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Is Amazon-Style Ticketing Right for Theatre?

Is an Amazon-style ticketing platform the right thing for theatre and the arts?

Last week, I was at a conference and got chatting to a regular theatre-goer who proclaimed, ‘I wish there was just one place I could buy all my tickets from...I’d love to type in my budget, the dates I have in mind, and be able to browse what is available.’ As consumers, this is the sort of service we’re becoming increasingly used to; getting everything we want quickly and easily from one place.

This appetite is clearly being recognised with the recent arrival of mobile app TodayTix, the ‘uber for theatre tickets’, which offers tickets for West End performances that will take place in the next seven days. At a glance, you can see what dates and at what price tickets are available and with tickets available up until one hour before the show starts. This is on-demand, mobile-centric commerce. It’s also no surprise to hear then that on Broadway, where the TodayTix started, the average user of the app is 32, ten years younger than the average Broadway theatergoer at 44 years old.

One stop shop for tickets?

And TodayTix aren’t the only people to recognise this gap in the market. Amazon announced their ambitions back in March to be ‘a new home for West End tickets’. Although there isn’t the same calendar function as is offered by the TodayTix app, at a glance you can see what prices West End shows are available from and easily browse different options.

But what’s the appeal? Why would our audience buy their tickets through Amazon? They offer an extremely convenient way to buy, across the widest possible range of devices. But perhaps most importantly is that Amazon is a brand that consumers trust. They have spent years building themselves into a household name and establishing relationships with their consumers, from sending emails with targeted recommendations to ensuring speedy next-day delivery. To quote Alistair Smith of The Stage:

‘It has a database that will be larger and, one would expect, significantly more diverse than that of traditional ticket sellers. It is also a past-master in terms of ease of purchase with its one-click model – something that theatre ticketing websites have often struggled with’.

What might we expect Amazon’s future relationship with theatre to look like? To understand this we might want to take a look at the approach other industries have had.

All Saints with Amazon

The All Saints Amazon storefront

One example is fashion retailer All Saints, who have embraced Amazon with arms open wide. Twenty-one percent of all their transactions globally are processed by Amazon since they introduced Amazon Payments for their payment processing. They’ve also seen a big increase in income with a thirty-four percent increase in sales converting since using Amazon payments, with customers who were previously abandoning their baskets going through to make their purchase.

One of the reasons for this may be because it’s significantly faster to check-out, taking just thirty seconds to complete, rather than the one and a half minutes customers were previously experiencing (which is still pretty good!). A comparison of the transaction times can be seen here. As All Saints point out, the thing that should be taking all the time for the customer is choosing what they want to buy. The checkout process which follows needs to be as seamless as possible.

All Saints have even gone one step further and now have an Amazon storefront, which is skinned to look like their own retail site. Other examples of brands successfully partnering with Amazon can be found here.

Risks of partnerships with a huge retailer

There are both positive and negative points to consider for parterning with a global retailer like Amazon.

While it’s easy to see clear benefits, what are the risks of partnering with a huge retailer like Amazon? The publishing industry has certainly seen a tumultuous relationship with the retailer. It began as a mutually beneficial partnership, with Amazon providing a new revenue stream for publishers by selling their books online. Gradually publishers have become reliant on them with the decline of bookshops and therefore other routes to market. The main struggle has been around pricing, which publishers accuse the retailer of pushing down and therefore devaluing for customers. On the Amazon bookstore, it’s possible to buy books from as little as 99p and with prices this low, other retailers have been unable to compete.

This came into the public arena last May with a war between publishing giant Hachette and the global retailer. As they had been unable to agree terms of contract, Amazon blocked orders of Hachette’s books, delayed delivery and introduced advertising alongside some of it’s title with a banner of “similar items available at a lower price”. Read more about this here.

So what might we glean from this? Amazon is certainly very powerful and so much so has managed to alter the pricing and perceived value of books.

Amazon and Theatre?

Could this happen to theatre? What would happen if on the ‘new home of West End tickets’ prices were as low as 99p? The likelihood of this is very small as the psychology of purchasing a physical product versus buying an experience is very different. However, as the leviathan it is, Amazon has already proven that it can afford to make losses and sell products below their RRP in order to dominate the market and win customer loyalty. The success All Saints seem to have seen, could be because they have simply been using Amazon to optimise something that they were already doing incredibly well.

Unlike publishers, theatres have always sold tickets to customers directly, or through their network of agents but with customers becoming increasingly used to quick, easy customer service, it seems vital that the industry caters for this, or else they might find customers being lured into buying their tickets elsewhere. Although Amazon has proved its benefits and its risks through their presence in other industries, only time will tell what kind of impact they will make on the theatre world.