How Not to Discount: Part IV

Photo created by Jerry Cox,

Photo created by Jerry Cox,

Don’t punish buyers who have come to your venue on a discount ticket.

The fourth way that you shouldn’t do discounting is to do it in such a way that it’s designed to punish the people buying your discount tickets. This is done by, for example, putting them in the last row of the house when other sections are available, making them wait to be seated after the “regular” patrons have been seated or otherwise creating a little reminder that they’re getting less because they paid less.

Imagine if the airlines did that to you. Did you fly full fare the last time you went? Did you pay rack rate last time you stayed at a hotel? If you didn’t, did the hotel go out of its way to put you in a room right next to a busy elevator? Did the airline make you wait until everyone else had boarded before letting you on, or tell you that you couldn’t use the overhead bins?

Of course they didn’t, and you’d have been outraged if they did. After all, if they didn’t want to sell you a ticket at that price, they shouldn’t have sold you a ticket at that price.

I have millions of customers, and every now and then, something like this happens at a venue to which we’ve sold tickets. It’s vexing because we, like all live entertainment marketers, work very hard to get people out of their living rooms and into shows, and then somebody abuses them. This, to me, is an amateur move. When I hear about it (and it’s very rare that it happens), it’s a sign that we’re dealing with people who’ve got something to learn about discounting.

Why do I say this? A discount buyer, if you’re doing it well, is a person sampling your product, someone opening her or himself up to the possibility of a long, beautiful relationship with your organization. Put differently, this is the best shot you’re ever going to get to impress them.

And you’ve chosen to make the petty and profitless point that you think these patrons are second-rate. This makes no sense.

Now, if you’re doing discounting badly (which organizations who deliberately and for no good reason treat a discount buyer as something less than a regular customer tend to do), you’ve basically been recycling your full price customers into discounts for years, and you’re tired of it. By punishing them, you figure you’re showing them the error of their ways, and they’ll come back to the full price fold. I’ll admit this is as least somewhat logical because it’s consistent: You’ve been making a mistake for a long time, and now you’re trying to fix it by making another, equal and opposite mistake.

This business of live entertainment isn’t one that should be arrogant about mistreating patrons. Who are we, Apple? There’s a battle in the minds of entertainment-goers right now that the live entertainment industry could be winning because we’ve got what people want: a rich, real, kinetic, varied, exciting product that truly changes people’s lives for the better. But we could lose that battle because the ushers have been told that the people in the balcony are cheapskates because they paid $35 for a ticket instead of $70.

If you don’t want to sell a ticket at a discount, don’t. If you do sell a ticket at a discount, treat the buyer like every other buyer. It’s not just a question of not being a jerk; it’s a question of whether you’re going to get any long-term value out of your discounting practices. Abuse people, and the answer is no. Treat their visit as a chance to draw them into your core audience, and the answer has a much higher chance of being yes.

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  • Beth Schumann Beth Schumann says:

    Nice post. I agree with your main points. But the cheap shot at Apple seems unnecessary. In my experience they give fantastic customer service. Their competition mistreats customers by providing a sub-standard product.

  • Jim McCarthy Jim McCarthy says:

    Fair enough, Beth. 🙂

  • kjohnson87 says:

    Hi Jim,

    Lots of great info on the new blog! As a Box Office and Marketing Manager who’s worked with Goldstar for years, I would like to counter that sometimes Goldstar patrons punish themselves by being uninformed of the process. Like you, I’m an advocate for ALL patrons; half-price, full-price or free- they turned off the Netflix and took a risk on an event- and should be rewarded for it.

    We’re an assigned seating house, so if individuals purchase tickets then come up and ask to sit together- there’s often nothing we can do at that point, the show is sold out (or close) and seats are already assigned- the end result being the patron is “reminded” of their discount status unnecessarily and likely feels punished to have to sit separately. This same issue comes up repeatedly with seating friends together, aisle seat requests, accessible seating requests. I often find myself informing patrons that they can contact Goldstar to make such requests, but of course at that point it’s too late for that evening. I would love to see Goldstar do more to avoid these awkward seams in the process.


    San Francisco Playhouse

    • Pablo Rojas Pablo Rojas says:

      Hi Kirk,

      In our theater to avoid that situation we dedicate a specific row or section of seating that all of our Goldstar tickets are seated. This allows us the ability to help ticket buyers sit next to each other. We don’t often get patrons who purchase separately for our shows, but as an assigned seat theater this has helped us on the few occasions that it has happened. We assign seats when we get the will-call list, but its also easy in a pinch to ask people to sit one down so two people can sit together especially if you keep an even number of seats that have the same good quality of stage view. If seats are unsold by a certain time we sell them easily as walk-ups to fill in any empties.

      Improv Asylum
      Boston, MA

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