Just The Ticket? E-commerce In The Arts Is Improving, But Slowly


Before the first iPhone, would any of us have thought to buy a theatre ticket on a mobile? Now we expect to do it quickly with a few taps and swipes, wherever we happen to be. And we are not alone. Across my company’s client base we see more than 50 per cent of ticket sales happening online, and that proportion is increasing. Some venues do more than 90 per cent of sales via their digital channels.

Audiences in 2015 are comprised of a huge wave of people who are digital first. They do their food shopping online, pay bills online, stream music and TV from the internet, and increasingly, buy their theatre tickets there as well. Despite these shifts in behaviour, the arts industry is still behind the curve in terms of way we transact with customers. There is too much bad technology, too many bad web sites and a lack of imagination in how we sell. With a few notable exceptions the arts industry as a whole needs to raise its online game.

Make Mobile A Core Part Of Your Selling Strategy

Forget for a moment that online is the least expensive way to sell. I don’t see enough organisations really thinking about the online purchase path in a serious way, or approaching the experience from the perspective of either a customer or a retailer. Obviously what we sell can in fact be more complex than retail – Tesco doesn’t have to worry about reserved seating, limited availability, membership discounts, triggered benefits, multibuys, series and subscriptions.

Technology however means we can’t hide behind complexity as a barrier anymore. The cost of digital is coming down and, at a minimum, theatre and venue websites should be mobile friendly. Your seating plan should absolutely work on a mobile, perhaps with the option of ‘best available’ displayed first for speed and convenience.

Make More Money

More than 90 per cent of tickets purchased last year were for a single performance. So there needs to be a push to drive up the average basket size with multi-bookings and upsells. This is completely the norm in other areas of online purchase, whether you’re buying a book, groceries or booking a flight.

Theatre is expensive enough to be seen by many people as an investment, so upselling takes more than just a visual prompt. Relevance is crucial. If they’re adding a Greek tragedy to the basket, it might not be wise to offer a return booking discount on a family show. And justify why any incremental spend is good value. Why not, for example, remind customers that it can be a bit busy at the bar during interval, so it would be beneficial to pre-book my mid-performance drink?

Make Ticketing A Two-Track Process

Of course there is still the other 50 per cent to think of; those customers who prefer the experience of calling in, or visiting the venue and buying tickets in person. But how do you reconcile the growing horde of digital firsts with the shrinking group of traditional buyers? Embrace the idea of bilateral customer service. Provide customers with the quick, self-service option as well as a full-service option that meets more extensive needs.

Self-service: The self-service option should necessarily be short and sweet; a fast solution for people who know what they want. Digital technologies enable us to make sure the process is incredibly quick and easy to complete. Your system should recognise if they’re coming from a mobile or a laptop/desktop, and surface the best-available option (but with the option to select your own seat).

Full-service: This option is really about making available everything that people need know in order to make a decision, at minimum provide critic and customer reviews; or if the show hasn’t yet gone live, provide reviews for the director, the writer, the actors, or the company’s previous work. Sharing production photos and rehearsal or production videos can round out the picture for a prospective customer.

Make Arts Ticketing Better

Arts organisations can learn a lot by observing how retailers and travel companies have adapted to the digital-first wave. We shouldn’t be afraid to nick good ideas from the commercial sector when they make sense. We should all take a regular look at how Amazon cross-sells you to other products – from the imagery and page layout to the messaging they use to do it.

We should also make it easy for customers to find the event they want, add the ticket to the basket and checkout quickly. Consider how travel companies offer a ‘select your destination & dates widget’ on the homepage, but also give customers the option to find out more.

Finally, arts organisations should use the ticket purchase as an opportunity to really sell the programme, the venue, and the organisation. Tell your story, explain why you need donations, immerse them in your program. Give your customer access to all the info they might need to know, whilst making sure your box office team are fully equipped with quick visibility of customer profiles. In the online realm, the arts industry needs to get better at storytelling–our own stories as cultural organisations and unique providers of the art our customers love.

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Libby Penn is managing director of London-based Spektrix. Libby gets to bring her two greatest loves together – theatre and technology. Managing the UK side of the business, Libby is responsible for sales and growth throughout the UK and Europe, whilst overseeing service delivery and leading the team in the UK. Libby also works with the rest of the management team to formulate the company’s long-term business strategy, and coordinates with the company's North American team to develop a global marketing strategy for the business.