Monday, June 06, 2005

How online ticketing changed my life

Well, actually, how it changed my job.

OK, my other job. I moonlight at some theatres around town, running the house before a show. That means I'm the guy who looks for your name on the list, takes you money, and gives you a ticket. Yeah - that's me.

It used to be that I would show up 2 hours before a show, and look at the reservation list. We accepted unpaid reservations that we would honor until 10 minutes before showtime. And while we didn't accept credit cards at the door, we allowed purchase by card over the phone - typically with the information left on the phone. So not only was that inherently insecure (phreaking, anyone?), if it was a busy night, me or the person who worked the afternoon office shift before me had to run anywhere from 5 to 15 credit card purchases on our little machine in the office before we opened the house.

Depending on who was performing, we might also sell tickets to a show via TicketWeb - but that wasn't the theatre's standard policy, so it never became standardized. Typically over half of our show required people to pay at the door - either in cash or check, with the invariable scramble when we reminded people that we didn't take credit cards at the door (we just never had the time to run credit cards while people were in line).

I hadn't worked there in a couple of months, so when I returned to run the door last week, I was pleasantly surprised to see they had switched their entire operation to an online ticketing agency.

The system now requires that if you want to make a reservation, you have to pay in advance. While this is a difference in "methodology" for the regular audience, there apparently has not been a significant negative impact. None, actually, if you go by a co-worker's casual observation. You can also still pay at the door - but my job has changed radically. Anyone with a reservation has already paid - I don't have to run credit cards before a show. In addition, over half the show is paid in advance, so the time it takes to process people through the line is much faster.

It used to be that a sold out show (for a 99-seat theatre) would take 35 minutes to get everyone through the line (including the stragglers at the end) - because most of them still had to pay. My coworker was telling me that now when a show sells out, there is literally no one who pays at the door (i.e. it's sold out online); and they can fill the theatre in 15 minutes, because no time is lost messing with change, checks and "You don't take credit cards?"

Now remember two things:
  • The main affect is improved efficiency in my work. I.e. the shows were selling out before they switched the system - now became easier to handle. The ticketing system did not miraculously increase their overall ticket sales.
  • This improved efficiency is not unique to the specific vendor they used. What has helped the process is the ability to sell tickets in advance online, and have sales reports handy the evening of the show to help the house managers. This is common to many online ticketing agencies.


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