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Screenshot of the Globetrotter website
 

Hamburg-based Globetrotter Ausrüstung GmbH is one of Europe's largest outdoor retailers with adventure shops in eight German cities.

Globetrotter operates a mail-order business since 1984 and introduced ordering using an V.23-based online service (BTX) in 1993. After having been in operation for ten years, Globetrotter replaced their existing e-commerce platform with a custom-built online shop in February 2013.

thePHP.cc designed the system and software architecture and worked with the developers to overhaul the architecture and shop completely in line with the push principle.

The back-story to a major success

It began with a proprietary development whose growth was so intensive that it needed more capacity after 10 years.
There were four major requirements and challenges for the relaunch:

  • Marketing campaigns with strong resonance
  • Modern functionality
  • Appealing user experience
  • Integrating the shop with SAP

After years of working with a self-developed software, Globetrotter decided to use the open source solution Magento – hoping to build a custom shop system based on it. This hope was crushed already in the testing phase.

“We outsourced technical operation of the platform to a provider and ran a system test. We were not at all satisfied with the results: Even with the relatively small number of simulated accesses in the trial run, we would only have achieved satisfactory performance if we had integrated an entire server farm.”, says Gabriele Kayser about the disillusioning test result.

False start with standard solution

As they worked on new functions, the problems and limitations of the Magento standard software became ever more evident. At the same time, the requirements specifications for the shop solution grew in length as new, urgently needed features were added to keep pace with Globetrotter's growth.

With every new feature that was implemented the effort of customizing the standard software's existing code grew.

The restrictions of the standard solution became unmanageable and forced the team around lead developer Sebastian Heuer to completely rethink everything.

Turnabout brings success

Globetrotter and thePHP.cc came into contact with each other as early as 2008, during a PHP training course. But now the open source specialists were brought on board to provide a neutral view of the situation from the outside.

thePHP.cc not only analyzed the starting situation in detail, it also provided new prospects for a solution to the problems that had cropped up. Stefan Priebsch and Arne Blankerts worked with the developers in a live coding workshop to develop a proof of concept that combined a broad range of functions with excellent performance.

Obsolete design slows down online shops

Conventional shop solutions often work according to the pull principle, which means that every request triggers database access, calling up all data that makes up a page over and over again. In the process, even data that has not changed at all is recompiled endlessly. The result is poor performance, despite the enormously high level of computer power behind it. The apparent solution of caching works with stored data that may or may not be recent enough, and using it may cause problems for the online shop.

Push principle delivers excellent performance

The push principle suggested by thePHP.cc does away with redundant work for the server:

  • First, all data with a similar change frequency is grouped.
  • One group includes product descriptions, marketing claims, and static page elements. Another group includes prices, inventory, and availability.
  • Everything that is seldom changed on the site or for a product is statically stored on the server.
  • Only data that changes frequently, such as prices, inventory, available sizes or colors, is incorporated dynamically as needed.
 

Starting fresh with thePHP.cc

The solution impressed Globetrotter. thePHP.cc designed the system and software architecture and worked with the developers to overhaul the architecture and shop completely in line with the push principle.

  • The modular system architecture is based completely on virtualization, and incorporates bleeding-edge technologies such as Nginx and PHP-FPM.
  • thePHP.cc supported the developers as they worked through the voluminous requirements specifications and provided regular guidance through reviews that became a key quality assurance tool.
  • In order to ensure that the ambitious relaunch timeline was followed, thePHP.cc was also retained for project support.

“We specified individual features from the requirements specification and passed it on to the developers with clear instructions for implementation. Success showed us we were on the right track: We got the results we wanted much more quickly.”, explains Globetrotter development head Sebastian Heuer.

Thanks to thePHP.cc, the Globetrotter developer team has undergone a complete shift in the way it thinks and works: The topic of deployment is now a permanent part of development work.

  • New software is transmitted automatically and repeatedly to the test system so that errors can be identified and eliminated as soon as possible.
  • New software is developed in such a way that maintenance windows – meaning a complete shutdown of the shop – are avoided completely.
  • Several versions of the shop are always installed in parallel. Globetrotter decides which one a new visitor to the site will see.
  • Users do not notice if they are switched to a new version during a purchase, because they end their time on the site in the same version that they started in. There are no interruptions, and everything remains in the shopping cart.

"Essentially, the most important thing for us was to make the complexity more manageable, to shift the focus to sustainable solutions, and to give developers a feel for how problems can be prevented."

Stefan Priebsch, thePHP.cc

"Our online shop is Globetrotter's biggest branch – and it was high time we implemented a platform that could support our expansion for the long run. The go-live was successful. We are now working with a truly consistent solution that is boosting sales. Everything functions as we would like it to, and the performance is so incredible that it is sparking the interest of other online providers. Our developers have really learned something from thePHP.cc. That's why we will continue to rely on coaching for our team, along with hands-off guidance for our continued development."

Philipp von Melle, Managing Director Globetrotter GmbH

Key Technical Data

  • Redundant webservers with Nginx
    • SSL/TLS endpoint
    • CDN for images, JavaScript, and CSS
  • Dedicated StoreFront servers running PHP
    • Local Redis server for read access
    • Fast 35ms average processing time per request
    • Free capacity even at peak times and under high load
    • Constant low memory consumption
  • Middleware Server for ERP integration and communication with external services
  • Apache Solr for listings and search
  • Redis Cluster
  • Additional Backend Systems

About Globetrotter

Globetrotter LogoFounded in 1979 by two survival and outdoor specialists, the Hamburg-based Globetrotter Ausrüstung GmbH quickly gained a foothold as the leading specialty shop for expeditions, safaris, survival and trekking. Over the course of 30-plus years, the company grew to become Europe's leading retailer in outdoor sports gear. Now represented by eight adventure stores in major German cities and by its mail-order business, which is based on a catalog (2013 circulation: 700,000) and a website, the company employs a workforce of 1,500 from 60 countries.

Its product range includes more than 35,000 items from 1,000 brands.

In addition to its catalogs, Globetrotter provides a wealth of information through its own Web TV broadcasts at 4-Seasons.TV, through its reiseberichte.com and outdoor.de websites, and on its outdoor community portal 4-Seasons.de.