“We added online ticketing to our website…so why aren’t more people buying their tickets online?”
This question seems common among certain leaders in museums and visitor-serving organizations (generally, because it’s true). Unfortunately, it also seems to have found a life as a shortsighted, defensive rationale for not investing in web-based platforms to engage visitors. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to these leaders that the market is no dummy – simply deploying online ticketing doesn’t necessarily mean that the market will be inclined to actually use it.
Museum high propensity visitors profile as being “super-connected” with access to the web at home, work and on mobile devices. They use social media and online platforms to make visitation decisions. So why aren’t a vast majority of visitors buying tickets online to most organizations?
Because while you may think that you’re making life easier for your potential visitors by selling tickets online, many organizations actually make the act of purchasing a ticket a more expensive and/or more cumbersome process for their would-be visitors. While it’s inarguably “better” and more efficient for an organization to have the market avail itself of online ticketing, until the benefits of buying tickets online outweigh the costs (in terms of both convenience and currency) most people won’t do it. Here are four common conditions that may create needless barriers to your market purchasing a ticket online:
1) It is impossible (or exceedingly difficult) to purchase tickets via mobile platforms
Mobile web is among the fastest growing communication channels. According to Pew Research, 56% of American adults have a smartphone and 29% of cell owners describe their phone as “something they can’t imagine living without.” 34% of mobile users go online mostly using their phones (as opposed to another device such as a desktop or laptop computer). On top of all this, more than 5 billion people will use mobile phones by 2017. This is all a long way of saying that smartphones play an increasingly critical role in motivating and facilitating museum visitation decisions. If your potential visitors cannot easily purchase tickets on a mobile platform, then you’re missing a critical opportunity to act in your visitors’ interests…and you’re making it hard for them to act in yours.
2) Purchasing tickets online is time consuming, and perhaps more cumbersome than applying for a mortgage
I’m exaggerating…kind of. Have you ever tried to purchase a ticket on your own website? If yours is like the ticket buying interfaces of many visitor-serving organizations, then this is an elaborate, multi-click process that requires digital maneuvering between websites and a seemingly never-ending array of repetitive requests for personal information.
I’ll quote myself from a previous post on the matter: For many organizations, selling admission is a critical component of their financial plans. We live in a world where you can buy an airline ticket from San Francisco to Tokyo on a smartphone in less than 60 seconds, but it frustratingly requires five long minutes to purchase a ticket to some museums on the same device.
Some organizations have entered into long-term agreements with ticketing providers and are apt to shrug their shoulders and excuse their bad practices by saying, “Well, there’s nothing that we can do about online ticketing. We have a contract.” As a reminder: To the market, this is a “you” problem. The market doesn’t know that you’ve signed a contract with a company that doesn’t meet your needs – only that you’re not meeting theirs. (Which is especially strange when you consider that in this situation, their interest is to act in your interest!)
3) It costs more to buy tickets online than at the gate
Speaking of entering into long-term agreements with ticketing providers, many of them take a cut of online ticket sales or require a fee that is, in turn, imposed upon your visitors so that they must (quite literally) pay for your organization’s decision to engage with the ticketing provider. To organizations perhaps less concerned with their customer service standards, this may sound like a problem for the visitor (“Hey, this is what happens if you want to buy tickets online”). Smart organizations, however, realize that such fees present a significant barrier to entry.
Many organizations are very deliberately priced so as to maximize revenue without “leaving money on the table.” The market is very sensitive to pricing. The market reacts differently to a price point of $19.95 than it does to $21.95 – and the fees charged by ticket providers may well exceed the threshold at which your market finds value in your admission price. Organizations that charge additional fees for online transactions may unintentionally undermine their otherwise sound, research-based pricing strategies.
4) Your museum has likely trained people to buy tickets at the door
Thanks to newly designed (or renovated) facilities, improved wayfinding, and efficient entry procedures, visitor-serving organizations have become quite good at enabling hassle-free onsite access…and this relative ease of access also erodes one of the potential incentives of buying a ticket online (i.e. the convenience of buying online as opposed to waiting in line).
Many visitor-serving organizations have actually trained visitors to simply show up with a reasonable expectation of buying a ticket and gaining access to facilities with a minimum amount of wait time. Think about it: If you’ve visited a museum time and again and never encountered a significant wait or been denied access due to a sell-out, would you alter your behavior without reason? Now, add to this learned behavior the various disincentives of higher ticket prices due to online fees and the inconvenience of trying to purchase a ticket on your smartphone, and it is no wonder that some organizations struggle to meet their online sales goals.
The good news? If your organization wants to increase online ticket sales, these conditions are subject to improvement. You absolutely can increase online ticket sales – if you are willing to consider the transaction from the perspective of your audience. The big takeaways: Executing strategic initiatives on online platforms aren’t simple IT functions, and certainly don’t operate on an “if you build it, they will come” basis. Like absolutely everything else related to your organization, if you aim to inspire action online, you must consider overall market perception, behaviors, and incentives.
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About the author
MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore