Any successful business prides itself on keeping up with technology – because first impressions count, and because the latest techniques usually mean a better, slicker service for customers. At beauty products company Forever Living Products this was the motivation for investing in a state-of-the-art e-ticketing system for its distributor events.
Forever Living Products (FLP) is a huge international company which specialises in selling wellness and beauty products, made from Aloe Vera plant extract. The business is almost four decades old. Its business model is similar to that of Avon. In the UK and Ireland, some 40,000 distributors (typically individuals selling to friends, neighbours and family members) take its products to market.
Keeping such a vast and dispersed distributor base engaged and productive relies on their attendance at regular company events – where promoters can come together to network, hear about new products, and pick up tips on how to increase sales. In the UK, FLP hosts 10 major events a year, as well as 3-5 smaller training sessions each month. Organising this busy programme is a huge task, and distributors almost always pay to attend the events so that the costs are covered.
Although FLP already had a ticketing system, this was only semi-automated. For each event a team of people had to print out the tickets, stuff envelopes and send out mailings manually by post. For each of the bigger events, which typically attract a couple of thousand distributors, costs in stationery and postage alone were running to around £2,000 a time. On top of this there was the physical administration time.
This manual process also meant that FLP could only sell tickets up to three days before the event, to allow time for tickets to be sent out. All of this, combined with the fact that the company wanted to maintain its professional appearance, drove FLP to invest in a more modern e-ticketing system.
An online event ticket management system. Customers purchase tickets online and are sent tickets with QR codes which are then read on entry gates at the events using an iPhone app.
FLP commissioned DCSL to develop a bespoke e-ticketing system and order processing system. This uses a QR code (2D barcode) as the link between an electronic ticket and the back-end e-purchasing and administration system. At each event, all that’s needed is an Internet connection and a smartphone camera to act as the scanner.
Using standard technologies such as Microsoft ASP.NET and SQL Server 2012, meant the bespoke e-ticketing system could be developed quickly and efficiently and remain compatible with other systems. It needed to be able to take daily data feeds from a master distributor database, for example, so that only the latest customer information is used. It also needed to integrate with a back-end payment processing system. As DCSL is also a Sage Pay partner, this was easily taken care of.
FLP drew up a list of potential technology partners it found on the Internet and invited them to pitch for the project. “DCSL Bespoke Software stood out as the most reasonable and professional,” Foulstone says.
DCSL also offered the most attractive project terms. “The Other suppliers wanted to take a cut of our ticket sales, but DCSL’s model meant we would pay only for the development work after which we’d have full intellectual property rights to the system,” he explains. There would be no licence fees, and FLP would be free to re-use and adapt the bespoke software for future requirements. As one of the aims was to keep costs down, this approach had significant appeal.
FLP awarded the contract to DCSL in June, and needed the finished system to be up and running by the end of the year, ready to support 2014’s event calendar. DCSL drew on its agile development techniques including rapid prototyping to bring the project on quickly. “The spec they developed for us contained a great amount of detail before anything was developed,” Foulstone explains. “At every stage, they kept us very well informed.”
DCSL recommended that, rather than pay over the odds to have a special mobile app developed, FLP could achieve an app-style capability using the web. This approach would involve using a QR code (the modern 2Dbarcode) as the link between the ticket and the back-end e-purchasing and administration system. At each event, all FLP staff would need would be an Internet connection and a smartphone camera to act as the scanner (the scanning capability is provided by a free mobile app from RedLaser). FLP is using Android smart phones to keep costs down, but could have chosen any smart mobile handset
As soon as payment has been processed, an e-ticket is sent to the URL encrypted with all of the details of the purchaser and their ticket. At the reception desk at the event the code is scanned, accessing the FLP web site and registering the individual as being present.
DCSL, which is a Microsoft partner, built the system using Microsoft ASP.NET web development framework and SQL Server 2012 platform. Using these standard technologies meant the bespoke e-ticketing system could be developed quickly and efficiently, with full confidence that it would be compatible with other systems.
Importantly, the new system needed to be able to take daily data feeds from FLP’s main distributor database which is hosted on an IBM AS/400 system – to ensure that the e-ticketing system always uses correct, up-to-date contact and ID information for event attendees. The system also needed to integrate with a back-end payment processing system, to handle ticket payments. As DCSL is also a Sage Pay partner, this was easily taken care of.
We'd definitely use DCSL again. They're very professional, comprehensive and very thorough. We felt comfortable working with them and we're very happy with the results.
Because the DCSL solution doesn’t require any special hardware, scanning devices or mobile app, the new e-ticketing system has been very cost-effective to create and use.
The fact that FLP also has complete freedom to re-use the code means the company has unlimited scope to use it as the basis for other applications, or in other countries. Five months after introducing the UK system FLP rolled out the technology in Ireland, whose IT operations Foulstone also oversees. “It was important to us to retain the intellectual property,” he says. “This made us feel much more at ease and means we can maximise our investment.”
The impact on distributors has been as he’d hoped too. “We’ve been using the new system since the start of the year, as planned, and it makes us look more professional. It shows we’re advancing with technology because we’ve embraced mobile technology and are using QR codes and readers,” he continues.
“It’s also much more convenient for customers, as they get their tickets and confirmation of payment immediately. There’s no risk of tickets being lost in the post, and distributors can now buy tickets right up until the event. This increases our opportunity to fill places, and for last-minute attendees to sign up instead of having to take their chance on the day.”
“We’d definitely use DCSL again, “Foulstone concludes. “They’re very professional, comprehensive and very thorough. We felt very comfortable working with them and we’re very happy with the results.”