#TBT: You Know What Customers Love? Rules

Happy #TBT! Here’s an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim: You Know What Customers Love? Rules.

I understand the reasons that the secondary market gives some venue operators the heebie-jeebies. Any kind of disorder or chaos created by sellers acting badly in the secondary market rolls downhill onto them when the customers who bought tickets from the secondary market actually arrive at the venue.

Most obviously, fraudulently sold tickets are a real bummer. Imagine that a ticket broker sells a phony ticket, gets the money from the buyer and then vanishes. Who’s going to catch three flavors of hell? The poor box office manager at the venue when they tell the customer the ticket won’t scan and they can’t see the show.

(By the way, that’s an argument for only buying your tickets from StubHub, eBay or a broker who can afford to buy an ad somewhere, frankly.)

Anyway, like I said, I understand.

But what I don’t understand is how that reaction often results in policies like the ones described in a Ticket News article [circa 2009]. Here are a couple of key tidbits:

“Fans hoping to purchase Green Day tickets for the upcoming North American tour should be prepared to face purchasing restrictions when public on-sales begin May 8. A number of venues are listing ‘Forced Will Call’ notices, as well as other restrictions, on Ticketmaster event pages for the popular punk rock trio.

… However, for fans hoping to catch the punk rock band’s August 7 performance at New Orleans Arena in New Orleans, LA, might encounter an entirely different problem when purchasing their tickets. As noted on the event page on Ticketmaster, sales for the concert will be geographically restricted.

Only residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, southern Alabama and the Florida panhandle will be able to purchase tickets, based on the billing address of the purchasing credit card. Other would-be attendees can expect their purchases to be ‘canceled without notice and refunds given,’ according to the Ticketmaster notice.”

The Ontario venue seems to have will-call only for just the premium inventory, and that’s probably a reasonable restriction if they know that those are the targets of resale.

But for the New Orleans venue to make everyone — EVERYONE — pick up their tickets at will-call and be restricted from buying tickets with an out-of-state (or out-of-area, I guess) credit card seems a little more inconvenient than necessary.

In the Ontario case, I found this pretty obnoxious, too:

“Purchases are limited to four-ticket blocks and attendees must present the purchasing credit card, order confirmation number, and a photo ID. Upon being issued tickets, the holders will then immediately be ushered into the venue and cannot leave.

Patel noted that no exceptions would be made at the doors for the event. She advised, ‘If you are gifting or anticipating an exchange, I would recommend purchasing tickets outside the restricted sections.'”

I have two things to say about this:

First, part of the value of tickets is their liquidity. Let me explain what I mean by that. If I buy a pair of tickets, I know that if I don’t use them I can give them away or possibly sell them, whether formally on the secondary market, or just by handing them over to my buddy at the next cubicle in exchange for a $20 bill or for him buying me lunch.

If that’s not true, all other things being equal, the ticket is worth less to me because I have fewer options for using it. Even giving a ticket away to a friend has value.

To compensate for the loss of these privileges, the ticket, all other things being equal, must be cheaper.

So what I’m saying is that inevitably, these moves, if widely applied, will reduce the value of tickets in these venues.

Second, as a general rule my advice to anybody is that if you’re creating a bunch of rules for customers as a way to fix YOUR problems, you took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

Let’s take as a given that the resale of tickets is a problem for venues. By creating restrictions and inconveniences for all your customers, you’ve taken a private problem (dealing with the occasional mess created by the secondary market) and made it a public one. As we here at Goldstar learned last year, live entertainment suffers a ‘convenience gap’ with things like the movies already, so becoming more draconian is not a good direction to go, because all that can happen is that the gap will widen.

You may not think customers react viscerally to rules, but they do. They’ll see that you took advantage of your opportunity to push them around, and they’ll remember it. You won’t be building up good will. Is there such a thing as building up bad will? Well, tell customers what to do for too long, and you’ll find out.

Besides, isn’t there a creative way around this problem? One thing that a software engineer friend told me a long time ago has always stuck with me: What’s underneath is complex; what the customer sees is simple.

In other words, any business has problems and sources of complexity, but it’s that business’s job to mask the complexity for the customer, presenting him or her instead with simplicity.

And this sure isn’t that.

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