The line to buy movie tickets from the cashier is long and moving at a snail's pace, but the self-service ticketing kiosk goes unused. Sound familiar?
"In the overall scheme of things, the vast majority of our tickets are sold at the theater to people waiting at the box office," said Terrell Falk, vice president of marketing and communications at Cinemark, which operates 2,700 cinema screens in 13 countries. "It is a growing percentage of the tickets that are sold on the Internet or via the kiosks, but it is still not the majority way yet. You need to look at this in the future. Eventually these (kiosks) may replace box offices totally."
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But even if they don't replace the box office, they are still serving their purpose — moving more patrons through the lines at a faster rate, especially when it matters the most.
Radiant Systems, one of the leading providers of self-service ticketing kiosks and software, has over 1,200 such machines installed in the United States. Spokesman Brian Whitney said on a busy Friday or Saturday night, cinemas have seen as much as 80 percent of their traffic go through the kiosks.
Falk said she is satisfied with kiosk usage at Cinemark, understanding that it will continue to grow over time. Today, Fridays and Saturdays are the peak times for kiosk use because long lines prompt customers to try something new. But over time, users will become familiar with the machines and will increasingly use them throughout the week.
Familiarity leads to comfort
Matt McNeill, chief executive of online ticketing provider eTickets.to, said education is key to driving the adoption of self-service ticketing.
"The natural users of those kinds of self-service systems seem to be of the younger generation that is used to using computer-based systems. They tend to naturally gravitate toward (self-service) systems," McNeill said. He stressed the importance of "educating the people that don't necessarily grasp â€¦ the benefits, like lack of queuing and the level of choice that (self-service) provides."
While McNeill concedes that older customers may have more of a tendency to avoid self-service technology, he also believes that "where you have more effective client education going on, that barrier kind of disappears. It's a matter of talking up all the benefits through all the standard marketing channels."
According to Dave McCracken, president of self-service software company Livewire International, general venues like supermarkets prepare the client population and pave the way for more specialized venues.
McCracken described a Livewire application that involves clients who are "more advanced in years," a couple who run a ski lift. "They were reluctant to put a kiosk in to begin with, because they weren't that up on technology, but they learned pretty quickly the benefit of it, and they're sold on it today. Because they're older, they recognized that a lot of the older people are unfamiliar with it, and a little sensitive to using a kiosk, and the owners would actually go over, and walk customers through the process of learning it. There, for example, where you actually have people year after year going skiing, they're familiar with it, they have no problem utilizing it."
The design of the interface display is important, McCracken said, in making sure systems are user-friendly. "We have a nice clean interface, trying to keep it nice and simple, always displaying the shopping cart, all the things we did to make it easy to walk people through the process. We've stayed consistent with that from system to system, and it's just proven very successful."
Venue operators themselves agree that education is key. "We really haven't experienced any resistance or difficulty using these (kiosks) at all as long as when you introduce them you have somebody there to help people," said Cinemark's Falk.
Logistics and the bottom line
As with any other self-service technology, placement and logistics are key determinants of a project's success or failure. Whitney pointed out a key rule of thumb that seems intuitive, and yet is ignored by some theater owners — the kiosks must be placed in an area that is trafficked by patrons between the parking lot and the box office.
Radiant ticketing kiosks deployed at Showcase Cinemas (Louisville, Ky.)
"In fact, the more the kiosk is visible to the consumer the more it is used," he said. "We turned one kiosk 90 degrees so that instead of the side of the unit facing the traffic flow, the screen faced the traffic flow, and without any other changes the usage for that device improved 134 percent."
He said cinema owners are also wise to deploy personnel to stand by the machines during the first few weekends, not only to teach customers how to use the machine but to draw attention to them in the first place.
The value proposition for self-service ticketing is strong, and will only become more so over time: According to a joint study between Radiant Systems and Georgia Tech University, three kiosks replace the output of two traditional, staffed box office locations.
Over time, the cost savings will buy a lot of popcorn.
James Bickers is the senior editor of Retail Customer Experience, and also manages webinars for Networld Media Group. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist and innovative content strategist, with publication credits in national, international and regional publications.