In the realm of e-commerce, arts organisations can learn a lot from other industries. By observing how leading consumer brands make buying from them easy, the arts can keep up with audience expectations about online purchases.
That was the thinking behind the website strategy for London’s Bridge Theatre, a 900-seat adaptable auditorium designed for the needs of contemporary audiences that opened in London last autumn (founded by Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr, formerly of the National Theatre).
Productions run for around 12 weeks, creating potentially close to 100 performances of each show to choose from. That’s a long list of dates, times and purchase options to consider, so making it painless for customers to sort through would be crucial.
A complex pathway
Because Spektrix deals with these things every day it’s easy to forget how many variables consumers are confronted with when they purchase tickets online: date, times, price, number of tickets, access needs, type of performance and so on. There is a significant technical and marketing challenge in helping users achieve their optimal purchase mix.
It means creating a purchase pathway that presents users with relevant options, and enough information to keep them moving through the journey – avoiding, for example, customers having to stop mid-transaction to pore over seat maps of multiple performances before finding the seats they want.
They used the Spektrix API to power a user-friendly search tool that provides sophisticated search options. The date picker for example, allows customers to quickly identify the dates with ticket availability most suited to them.
Throughout this project, the team at The Bridge was keen to take advantage of the fact that it was starting from scratch. With no legacy systems to migrate data from, or established processes to re-work, it was free to adopt technology and e-commerce best practice from inside the arts industry and beyond.
Taking inspiration from leading e-commerce sites, such as ASOS and Virgin America, we could help the team intelligently pare back the options available to the user at each stage of their purchase, simplifying what could otherwise be an overwhelming list of choices.
Working with web development agency Substrakt, we provided the configurable back-end technology that enables customers to make purchases easily online. The Bridge uses Spektrix to input data about dates, times and prices, and then sees it automatically updated across the website. From a customer perspective, this approach ensures that the information displayed is always as up-to-date as possible.
Spektrix and our application programming interface (API) are designed to make e-commerce quick and intuitive for end-users, be they staff in the box office or customers making a purchase. Based in the cloud and needing only an internet connection to operate, the system makes integration with venue websites a straightforward technical proposition, while at the back end it captures and correlates audience data from all the places customers interact with the organisation. The Bridge team and Substrakt put the capabilities to work in a number of innovative ways.
The Bridge Theatre website offers a straightforward and seamless booking experience on desktops, tablets and mobile devices, while maintaining the integrity of their brand throughout the booking path. 87% of their tickets are sold online and approximately 47% customers browsing their site on a mobile go on to add tickets to their basket – about 20% higher than the sector average.
In addition, customers with access requirements can complete a simple online form and then book their tickets online. A hub of accessibility information is provided along with tips for optimising the site’s accessibility features in different web browsers.
Another area where the latest e-commerce best practice has been put to use is membership. The Bridge has created three offerings: Advance, Priority and Young Bridge, all with distinct branding. These can be purchased on their own, as gifts, or during a ticket purchase.
Simple but effective benefits like priority notification, and booking and ticket fee exemption are all managed through Spektrix, which allows the team to analyse sign-ups and usage in one place.
Evolving with expectations
Arts organisations are increasingly taking a more strategic and iterative approach to their web projects. As more of them move to this sort of long-term thinking, the underlying e-commerce technology must be able to keep up and evolve with new capabilities that meet changing consumer expectations.
Andrew Leveson, General Manager of the theatre, had this to say: “One of the most exciting aspects of shaping The Bridge has been the ability to step back and take a fresh look at the audience experience as a whole, from the relationship between stage and auditorium to the ease of getting a drink at the interval and the number of ladies’ loos.
“The website was always critical to this – it’s most likely the first point of contact our customers will have with us and a vital opportunity to establish our brand.
“Of course, there are always challenges, and time and budget have meant we still have a long list of instincts and ideas which we can develop as we launch, build our audience and see how customers respond to using the site, but we’re thrilled with where Substrakt and Spektrix have led us.”