Hornby Hobbies.

The beginning of a new digital journey for Hornby Hobbies.

Hornby needed someone to support them to redesign the customer experience across their 12 brands and 28 domains to optimise performance and drive the business forward. After investigating the systems they had in place, we quickly realised most of the issues stemmed from the rigid technology. To achieve what was needed from a user experience perspective, we needed to solve that issue first. 

The first phase in the digital roadmap focussed on rebuilding a bespoke and scalable platform that frees them from ongoing licensing fees and a rigid user experience. This enables us to focus on making a real difference from others in their industry and online B2C retail in general.

Key objectives

  • Reduce the barrier of entry by educating users on all brands
  • Create the underlying foundations of a brand community
  • Provide a great customer experience in all areas of the website, not just the shop
  • Provide customers at all levels the support and guidance they need
  • Develop a platform that we can monitor and build upon with as little limitation as possible
  • Reduce the ongoing costs of legacy systems
  • Drive revenue through the websites
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  • Onboarding new hobbyists - exploring new customer segments and, more importantly, engaging with them
  • Maintaining hobbyists at all expertise levels - we needed to start encouraging others to take up the hobby, but also each customer segment has a diverse level of knowledge
  • Creating consistent advanced product information and photography for the 18,000 products across the sites
  • Integrating international brands into the online portfolio - Electrotren, Lima, Rivarossi and Arnold, Jouef (international brands) - as they were badly represented previously.
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Digital strategy

During the Discovery process, the research led us to believe that the brands needed to be separated and prioritised. The data was distorted with sub-brands being tied up in Hornby.com, which meant internally, it was a struggle to validate decisions.

Our approach was to investigate the architecture from each site and analyse the most valuable content from a customer perspective. This was a balance of data and anecdotes from customers, which were extremely valuable.

Armed with this data and our eCommerce experience, we could map out an architecture that worked not only for Hornby but also for all other brands with minimal compromise and development expense. The solution needed to be universal across the 12 brands, so we created a template that would work across each of them and tweaked the visual aesthetic accordingly.

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Having created an IA that can work across all brands, we have developed a visual identity that will do the same. We found a balance that would work across the multiple brands and allowed for variations to portray their unique edge.

Our first task was to ensure we were creating a scalable design system. The Hornby Hobbies portfolio currently stands at 12 brands, all with different colour schemes, and more could be added at any time. That meant our layouts (and, more specifically, the navigation elements)  needed to work with potentially any colour scheme. We worked with ‘hero’ colours, including black, white, red, blue, purple and more, to get the future-proof result we needed.

It was crucial to create enticing banner imagery that would look amazing on all devices. We worked hard to develop the perfect image size ratios for mobile, tablet, and desktop. We did not want to ruin an experience with poorly resized or cropped imagery. We took this further and implemented options that would work for images with complex or plain backgrounds and even options where supporting text could be placed left or right to not obscure the product. And, of course, all these options work seamlessly within the various brands.

As mentioned earlier, we created an architecture that would work across all brands. When a user moves from one brand to another, their experience is instantly one of refreshing familiarity. This ease of use continues through every page, with generous sizing of interactive items (i.e. buttons and form elements), clear messaging and navigation, and of course, beautiful imagery.

User Experience

We flipped the User Experience by enabling the user to Shop by era and collection after discovering that most customers weren’t familiar with specific product branding.

Another area we addressed was search. Our new taxonomy solution means that finding a personalised collection of more relevant products is much more straightforward - customers can even shop by enthusiasm and interest. 

The ‘Advice’ section was introduced to help build a community. With one of our biggest challenges for the brand being engaging new audiences, we needed to create a community to enable people to get into the hobby with a Q&A for new customers and discussions for those most passionate.

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Technical build

We built a bespoke platform using Symfony and used a comprehensive CMS (Concrete5) to manage products, users and forums, with the ability to manage multiple sites across the 12 brands. 

We leveraged third party software Elasticsearch to provide fast response times on search and product listings for thousands of products and Braintree payment gateway to offer four different payment methods, card, PayPal, ApplePay and GooglePay, reducing the friction for purchases and helping drive repeat orders. Avalara was also implemented - a Tax API to handle complex US tax regulations.

As this is a high traffic website with unpredictable workloads, we needed to consider the best ways to ensure stability, resilience and uptimes with growth. With this in mind, we constructed both a horizontal scaling infrastructure utilising Amazon Fargate and a horizontal scaling database utilising Amazon Aurora MySQL 5.7 Serverless. This caters for the influx in traffic for both peak and non-peak periods as well as any particular application-level “behind the scenes” jobs that are run to ensure optimal performance during these times; as a side benefit during periods off-peak, it ensures we also maintain a healthy low and accurate bill.

We’ve also micro serviced with private networking as much as possible to ensure the website only deals with website user traffic. This includes:

  • Elasticsearch - for search
  • Redis - for caching
  • Serverless Lambda functions - for image manipulation
  • Job servers - for running website based application requirements
  • Cloudfront - for quicker content delivery
  • Web Application Firewall - utilising custom rules as well as Fortinet
  • Real-time monitoring all in one place


With RTO and RPO extremely important, everything is wrapped up nicely using an “Infrastructure as Code'' platform called Terraform and Ansible, widely used by leaders in the financial sector, HSBC and Capital One.


The results

In the first full month of trading after launch across Hornby, Scalextric, Airfix & Corgi:


Increase in revenue


Increase in conversion rate (on average)


Increase in transactions 

We worked with Rawnet to completely transform the digital offering across the group. Their process is brilliant - helping us define how to service our customers better and what technologies to use. The results since the launch have been impressive, and we are delighted with what we have achieved together. This is the first phase in a new digital roadmap for us, and we're excited for the roll-out to continue!

Dan Carter Airfix Product Owner Hornby Hobbies