The People’s dorms
This year we were invited to collaborate with The People’s Summit; they needed a hand with some technology and we were happy to help! Our biggest job was building a custom system for their application and registration process. One of the smaller things we did was help them stand up a quick online store for conference attendees to book rooms. With over 4,000 people in attendance—and many needing financial help—having some less expensive (or free) places to stay was crucial. The dorms cost people roughly $32/night where the average hotel in downtown Chicago is about $240/night, making attendance at the conference possible for many more people.
We really want to applaud the staff for prioritizing accessibility instead of profit, especially considering their goal of supporting grassroots groups and community leaders and getting people ready to run for local office.
The case for Shopify
Given the turnaround time and the flexibility of the platform we decided to build the site on Shopify. It’s got some distinct advantages:
- Shopify themes are built on liquid.
- Liquid is open source.
- The dashboard is easy to work with and quick to hand over to clients once the site is ready.
- Shopify support is fantastic! They’re responsive, helpful, and easy to get in touch with.
A while back, after building a few different stores on their platform, we decided to become a Shopify affiliate. This gives us special advantage to keep a store in development mode longer, have more flexibility with the code files, and provide our clients additional support with their websites.
In the end, we were able to get the site up in just under 10 hours which was good considering we were only tasked with getting the site ready a week and a half before the conference. That included searching for images to put on the site, setting up and testing the payment gateway, and customizing the CSS/styling. There aren’t many (if any) ways to build a reliable, mobile-ready ecommerce site faster for less.
Where it fell short
Even though the site itself worked great and people were able to book their rooms, we heard that a big pain point was the post-booking experience. Once folks had paid for their rooms they were pretty confused about which building they were staying in and how they would get there. It was a perfect example of what we tell clients all the time:
some things just can’t be fixed with technology
Because the People’s Summit team was hustling to pull things together at the last minute, it was a herculean task to get everything perfect in such a short time. That’s always the case with a big conference. If we had more lead time we’d have been able to collaborate more closely with the staff and think through some of the finer points in logistics and work them into the solution.
Though there were a few hiccups in the overall process, people seemed to be able to get a good night’s rest for cheap and really take in all the activities at the conference. A big thanks to the staff for pulling it off and making sure people were taken care of!