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What happens when your ecommerce business stars on TV? Lovehoney shares all

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What happens behind the scenes when an ecommerce business is the subject of an hour-long documentary on Channel 4? Richard Longhurst (@rhlonghurst) reveals what we can learn from the eye of the storm.

by Richard Longhurst

Lovehoney was lucky to be the subject of an hour-long fly-on-the-wall Channel 4 documentary, More Sex Please, We’re British, broadcast on Tuesday evening. If making the programme was a drip-drip of learning about how TV documentaries are made in the digital age (cameraman, soundman, just get on with it), the 24 hours after broadcast was a flash-flood of realisation that the old goggle-box and the shiny interwebs are now inextricably linked.

Here’s what we learned in the busiest 24 hours has ever had.

Within minutes of the show going on air was receiving 10 times the normal traffic for a Tuesday night. When Coco de Mer came on screen about 20 minutes in, there was a 20-fold jump in traffic for

Our servers groaned and strained under the weight, but our chief technical officer Geoff Parkhurst (@geoffparky) was up all night to make sure we survived. We had put up our defences, lengthened caching times and disabled non-mission-critical services, like our forum chat function, but the site was still inaccessible for short periods due to sheer weight of traffic. Only the occasional ad break gave us respite.

We thought we would be OK, but a post-mortem revealed that the load balancer and the SQL server struggled. For a long time. As Matt Curry (@mattycurry), our ecommerce manager tweeted, “The site last night was

like a house party. We’d expected so many people to turn up, but they brought all their mates and trashed the place.” Bottom line: to handle spikes like that, we need double the hardware.

We took an order every few seconds on in the 20 minutes immediately after the show – our fastest ever rate of sales. The day after the night before was our busiest 24 hour sales period ever. We advertised on TV (Channel 4, ITV2, sundry other channels) last October and generated a lot of traffic, but nothing like this volume. But the biggest difference is that the documentary viewers came to buy, not to kick the tyres and go back to their programme.

We planned for a spike in sales so had cancelled all staff holiday this week (sorry guys). Our warehouse manager Sol had organised an extra Royal Mail collection at midday. All was going well until we received a call to tell us the truck making our normal 5pm collection had broken down. Does Royal Mail have a contingency plan with a relief truck standing by? No.

The programme was available for download from The PirateBay 47 minutes after it ended. It was on 4OD 10 minutes earlier, so a decent effort from the torrenters.

More Sex Please, We’re British was the second most talked about topic on Twitter (#moresex) for the most of the duration of the programme. We were trending first nationally, then quickly worldwide. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, though there was an unflattering comparison between the £1,000 masturbation mirror and a shiny kettle lid.

Twitter users really appreciated the good humour and down-to-Earth approach of the Lovehoney staff. I salute them all (the staff and the Twitter users). They could see that we’re not a big corporation that puts up a glossy front – we’re normal people like them, working hard and enjoying ourselves.

We had three customer care staff working an extra-late shift from 10pm till 1am to deal with email and live chat enquiries. It was frantic, not just with new customers placing orders and asking questions, but with people asking how they could apply for jobs. We’re always hiring – please get in touch:

As soon as it was over, it started again on Channel 4+1. The tweeting, the traffic, the orders, the everything – brilliant. And again a day later on 4OD. It is repeated tonight (May 10) on Channel 4 at midnight. This one will run and run so we’ve got to make sure we’re on top of stock levels, customer service, Twitter and other social media – business as usual, then.

A pranker kept phoning the day after the doc to ask for the two-inch condoms, subject of a genuine call in the programme. Marginally less irritating than the cold-callers and chancers asking to speak to “Neal Longhurst” and trying sell us brand consultancy, SEO services and foreign exchange.

The programme had 1.2m viewers, a decent figure for its slot, representing 7% of all people watching telly at the time (twice as many as had watched Facejacker the previous week). The production company behind the documentary are kicking themselves that they didn’t pitch it as a series. But not as hard as we’re going to kick them if they don’t get one.

Richard Longhurst is co-founder and director of Lovehoney

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