Case study: quickly create an online booking system for complex events
My experience using the system was excellent. It saved me countless hours.
The club knew it was mess. Every year application forms were emailed to members. They would then print, complete, attach a cheque, put in an envelope and snail mail back – sometime over the following days, weeks or months; if at all. The cheques were banked, except for the odd one that was rejected. The forms were collated and information transposed onto a spreadsheet. This was all shared with the organisers. Everything was slow, nothing was up to date, it took a lot of effort to manage. And it was a huge chore.
The problem with existing online solutions
There are some fantastic online event booking systems (Eventbrite, Trybooking, etc) but none of them was entirely satisfactory. Club events require a lot of additional information and selection choices which these solutions were poor at collecting and collating through a friendly user interface. They all appear to be designed for seat bookings at venues on specified dates, maybe with tiered pricing, and some optional extras. Club events run over several weeks, with competitors scheduling events not seating, and whilst the difference seemed subtle, it wasn’t.
Next we looked at WooCommerce, the leading eCommerce solution for WordPress. It offers a near perfect customer front end solution, but where it fell down was on the back end. We couldn’t find a way to get a simple clean download of all the booking information. Maybe there is a solution out there somewhere, but we just couldn’t find one.
(Relevant aside: plugin developers in general are much better at explaining what their software does rather than what it enables. Checkout Chris Lema’s blog for arguably the best user view of plugin capabilities available.)
Gravity Forms came to the rescue. It’s ability to collect complex information through forms, and make it available for download via a simple csv file for spreadsheet viewing was key. Its payment gateway add-ons gave us a way to collect money.
So we hired some cheap hosting, installed WordPress and a Genesis theme, and built a really basic website containing photos of previous club events, and information about future ones. We opened a standard PayPal account, loaded Gravity Forms and the PayPal add-on, and our new booking system went live. We used the free ‘members’ plugin to provide basic access control and the free ‘Gravity Forms Directories and add-ons’ plugin to display a simple list of bookings to selected people with access.
The system worked a treat for customers, and the administrators loved the speed and ease of downloading all booking details into a spreadsheet. What was missing was a simple dashboard giving an overview of bookings.
GFChart is born!
We built GFChart to provide the missing dashboard capability. It is available as a plug in which extends Gravity Forms to display charts and a counter, with filters. We use it to display a dashboard that tells administrators which events are selling well and where there is an opportunity to invest extra sales effort.
Once the system proved its worth we migrated to professional hosting at wpengine, upgraded the free ‘Gravity Forms Directories and add-ons’ plugin to ‘Gravity View’ and made some other security enhancements. Since then we have continued to develop GFChart, as described elsewhere on this website. The core event booking capability has been rolled out with other clients, and modified for taking club membership payments.
- Bookings form which fronts the dashboard shown above.
- Simple club night sign up form showing public registrations counter.
- Squad booking form.
- Full instructions to build an online event booking system.
- Dashboard for an online training system build almost entirely using GFChart.
Addendum March 2018
Since the original publication of this post, significant additional enhancements of GFChart have taken place that will provide an even better solution for your bookings needs.
See also: Gravity Forms booking overview.
Thanks to the GravityView team for their great tutorial on how to use GFChart with GravityView.