True Stories: Website racing ahead at Punchestown

26 Jan 2004

Despite the 19th century origins of Punchestown Racecourse, near Naas in Co Kildare, the racecourse has fully embraced 21st century technology with its new website featuring full e-commerce facilities provided by web development company Strata3.

Janet Williamson is public relations and promotions manager at Punchestown. When she joined the organisation in January 2003 she inherited a website that was significantly out of date. “The girl who did it had left the company several months before I arrived,” she recalls. “It had been created in Dreamweaver and I had no idea how to change it nor did anyone else here.”

The initial decision was made to take the site down and Punchestown’s internet service provider was asked to put up a standard ‘Under Construction’ page while the racecourse looked around for a solution to their problem.

Eventually it was agreed to put the matter out to tender and after an extensive process, web development company Strata3 was chosen. Strata was founded in 1998 and markets three products: Publisher, a content management system; Vendor, an e-commerce solution; and Entwine, an application to manage online marketing campaigns.

At present, Punchestown is using only Publisher and Vendor but is looking at the possibility of using Entwine before the end of this year. Each year, over 80,000 people visit the course for the four-day National Hunt Festival in April and many more attend the frequent race meetings. The facility is run by a permanent staff of 11 people with an additional 70 part-time workers who are taken on for specialist tasks around race time.

According to Williamson, Strata3 was chosen because of the ease of use of its products. “The navigation of Publisher, for instance, is very simple,” she says. “I can have a holistic view of the entire site and I can rearrange information as needed.” The dynamic site map that allows her to do this is similar to the Explore function in Windows. Pages are represented as icons that can be moved up or down the hierarchy of the site’s structure.

For creating content, Williamson uses the secure management console. This allows her to create headers, set language options and entire content either through a built-in WYSIWYG editor or in HTML code. However, this is not something she plans to do. “I’m computer literate but I’m not a techie,” she says.

As a result, Williamson can update the site on a daily basis with news of upcoming meetings, results of previous races or revised forecasts of the ‘going’ depending on the weather.

Publisher also offers search engines for both the site and archives and Williamson can view reports of the most and least popular search terms. Based on this information, she can fine tune the site so that the most requested content can be accessed easily.

Strata3 Vendor is also quite straightforward to use. “We offer three products via the website,” she explains. “Admission, race cards (lists of racers and runners) and annual membership. We plan to add parking permits and we are looking at the possibility of using the site to take restaurant bookings.”

In addition to providing the Vendor package, Strata3 carried out some bespoke development to allow the same system to be used by racecourse staff for taking phone orders and by online customers. “We can enter a code to indicate that this is a phone order and we are expecting a cheque,” says Williamson.

First-time customers are invited to register and are given a user ID and a password so that on subsequent visits they do not have to re-key their address information. Credit card information, however, must be provided each time. Once registered, they can select the products they want, whether they want them available for collection or sent by regular or registered post.

They are then invited to enter credit card details. Payment authentication is carried out by Realex, a Co Dublin-based real-time payment exchange company. In addition to processing payment, Realex is able to carry out additional checks to verify that the card being used is authentic.

Transactions are classified as incomplete, where the purchaser abandoned the process; completed successfully where Realex was able to authenticate payment; completion failed where Realex rejected the payment; and fulfilled. Vendor provides detailed reports on each of these categories at the click of a button. Fulfilment is done manually and links on the completed successfully page automatically generate labels and reclassify entries as fulfilled.

Williamson has no doubts that she has made the right choice and is encouraged by the activity reports that show a steady upward trend in both visitors and online sales. “You have to have a website in this day and age. We are delighted with the success of the Strata3 products and we think that we will achieve a return on our investment within 12 months.”

By David Stewart

Pictured from left: Janet Williamson, public relations and promotion manager of Punchestown Racecourse, and Jane Brady, sales manager, of Strata3 with the new e-business system