Amazon has turned online retail into an art form, with $89 billion in revenue in 2014. If you sell tickets or collect registrations online, then your business could likely benefit from some of the tips and tricks used by the nation’s largest “everything store”. For over two decades, Amazon has been honing their sales strategy, products and user experience. They now enjoy an unrivaled reputation for usability, selection and speed. Here is how they earned their reputation and what event professionals can learn from Amazon. “The Everything Store” by Brad Stone offers insights into how Amazon managed its astonishing growth and their original philosophy about managing the customer experience to keep people coming back for more. From this, we’ve extracted four basic concepts that any events organizer can put into practice to help them start selling more tickets sooner and registering attendees well in advance:
- Understand your seasonality curve
- Obsess over conversion rates
- Regularly monitor performance
- Relentlessly focus on customer experience
1. Understand your seasonality curve
The retail industry has a distinct seasonality curve, characterized by a huge spike during the holiday season. This sales spike normally begins in September and runs all the way through the year end holiday season, followed by a huge drop off in January. This seasonal spike was nearly disastrous for Amazon. In October of 1997, Amazon was only 3 years old and they quickly found themselves running out of supplies for the growing consumer demands. CEO Jeff Bezos called an “all hands on deck” and asked all employees, even those with desk jobs, to do a graveyard shift to locate goods and ship packages out. At the end of the holiday season, Bezos gathered top management to make sure they were prepared for the next big spike. As a result, 1999 was a blockbuster year for Amazon. By understanding their seasonality curve, Amazon lowered their costs and saw net sales increase 283% over the prior year. Event organizers face their own very similar seasonality curve as ticket sales and registrations tend to spike in the final days prior to the event. By planning and taking similar steps as Amazon did, you can reduce uncertainty and increase sales.
Controlling the trough
Consider the lifecycle of a typical event. Tickets and registrations usually go on sale 6 weeks prior. In Week 1, ticket sales and registrations high as the initial PR work raises awareness. In Week 2, sales drop into a trough, and stay low up until the final week of sales. In fact, nearly 40 percent of events see less than half of their tickets sold or people registered until the final days leading up to the event. At that point, event organizers can become concerned about meeting their goals. Luckily, that last week is when most sales and registrations come through. About one third of events secure half their ticket sales and registrations 2 weeks prior to the event. Another third of events reach the halfway point at 1 week prior. To help ensure you’re able to meet your registration and ticket minimum before timing gets down to the wire, take a lesson from Amazon.
What would Amazon do?
To counteract the seasonal spike, Amazon ran projections for the coming year based on sales data from prior years. Fortunately, Eventbrite can do the same for you. We have data for over 600,000 events over the last year to help event organizers plan for the last minute rush. We found that 88 percent of fundraisers sent invites when tickets and registrations first go on sale, but more than half stop all communications after that. At the same time, over 50 percent of nonprofits say that front-loading ticket sales is important to them. At Eventbrite, we expressly set out to counter that trend for our Elevate event last summer. After the initial marketing push, we announced early bird sales and free gifts for those who signed up by a specific date. The result was greater sales and registrations in weeks 2 and 3 from late registrants who were given an artificial deadline. By removing as many barriers to purchase and providing incentives to purchase early, event organizers can spread out sales and simplify the process of converting site visitors into paying customers.
2. Obsess over conversion rates
Amazon’s second concept, obsessing over conversion rates, required a new way of thinking about where site visitors came from. Amazon found that the biggest factors affecting conversion are where traffic comes from in the first place and what visitors see the moment they arrive.
Consider the source
Traffic can come from many sources and people may arrive at your ticketing or registration page without much prior knowledge of the event. In this case, you’ll want to make sure that the page can answer the most common questions regarding the event, such as:
- Is the public welcome?
- What is the main attraction?
- How long will the event last?
A simple change like this can have a profound effect on how many site visitors commit to joining the event, rather than simply bouncing away.
Think above the fold
Another common problem is when critical information is too far down a page, or “below the fold.” Many site visitors, as high as 38 percent, will never scroll. They make decisions or bounce away based on what they see immediately, or “above the fold.” Even among those who do scroll, about half never make it to the end of the page. Conversion rates suffer when site visitors do not have enough direction about where to go and what to do. Analyze your own website to see how visitors view your pages, using tools like Google Analytics. Only critical information should be included and anything that delays the ticket purchase or registration has to justify itself – including information fields.
Make fields earn their keep
Amazon struggled to reduce the amount of fields that stood between site visitors and their desired purchases because the number of fields is highly correlated with bounce rates. The ideal number of fields is between 5 and 10. Conversion rates drop off precipitously after that. Make sure you are asking questions that are earning their keep in terms of data collection. Questions should help you bring on more sponsors or better tailor the content to drive up attendance. Put every field through rigorous testing.
Build for speed
Every millisecond that it takes to load a page makes a big difference for bounce rates. The Aberdeen group determined that a one second delay in load time decreases conversions by 7 to 10 percent. Amazon found that the company revenues increased 1 percent for every 100 millisecond increase in their site loading speed. At Eventbrite, we recently sped up our registration page load time by approximately 500 ms and increased conversion rates by 3 percent. Test your own website at monitoring platforms like Pingdom.com. Speed matters more than ever because many people are on mobile now, where load times make all the difference in conversion rates.
Be mobile minded
Amazon saw the larger cultural shift to mobile before anyone else, introducing the Kindle one year before the Apple app store and three years before the iPad. Today, approximately 20 percent of people come to Eventbrite on their mobile devices to buy tickets or get registered. Our conversion rates on mobile are twice that of desktops and laptops. The two most common types of mobile site visitors are:
- The bored – These visitors are merely browsing to pass time. They typically cycle through many pages looking for distractions. They frequently tell friends when they discover news or a shared interest.
- The purchase-ready – These visitors often have all the information they need already and are just going online with their phones due to deadline pressure. They want to make the purchase as smoothly and quickly as possible.
Test your ticketing and registration site to make sure that it has been optimized to allow mobile users to complete a purchase easily.
3. Regularly monitor performance
At Amazon, every Wednesday the leadership team goes through the most updated data, like weekly sales, customer support volume, and other key metrics. For event organizers, even a 10 minute metric check every week creates a routine that will put you in the mindset to deeply understand what is working and what needs improvement. Eventbrite provides charts and graphs that can help you examine this data. We found that 64 percent of fundraiser organizers who met their sales goals logged in daily to view registrations, ticket sales, and analytics. This was very valuable data in that it helped us redistribute resources away from practices that did not generate sufficient traffic.
4. Relentlessly focus on customer experience
Relentlessly championing the customer experience has been a key differentiator for Amazon. Consider Amazon’s original site: relentless.com. They ultimately opted for the site Amazon.com for a number of brand-related reasons, but the original name still redirects to Amazon’s home page and resonates with the business’s main concern: relentless pursuit of improving customer experience. In fact, customer experience encompasses much more than ticket purchase, registration, or the event itself. Customer experience encompasses every interaction from the first time customers become aware of an event to the final day of the event. For annual events, the customer experience includes planning for the next year. During heated negotiations at Amazon, Bezos allegedly pulled an empty chair into the room. When managers asked who was coming, Bezos responded, “That’s for the customer.” His point was that the repercussions on customer experience should be considered in every decision that the organization makes. Customer experience is one area where event organizers can make a big impact on sales and registrations with a few key studies and adjustments.
- Change your curve. Think about the seasonality of your event in terms of what you can do to better manage the flow of ticket sales and registrations.
- Obsess about conversion. Look at the number of people coming to your site and how to increase the number that transact by examining the amount of information that they have and the barriers to sale that you have in place.
- Monitor performance. Establish a daily or weekly regimen of examining metrics and connecting the data back to your awareness and sales strategy.
- Relentlessly focus on the customer experience. Pull back to look at the larger picture of how customers interact with your organization, including not just activities the event itself, but also how they get to the front door and how they share information about the event. Seeing the entire experiences as your product will differentiate you in a competitive market for attention and funding.
This topic was originally presented by Eventbrite’s VP of Marketing, Tamara Mendelsohn at the Event Innovation Forum in New York. Watch a recording of the live presentation.