When I read a post on Marginal Revolution blog about high end stores hiding cash registers in favor of roving sales associates with mobile checkout devices, I immediately wondered if there might be some type of benefit in eliminating or diminishing the physical box office for the arts attendance experience.
As such this is largely an intellectual exercise. I don’t pretend to have thought through all the benefits and repercussions.
Tyler Cowen makes the following observations about the Wall Street Journal article that described this retailing practice. There seemed to be an idea that not having to stand in line was one element that gave online retailers a competitive advantage.
1. Waiting in line is described as “unenlightened.”
2. I enjoyed this remark: “We’re downplaying that last transactional part of the experience…” And this: “”Researchers have identified a concept known as “the pain of paying,” said Ziv Carmon, a professor of marketing at Insead, a business school with campuses in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. “Doing away with the queue and even with the register makes the upcoming pain of paying less salient,” he said.”
3. When customers are not waiting in line but rather having their purchases processed “privately,” salespeople are encouraged to socialize with them and get to know them better. And: “Stores say sales associates are expected to sense when a shopper is ready to pay.”
Positioning staff to socialize with customers and get to know them better is definitely a plus for arts organizations.
I did see a couple factors that would make it difficult to replicate the experience of a retailer.
First, unlike retailers, people are looking to make a purchase the moment they walk through the door at an arts event. On the other hand, the fact that many may have already purchased tickets in advance means that when service reps aren’t busy they can engage patrons in conversation in a manner they couldn’t behind a ticketing desk.
Second, the physical design and experience of performance spaces means a person is likely to have to stand online at some point- getting in/out of the theater, buying food at concessions, getting out of the parking lot.
In terms of benefits for performing arts environments, one of the first applications I thought of was for admission to outdoor music festivals. Since people people often queue up early, roving sales people can allow the people who showed up at 3 am stay at the very head of the line without needing to pass through the box office position.
Multiple delays can be avoided if people are able to purchase tickets while waiting to pass through a security checkpoint, rather than waiting on the ticket line and then the security line, etc.
The other thing I envisioned for arts facilities was having large monitors mounted off to the side and overhead similar to how airports have the flight status boards. That way people can gather around them and view up to the second seating status and discuss where they would like to sit. If they have questions or have made their decision, they can gesture to a sales person hovering at the fringes. (Ideally, the sales person will have read their body language and approached them already.)
When the sales experience is designed in this way, those who know what they want aren’t held up in line behind people who are debating the relative benefits of different seating arrangements. This can also help further physically separate the will-call line from the purchasing line.
It would probably be best for cash sales to occur at a physical box office since staff pocketing thousands of dollars while wandering the lobby is both awkward and a huge security risk. There might be some issues if the wifi signal carrying credit card authorizations wasn’t secure, but on the whole a larger number of cash less transactions and mobility of technology can eliminate the annoyance of yelling through plate glass to buy tickets.
Now, of course, this requires a certain level of technology. In order to sell tickets in this manner, a sales person would have to have access to a small printer they could carry around that printed a sales receipt and slips of paper the purchaser could use for admission. Or a small kiosk/pedestal nearby that they could retrieve the receipt and tickets from.
You wouldn’t necessarily need large monitors mounted in the lobby if the roving ticketing staff could check ticketing status on a tablet computer and point out available seats on it or a printed seating chart.
It also assumes the lobby is large enough to accommodate these sort of activities. On the other hand increased mobility could allow for sales in parts of a small or strangely shaped lobby that a full box office and associated line wouldn’t be able to fit. That in turn might open up the flow of people through the lobby and make the experience more welcoming. (Especially if congestion in the lobby previously force people to stand out in the weather.)
Any insights, inspiration or concerns about this idea?