It’s time to face facts: The average grocery store check-out area might be more technologically advanced than the last conference you attended.
While that event might have an app to help attendees check their daily schedule, it could be missing out on the features that create a quick and seamless customer experience: quick payments, timely information, easy engagement and shorter wait times.
The tech behind these features have changed the way that consumers interact with services and retailers on a daily basis, and they’ve changed our expectations for customer service, cost efficiency and user experience. These expectations have migrated into the events industry where decades-old practices and technology are no longer matching consumer expectations.
The penetration of self-serve technology has only increased in the past five years as consumers have become familiar with the advantages of taking a more active role in the purchase or check-out process. For self check-out, it’s estimated that by 2021 there will be 468,000 stations around the world, up from 240,000 in 2016.
With advances in technology, the events industry is undergoing a similar change in how attendees interact with organizers and the event as a whole, from online event registration, through the on-site experience, and the continuing year-round interaction. Thanks to the quick adoption of this technology by leading companies across consumer industries like retail, gas stations, and groceries, event attendees have taken to Twitter and other social media platforms to express their dissatisfaction with long lines, paper guides, and other unsatisfactory event experiences.
One major way in which technology has changed consumer behaviour is in the number of activities that can now be accomplished by the consumer without the help of an employee like finding products or information, and completing the purchase.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll consider customer self-service as a task that can be undertaken whether or not the consumer is in a physical store. Let’s consider the full purchase process including research, a metaphorical or physical shopping cart, and a payment or check-out process
Commonly, this means completing an action without the help of a physical store, such as online banking, or a quicker way to accomplish an unpleasant task and common task, such as paying at the gas pump. We’ll also include web browser and mobile app purchases since they include the full product experience (research, consideration and check-out) and further reduce purchase friction relative to traditional retail.
The benefits cited by consumer research into e-commerce and self-service technology include:
Can you imagine sending a cheque and a form in the mail to pay for your registration at an upcoming conference or tradeshow? The convenience, accuracy and immediacy of self-serve technology has proven to be the preferred method of transaction for many industries, including events.
For the events industry, the ideal self-serve attendee experience would only require light interaction with organizers. Consider these ways in which an attendee could manage their own experience without the help of event staff:
It’s difficult to determine the precise company that first adopted the self-service model. Mail order shopping that delivered paper catalogs of items to consumers and provided an order form to mail back with payment became popular in the 1830s, turning some retailers into millionaires for their inspired way of connecting consumers to the products they were seeking
The automatic teller or banking machine (ATM or ABM) with a PIN number was first developed in the 1960s with many inventors independently building on similar notions, including one inventor inspired by the self-serve nature of candybar machines.
Consumers are likely familiar with the pump-and-pay (or self-fueling and payment) model for gas stations. The concept completely changed how consumers refueled their cars. Drivers used to wait while an attendant ran back and forth between vehicles and payments, to pumping their own gas and tapping their preferred method of payment themselves.
According to the NACS association of convenience stores and refueling stations, the self-serve model event had further trickle-down benefits like reducing lineups at gas station registers so that customers can purchase their snacks and other merchandise more quickly.
However, not every region has embraced the convenience of self-serve technology for retail. Two British Columbia cities have continued to outlaw pumping your own gas in order to boost youth employment, though recent news stories have indicated a softening of enforcement for these laws. By contrast, across Ontario, only 16 percent of gas stations offer a full-service option where an attendant will pump the gas.
No matter the decade, the idea for self-service technology remains the same: Some tasks can be handled comfortably by the average consumer with some help from technology. Employees can focus on more important tasks rather than simple and repetitive ones and valuable space can be used to enhance the customer experience.
In major cities, it’s now common to see a portion of check-out space in large retailers dedicated to self-check out, though few have gone all-in on self check-out. While some consumers lament the lack of personalized service or a friendly face on their way out the door, and occasionally express frustration with the technology, the process has been embraced by others as a quick way to get out the door without needless chit-chat.
The trend toward self check-out appears to be continuing, it’s estimated that by 2021 there will be 468,000 around the world, up from 240,000 in 2016. According to eMarketer, younger generations are most interested in using scan-and-go technology, so we can expect the trend to continue to grow in coming decades.
Concerns like theft also remain, particularly in the grocery retail industry. Though retailers largely choose not to share their estimates about theft, a survey from Voucher Codes Pro cited by The Guardian said that a quarter of customers admitted to some kind of theft. The article further speculates that the self checkout kiosk has led to the rise of crimes of opportunity as well as accidental theft.
The future of self-service technology minimizes the interaction between the client and the seller even further. For instance, the Amazon GO store uses more advanced technology to detect what the shopper has put in their shopping bag and eliminates lines entirely by removing the check-out process. Shoppers simply walk out of the store.
“Our checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning. Our Just Walk Out Technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the store. A little later, we’ll send you a receipt and charge your Amazon account.”
Amazon loyalists around the world can also attest to changing trends in retail in general that remove retail space and customer service employees from the process of buying items both large and small. Forms of buying like e-commerce, digital delivery of video games, music and video content, online ordering and pick-up, ship-to-store, online orders with a locker pickup, have continued to remove elements from the traditional retail process.
Undoubtedly, the sight of a person breezing through checkout with others stand in a lineup can create some envy among customers, but there are many less obvious benefits of a self-service technology including:
In terms of greater accuracy, the visual nature of reviewing and confirming a pizza ordering using an app, as opposed to listening to an order read back on the phone, clearly illustrates the point.
“For example, the online ordering system for Domino’s Pizza Inc., the pizza delivery chain based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has improved accuracy and increased repeat visits by letting customers place orders at their own pace. Customers can review and verify their orders without feeling pressure to hurry, resulting in greater accuracy.”
Any transaction needs to be fast, convenient, accurate and ready when the buyer is.
The high ticket prices and uniquely experiential and educational nature of the events industry means that attendees are acutely aware of any hindrance to their event experience. That includes friction in the ticket-buying process, on-site experience and post-event interactions.
For complex purchases such as an event ticket an online purchase on the attendee’s own computer or mobile device is ideal. Being able to search ticket types, review prices, and confirm survey information helps the attendee set themselves up for a productive and enjoyable event with access to aspects of the event that best suits their needs.
During the event, attendees are known to expect a quick and seamless check-in process as they attempt to fit your event into their busy work and personal lives. Self-service technology allows for information confirmation, quick input for profile changes, and payments. The wide adoption of event apps with personalized schedules and attendee information has opened the industry to find event information as well as exchange contact information among attendees, exhibitors and sponsors.
We’ll review more benefits of self-service technology for events, including what PheedLoop’s event management and automation software can help you accomplish, in another article next week.
Self-service technology like banking machines have been in use for more than 50 years, and the retail location-free purchase goes back much further. The desire to empower consumers and remove unnecessary elements of the purchase process has moved at light speed thanks to consumer technology, easier payment formats and touchscreens. As consumers have taken on more tasks during the purchase process, they’ve experienced faster transactions, more accurate orders and the convenience to shop whenever and wherever they like.
In the events industry, the familiarity with the kind of check-out technology seen online, in grocery stores and gas stations has raised expectations for convenience and expedience. However, the tools exist for the events industry to meet and exceed expectations thanks to affordable touch-screen hardware, mobile apps and payment technology. The right event management software can help manage and automate the process from an organizer perspective, as well as empower stakeholders to find information, make connections, and accomplish their event goals in any way they see fit.