Since the onset of the Orchestra Website Reviews, the issue of requiring users to register in order to explore ticket information and/or make a purchase has generated a great deal of heated debate. Unfortunately, most positions boiled down to hunch rather than anything supported by quantifiable data but an article by Jared M. Spool published on 1/14/2009 titled The $300 Million Button that was originally published as part of Luke Wroblewski’s book, Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks, provides some invaluable resource material for this issue…
Back in 2004, the majority of orchestras from in the Orchestra Website Review that managed their own box office favored requiring users to register in order to explore ticket availability and pricing. Since that time, most of those groups have lifted this requirement with regard to browsing ticket availability but most continue to require users to create an account before they can actually purchase a ticket.
Supporters of required registration usually claim that it speeds up the purchase process for repeat buyers and provides useful data for marketing and development efforts. Spool begins his article stating just as much:
The team saw the form as enabling repeat customers to purchase faster. First-time purchasers wouldn’t mind the extra effort of registering because, after all, they will come back for more and they’ll appreciate the expediency in subsequent purchases. Everybody wins, right?
To test this theory, Spool’s firm conducted usability tests and uncovered some surprising results.
We asked [test subjects] to bring their shopping lists and we gave them the money to make the purchases. All they needed to do was complete the purchase. We were wrong about the first-time shoppers. They did mind registering. They resented having to register when they encountered the page. As one shopper told us, “I’m not here to enter into a relationship. I just want to buy something.”
…many vocalized how the retailer only wanted their information to pester them with marketing messages they didn’t want. Some imagined other nefarious purposes of the obvious attempt to invade privacy. (In reality, the site asked nothing during registration that it didn’t need to complete the purchase: name, shipping address, billing address, and payment information.)
When it came to testing whether or not requiring registration facilitated future purchases, Spool’s team uncovered more surprises.
Except for a very few who remembered their login information, most stumbled on the form. They couldn’t remember the email address or password they used.
This point should be particularly poignant for orchestras since the primary ticket buying demographic is one that does not have the same level of comfort with computers and online shopping as say, the current round of 20-somethings. Spool goes on to state that the memory issue had a strong negative impact on the retailer’s customer databases.
Later, we did an analysis of the retailer’s database, only to discover 45% of all customers had multiple registrations in the system, some as many as 10. We also analyzed how many people requested passwords, to find out it reached about 160,000 per day. 75% of these people never tried to complete the purchase once requested.
For orchestras, the dynamic impact of this outcome is horrific. Unless an organization checks their user database for multiple registrations from the same user on a monthly basis, they’ll end up completely blind to the fact that they are sending multiple marketing and donation requests to the same individual. Most orchestras are already experiencing a great deal of blowback from patron burn-out over the quantity and frequency of emails but according to Spool’s study, things could be worse than what most currently believe.
Fortunately, Spool’s work didn’t end with identifying problems and walking away. Instead, the project included designing solutions, and the primary offering was straightforward and effective: eliminate required registration.
The [registration] form, intended to make shopping easier, turned out to only help a small percentage of the customers who encountered it…The designers fixed the problem simply. They took away the Register button. In its place, they put a Continue button with a simple message: “You do not need to create an account to make purchases on our site. Simply click Continue to proceed to checkout. To make your future purchases even faster, you can create an account during checkout.”
The results: The number of customers purchasing went up by 45%. The extra purchases resulted in an extra $15 million the first month. For the first year, the site saw an additional $300,000,000.
Granted, the sales components in Spool’s project don’t apply to every aspect of orchestra websites. For instance, the retailer Spool was working with wasn’t selling a niche product to a niche market, like orchestras do. As a result, there are bound to be some differences in the characteristics of average website users that are interested in purchasing tickets online. But how much of a difference do you think can be? Enough that Spool’s findings are completely useless? Doubtful.
Furthermore, an option left unexplored by Spool (at least, in his article) was offering the user to create an account after they completed the purchase process. A simple “To make future purchases even easier, would you like to use the information you entered to create an account?” option might offer an elegant compromise that works well for orchestra websites.
As it stands, one of the best options to determine if Spool’s findings could benefit the orchestra field is to conduct more research. Furthermore, a project such as this is an enormously appealing vehicle to present to granting institutions and is something that could be designed, implemented and concluded well before the end of the season. Additionally, it could be expanded into two portions with the second covering the onset of 2010/11 subscription sales.
This is a fascinating project and one I am eager to explore on a professional level with an orchestra that is interested in discovering untapped revenue and audience development potential at a time when increases in both are needed more than ever. Consequently, if your institution is interested in exploring where this can lead, contact me via email or call my Chicago office.