Here’s a basic rule in marketing:
Make it easy, convenient and enjoyable for your customers to buy from you.
Anyone who does not agree?
Let me tell you a story from one of my recent purchases: I just bought a pair of tickets for Wimbledon, the most important tennis tournament in the world. Actually the term “just bought” may be a little misleading. The purchasing process started in August 2009 – I just finished it a few days ago (not that I would have the tickets in my hands yet, they will probably be here in May…).
Here’s how the process of purchasing tickets for Wimbledon works:
First, starting from August of the preceding year, you have to order an order form. No, I’m not kidding. All the stuff that will follow is really how it works. It’s actually not even an order form, it is form for entering the “Public Ballot”, i.e. the lucky draw for the tickets, as the tournament is usually heavily oversubscribed. This can not be done via internet or fax – you have to send a stamped, self-addressed envelop to the Wimbledon organization. As I am not living in England and have no access to British stamps, this means sending in an international reply coupon. Those are not available anymore from our post offices, as they are requested quite seldom, so I had to order it from the post website. That website actually had a minimum order quantity that was five times the amount of the international reply coupon, so I had to order some other stuff in addition.
A few weeks later I received the form. There actually wasn’t a lot to fill in except for my contact details. The tournament lasts two weeks and they play on a couple of different courts, but no, you are not allowed to choose anything. All you can do is to apply for tickets. If you’re lucky and your name is drawn, they will tell you which day and which court you may go to. No choice. All they tell you when you receive the form are the price categories for the different courts and dates so you know what the maximum and minimum amount would be.
I send it in in September 2009. The draws take place from January until one week prior to the tournament (usually in June). If you are allocated a ticket, the inform you instantly. This means that it can also be anytime from January to June. If you are not allocated a ticket – nothing happens. You are not even informed. Makes the travel planning quite easy…
For me it was March when I received the letter from them. I nearly did not remember anymore that I sent the application, but was happy I got the tickets. Well, not quite “the tickets”. I got the allowance to purchase the tickets. They granted me two weeks to go to their website, use the code they sent me and buy the tickets from there, paying by credit card. That was quite surprising, as the process so far has been done completely manually. It seems like they have all the web based technology in place, so why don’t they use it for the whole process?
Why don’t they make it easier and more convenient to order tickets?
Well, why should they? The “All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club” (that’s the full name of the organization running the tournament) knows that they will sell out the event easily anyway. They know they offer gold dust. They know the people will order the tickets no matter how complicated it is. Based thereon they took the decision to make it as convenient as possible – for them.
If your market position is that strong, you can use that strengths. Buying bigger servers to be able to deal with the huge number of online orders? Not necessary – do it offline. Accept all kinds of order forms? Not necessary – stick to one form in one size that can easily be processed automatically. Give more choice to the customer? Not necessary – better keep the freedom to allocate the tickets as you need it.
However, the longer I thought about the process the more I came to the conclusion that this can’t be it. I identified three quite interesting marketing ideas in the Wimbledon ticketing process (I don’t know if any of them is intended or not):
1) Asking the customers to make some efforts leads to a higher engagement and involvement.
The process is complicated, but once you started to follow the required steps you get involved with the product, you get locked in, you even develop some kind of personal relationship or identification with the tickets. The process of ordering tickets is like some kind of conversation between the Wimbledon organization and the customer.
A quick side note: What’s funny about this notion is that the term of “Customer Engagement” has basically been introduced to the economical theory with view on internet based commerce and social media and refers to something completely different, a real conversation about the brand, product or service. The Wimbledon model in contrast is as offline as can be and even though it feels like a conversation (you send something, they send something, you send something, they send something…) it is not, as the rules (and thus the content) are only determined by one of the two parties.
2) Leaving no choice guarantees that all matches will be sold out
That’s an easy one: If you allow people to chose the match they want to apply for, the distribution of the requests will be very uneven: Everybody would love to see the men’s final on the Centre Court, no one wants to see the first round matches on the outside courts. By not allowing the customer to chose, they have to take the gamble and hope to receive tickets for a prominent match, taking into account that they may also end up with being awarded a less prominent one.
3) Build a myth based on tradition
To be clear: From a customer perspective the public ballot system sucks, but:
The Championship at Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world (since 1877), it is the tournament that basically created lawn tennis. The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club where the tournament is played was founded in 1868. There aren’t a lot of sporting events that have a longer tradition than the Wimbledon Championship. The Wimbledon brand is based on this tradition. If you want to protect a brand like this you should be very careful with any changes to any parts of the tradition.
The Public Ballot system was started in 1924. Leaving it the way it is and accepting this anachronism in times of real time electronic commerce supports the Wimbledon brand.
Does all this work? For me it does. I am really looking forward to my day at Wimbledon even though my tickets are not one the Center Court and not on the final day. Wimbledon feels different from the rest. How many brands and companies would be delighted to be seen that way?!