A digital overhaul to benefit staff and customers
Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club opened in Soho in the 1950s, and since then it’s become a household name — at least, in households that care even a little bit about the British live music scene. The venue’s lively, 7-day-a-week schedule of performances by jazz, soul and funk artists has borne witness to peerless musicians like Prince and Jimi Hendrix. (When we first started work on the project in 2022, we were lucky enough to see George S. Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic perform there. All in the name of research!)
After nearly 15 years, the club’s website was beginning to show its age: not everything worked well on mobile, it was difficult to find information about artists or to book tickets, and the site often became slow or unavailable during periods of high traffic.
But in fact, that customer-facing part of the website was the least of its issues.
The club built the original website when third-party ticketing systems were hard to come by. As a result, all their ticket sales went through a bespoke CMS, which had degraded over time. Key accounting reports were often incorrect, credit notes issued to customers often had the incorrect amount or could be reused multiple times, confirmation emails couldn’t be resent, and so forth. It wasn’t even possible to buy more than one show in a single transaction; sales had to be made one show at a time, order by order.
Ronnie Scott’s approached us to entirely overhaul how they did business online, with a redesigned public-facing website and, more importantly, a brand new, bespoke e-commerce system for selling tickets, memberships and merchandise.
Why we built a bespoke ticketing platform
As part of our discovery process, we spent a great deal of time researching what the club needed its ticketing system to do, and our conclusion was that “ticketing” wasn’t exactly it. Ronnie Scott’s is an old-school venue and seats customers much like a restaurant does, moving tables around between shows and keeping a list of names on the door. That means they don’t have a seating plan you can pick from, they don’t print tickets, and they don't need many of the other fancy features you often find in ticketing systems (like CRM or access control).
Furthermore, the commission structure of off-the-shelf systems would have made a considerable dent in the club’s profits—remember, their previous bespoke system had allowed them to operate commission-free for nearly 15 years.
Essentially, all they needed was an e-commerce system that could sell different items against predefined stock levels.
We could have built a totally bespoke e-commerce system to do that, of course, but that would have meant enormous development overheads. The other issue with building a bespoke e-commerce system was that whatever we built also needed to handle content management for the website, so staff could administer everything–marketing, visitor info, sales and reporting–in the same place. Building a bespoke system that had to manage both ticket sales and content management would have piled on even more complexity.
Instead, we used an existing CMS and e-commerce platform, Craft Commerce, as the engine for the site. That way, all the difficult, behind-the-scenes code was already written for us, keeping the initial build and set up simpler — or more “parsimonious” — and leaving us more time to focus the club’s unique challenges. Craft’s unparalleled flexibility made it easy to layer on extra functionality, solving many of the club’s problems without giant overheads.
Another advantage of this approach was the ease with which we could test and iterate new features. It was easy to get a basic Craft Commerce installation set up quickly so that people could start using it — both admin staff and customers on the front end. Using Craft’s core UI design also constrained our design choices for the back end in a useful way, making it quicker and easier to prototype new ideas — an approach we’ve found invaluable for complex systems like this.
With these early prototypes in hand, we rolled out beta versions of key features, collected feedback, and continued to improve the implementation. This included a private launch of the website to a select group of customers, so that we could get real-world feedback about the new purchase process.
By the time of the public launch, the website's most important functions had already been battle-tested, giving us, and the club, confidence that the new system would perform as planned.
A wealth of new features
So what were some of the great new features we built? We’re glad you asked.
Tickets are not t-shirts
Craft Commerce was designed for physical products, like t-shirts. But tickets behave in odd ways that t-shirts don’t. Ticket inventory expires once a performance has passed. Tickets need to be easily exchangeable between different performance dates. Tickets can change their fundamental qualities over time, too; if it turns out a particular show has much worse sightline issues than normal, suddenly standard tickets become restricted view tickets without affecting the overall inventory, as if a t-shirt magically transformed from a small into a large. For all these reasons, we had to build our own concept of ticket inventory into the site, rather than relying entirely on Commerce’s native stock control.
A better admin interface for offline sales
Because Craft Commerce is ultimately a system for selling on the web, the back end isn’t really designed for users to regularly make sales independent of the website. It’s possible to do this natively, but not easy. So we built a new admin interface for making and managing offline sales — again, particularly around ticketing inventory.
Credit notes without the chaos
When a customer calls the club to cancel a ticket, they’re typically given credit to be used towards a future performance. On their old system, this created endless headaches. Credit notes were essentially just one-time discount codes: customers lost them, they could receive too many by mistake, credit could be shared with other people, and so forth.
Craft Commerce doesn’t have a native credit note functionality, so (again) we built it — now credit notes are locked to the customer account that receives them, and instead of being issued with a discount code, customers can just choose to apply any available credit at checkout, as a payment towards their basket balance.
Gift memberships built around the recipient experience
Membership sales are a big part of the club’s business, but the gift membership process in particular had a number of issues. New gift memberships had to be set up in the recipient’s name from the start, which meant surprise gifts were impossible because the recipient would immediately receive a confirmation email. It also meant recipients had no control over when their membership started.
To improve the experience, we built a completely new membership purchase and validation process — gift memberships are now “reserved” for their recipients to claim via a link sent to the purchaser. This means the purchaser can now choose when to pass on the gift details, and the recipient can set up and manage the membership whenever they choose. The purchaser’s email also includes a printable gift certificate with a QR code to the claim-link, so that the purchaser has something nice to put in a card for the recipient.
Pre-formatted guest lists to save hours of labour every day
On the old system, staff spent a significant amount of time formatting guest lists. Multiple times a day, seven days a week, they would download raw data from the site in CSV format, then clean up the resulting spreadsheet by moving or deleting columns and combining rows. Following that, they printed out the result and manually colour-coded it using highlighter pens, to make it easier for the maitre d’ to quickly find orders on the night. As a process, it worked. But it wasn’t exactly ‘optimal’.
The new system cuts out all this extraneous labour (and opportunity for error) by outputting a perfectly formatted, colour-coded Excel spreadsheet in one click. Ever dedicated to precise requirements, we even matched the hex-codes of the aforementioned highlighter pens, so that now all anyone needs to do is press “print”.
10,000+ tickets sold
Over 10,000 tickets were sold in the first month, with very few issues.
Hundreds of hours saved
Our efficiencies save the team hours of work, seven days a week, adding up to hundreds every year.
Zero commission means the club will reap the rewards of bespoke development for years to come.
Thousands of tickets sold with almost no errors
In the first month after launch, over 7,000 users created an account or logged into the new site, making nearly 5,800 orders for over 10,000 tickets — above the average for a normal month on the old system and a vital stress test of the system’s fortitude.
We’d be lying if we said every single one of those 5,800 orders went through without a hitch, but that’s the nature of iterative web development, and we built in time to address any unexpected post-launch issues. Thanks to our extensive testing nearly 99% of orders completed without fault — and the ones that didn’t were down to relatively minor and infrequent issues, like unusual foreign addresses failing to validate, or multiple discounts applying in the wrong order.
Hundreds of hours of admin saved each year
The all-new staff-facing interface immediately sped up daily tasks, like issuing and honouring credit notes, searching for orders, selling tickets, reporting on income and, of course, producing guest-lists.
Tens of thousands of pounds saved in third-party commission
Bespoke development isn't for the fainthearted. But on balance, Ronnie Scott’s many idiosyncrasies mean they simply don't need many of the features that make third-party commissions bearable. As a result, and thanks to the club's commitment to up-front investment, they will save tens of thousands of pounds (maybe hundreds) over the lifetime of the new platform.
An enduring partnership
Perhaps the best result we could hope for is that the team at Ronnie Scott’s continues to be excited and inspired by our iterative method (and that they don’t regret dismissing an off-the-shelf option). Now they’re using our system day-to-day (and it’s working well), we can continue to improve it, we can develop features that support the club’s unique offering, and we can help sustain the smooth running of this iconic Soho venue.
Ronnie Scott’s asked us if bespoke systems are worth the investment. We answered that with an (educated) emphatic “yes”. If you’re still in doubt, please give us a call.