout the development phase in order to incorporate fresh ideas and create a functional yet future-proof solution.
As the day of launch approached, everything was in place, tested rigorously and ready to go. Despite a few minor hiccups, the customer experience was smooth and the client was confident in using the tools that were implemented. Overall, the project was a huge success. Online bookings sold out before Santa visits in-store even started and Smith & Caughey’s are now looking at expanding their Santa booking offerings for this coming year.