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How Can We ReWork Online Queuing Systems For Events And Attractions?

Online-Queuing-Systems for Event, Venues and Attractions

How Can We ReWork Online Queuing Systems For Events And Attractions?

For event organisers, the assurance that interest in your event will be so high that tickets will likely sell at lightning speed is a dream come true. Yet, for those managing the logistics of ticket sales high ticket demand can quickly morph from a dream into a logistical nightmare. 

Once, hopeful event attendees would hang on the telephone in queues or keep pressing redial until they’d get through to a ticket seller and book those coveted seats. Now, they’re being put in online queuing systems – refreshing or waiting and sometimes getting confused and anxious as the minutes pass and they dread missing out.

So, as I sat down for a very rare interview with Matt King, queue technology expert and founder of ‘virtual waiting room’ platform Queue-Fair, I was keen to understand if hitting refresh over and over really does put you in a better position to get those long-awaited Glastonbury tickets, and why some technology failures within the online queuing process seem to be commonplace.

Online queuing systems are being used for one-off events, particularly sporting, or music events and attraction experiences. However, they may also be part of the everyday booking experience.

The idea for Queue-Fair originated from Matt’s own personal experience, “It was trying to buy tickets for Glastonbury that prompted me to invent the system way back. It was one of their early online fails, the first major one and the service fell over badly. It made national news”. 

The ‘Internet Queue’ was born, or as we now know them as ‘Virtual Waiting Rooms, or Online Queuing systems.

They’re not a recent phenomenon and yet, they still receive a high amount of criticism, including concerns the systems are unfair and easily exploited. You need to be hiding in a cave to have not heard about the recent poorly managed on-sale for Taylor Swift tickets – although Matt was keen to clarify that Queue-Fair were not responsible for that one.

Naturally, there are many pros and cons to online queuing systems. Before we go into that and explore the methods some innovators are implementing to make online queuing systems fairer, let’s first look at how online queuing systems work.


How Do Online Queuing Systems Work?

Online queuing is used in retail, public services, for making appointments and for assistance. However, in this article and interview with Matt, we’re focusing on online queues for events, such as sporting, music, and special visitor attractions events.

Online queuing systems work by allowing customers to join a virtual queue remotely through various digital platforms such as websites, mobile apps, or SMS services. These systems manage the flow of customers wanting to book tickets to entertainment and sports events by assigning them a place in the queue and providing real-time updates on wait times and queue status.

As Matt explains “There are basically two different kinds of virtual queuing systems; one in one out, OR send people through at a specified rate per minute. Queue-Fair operates the latter model, it works much better for websites and apps. The operator sets limits on how many customers can be let in from the front of the queue per minute so that it can ensure it doesn’t crash their ticketing site”. Many readers will be familiar with the holding page, which usually displays an estimated wait or progress bar. This is used to help the flow of customers from the ‘queue’ into the ticketing site.

The result of this process is either success or disappointment for the hopeful booker. Ticketed events in high demand can sell out quickly and although this is good for business, in terms of popularity and profit, no entertainment organiser, sports promoter, venue or attraction wants disgruntled fans/customers.

Confusing or time-consuming online queuing systems

Confusing or time-consuming online queuing systems can worsen this disappointment and harm the reputation of the attraction/venue. Of course, there will always be some fans or customers who aren’t able to get tickets but the way the process works and how you handle this can impact future fan/visitor enthusiasm for your next event.

Matt explains “Usually how it works is customers land on the website, or are sent a link in an email/respond to a social post etc. Either way, they end up getting sent to a queuing system. This ensures that they are no longer making requests to the ticketing site and only from the queuing system. That takes the load off the main busy ticketing site onto ours which is designed to cope with it. We add people to the queue in first-come-first-served order, until each person reaches the front. Then they are automatically passed back to the protected ticketing site in a secure manner, to complete their transaction. We digitally sign each visitor as we pass them through the system so the website can tell if someone is trying to access a page. This makes it secure”.

So now we have more clarity of how it’s done, let’s move on to some of the challenges and how as operators, ticket suppliers or consumers we can make more informed decisions around this tech.


Challenges For Online Queuing Systems

The Digital Divide

The most obvious restriction for online ticketing is that it’s reliant on internet access. Even in this modern tech-fuelled world, there are still many people who do not have access to the internet or who find the online ticketing system inaccessible. This might include older customers but also neurodivergent or disabled potential purchasers who may be unable or overwhelmed by online queuing systems. If you’re interested in learning more about the wider issues for neurodivergent and disabled users booking tickets online, please read my article on Accessibility In Events and Attractions Ticketing.

Online queuing has made procuring tickets easier in general, compared to the phone-queuing option. However, it may be wise for ticketing systems to provide an alternative to online for users who are unable to make use of this option. Pre-release of certain ticket types, with more traditional ways to book, could be a solution for those who are genuinely unable to take part in the online queuing experience. 

Breaking The Internet

Ok. so, you probably won’t break the whole internet, but a sudden rush of traffic could cause significant problems for your website/ticketing platform, even taking you offline at a crucial time. Not only does this impact ticket sales but this will infuriate your customers who may have carved out time and made provisions to join your online queuing system.

Work with ticketing partners who can ensure capability even in times of high traffic. Even if ticket booking takes place away from your website, ensure that your website can also handle high traffic because users will likely be heading there to check key information needed to complete their booking.

Integration

Integrating online queuing systems with existing event management software, ticketing platforms, and access control systems can be complex and time-consuming if you choose the wrong partner/platform. Event organisers may encounter challenges related to system compatibility, data synchronisation, and workflow integration.

When planning an event, such as a sporting event, where tickets may be in high demand, it’s important to work closely with ticketing partners. Ensure they have the capabilities or are partnered with robust online queuing software/platform providers so that the process is streamlined and prioritises the user experience.

If you’re unsure whether your ticketing provider can handle high traffic flow, a consultancy service such as ReWork Consulting can help you investigate and establish capabilities. We will first seek to understand your requirements and ascertain whether your current ticketing platform can meet these demands and then either work with them to enhance the process or assist you in procuring a ticketing partner who can fulfil your needs and secure customer satisfaction

Online User Experience

Some attendees may find it confusing or challenging to navigate the online queuing process, and system errors further exacerbate this. In 2023, hopeful Cricket World Cup attendees were left frustrated as they suffered long waiting times and frequent errors in the booking system that placed them right back into the endless queue. Some fixtures were also appearing as having sold out only to have tickets show up as available a short time later. This poor user experience not only annoyed fans but also led them to question the trustworthiness of the ticket sellers, with some labelling it a scam.

As Matt suggested in our conversation “It’s essential to keep it simple, clear and easy to understand for customers. The queue pages themselves are also marketing opportunities. You can do things like adding a video of the artist on the queue page so that people are entertained while they’re waiting but keep the messaging concise. It needs to be obvious that they’re in a queue, i.e. this is how long you’ve got to wait, this is how many people are ahead of you. You don’t need to refresh the page and your place is saved. This is essential as you don’t want thousands of support tickets coming through right in the middle of an on-sale because the customer didn’t understand your messaging.”

Ticket Touts And Scalpers

A huge problem is the activity of Ticket Touts and Human Scalpers exploiting online queuing systems limiting the number of tickets actually sold to real fans/attendees at face value. Despite the backlash against this from the ticketing companies, venues, attractions, promoters and even artists, bots are still being used to participate in a practice known as online queue barging. As far as the systems are concerned, every person in the queue is a real person but this is not always the case, they are digitally created mimics and there may be hundreds flooding in upon ticket releases. Instead of using bots to bulk buy tickets, which is illegal in the UK, some software systems can make multiple separate purchases in a small window of time. This makes it more difficult to detect and immoral rather than strictly unlawful.

A Guide to Navigating the Virtual Queue Market

I was curious to hear what Matt’s advice was for anyone starting to research the market. If it’s as complex as the ticketing market is, where should they start?

I have taken the liberty to take Matt’s advice and create a simple to follow 10 step guide;

  1. Traffic – ensure the platform can cope with the traffic you’re expecting
  2. Examples – ask to see the example queue page and sign up for any free trials to test the customer flow, and saved automatically for visitors
  3. Place in the queue – ensure this is processed fairly by the platform
  4. Fairness – ensure the platform has a proven track record with security to prevent Bots and Human Scalping
  5. Speed – ensure you’re aware of the platform’s minimum speed per minute
  6. Changes – make sure changes you make on the day can take affect effect straight aware of any extras upfront
  7. Customise – make sure that any customisation isn’t chargeable, or if it is you’re aware of extras upfront
  8. Timely – ensure the platform activates the queue at the exact second you need it, as delays cost money, cause huge frustrations, and could crash your site
  9. Accuracy – if it says it will give you X many visitors per minute from the front of the queue make sure it has evidence that it actually does
  10. Price – ensure the price model suits your business needs/use case 

Can Online Queuing Systems Be Better?

‘Upfront pricing, no hidden fees and transparent up-to-date information regarding queue placement and expected queuing time are the bare minimum hopeful ticket purchasers should expect from selling platforms. To enhance trust, those opting for online queuing systems should ensure the process is clear and customers have the maximum information possible to avoid pressure selling.

After this, improving the queuing system mostly centres around improving the technology. As Matt has described there are many variables to the success of a Virtual Queuing system like Queue-Fair. Hosting the queue away from the ticket seller’s website alleviates pressure on servers, and eliminates site crashes and errors for users as they navigate the booking system. The queue also keeps those in the queue updated in real-time aiming to take the stress out of the online queuing experience.

One of the biggest barriers to fair queuing is the ticket touts using bots to purchase large numbers of tickets they may resell at an inflated price. This can mean hundreds of loyal fans missing out. Or, being driven to buy more expensive tickets resold by ticket touts meaning fans are often unwilling and sometimes unknowingly participating in this corrupt practice.

QR codes that refresh automatically leading up to events can make reselling tickets challenging for touts and scalpers. Glastonbury Festival even includes a photo of the purchaser on each ticket so that another person cannot use it. Queue-Fair solves the problem with Join Tokens, ensuring that there’s one queue position per human being and that each person can only buy tickets once. An added issue for the attractions industry though is that if touts are unable to resell the tickets at the inflated cost they often opt to protect their marketplace by refusing to drop the cost and therefore wasting the tickets. Empty seats can harm the atmosphere of an event but it may also call into question the integrity of the ticketing process for fans who ‘stood’ in online queues for long periods for a chance to secure their seats.

Ticketmaster were highly criticised for their handling of ticket sales for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour. During the controversy, which was largely put down to a mass descending of ticket-buying bots swiping seats away from genuine fans on an unprecedented scale, even politicians got involved in expressing disbelief that such a huge ticketing operator had not developed an algorithm to identify bots. Interestingly, Ticktek were used for further ticket releases in Australia and have been praised for their randomised approach to online queuing. Effectively, there is no queue since users are not placed in position according to when they accessed the system. Instead, those in the virtual waiting room are selected at random when an opportunity to book becomes available.

Although highly controversial, dynamic pricing is a potential method for putting off ticket touts, as has been pointed out by AXS and Ticketmaster. Since ticket pricing is already being inflated due to high demand, this makes scalping redundant since the resell value would be rendered unachievable. Of course, asking fans to take on the financial burden of dealing with ticket touts fails to make the process feel fairer.


The Future of Virtual Queuing Platforms

As my fascinating and insightful chat with Matt was ending, I was keen to hear his thoughts on the future of this technology and what his top 3 takeaways would be for our readers.

“It’s a very good question, Queue-Fair is always evolving, but I would say Fairness and Security have to be the top priorities for technology in this field. With the increase of Bots and Human Scalpers, and you have humans using bots as well, of course, you need to have a platform that stops all of those things happening. We provide a solution for the industry that is fair for consumers, where ticket touts are prevented from buying up huge amounts of tickets, but our efforts need to continue to create the smoothest, seamless journeys for the customer.”   

Next Steps if you’re Considering an Online Queuing System

Ultimately, events and attractions need to be working closely with ticketing partners to ensure that any online queuing systems used are robust, reliable and can be properly integrated with existing software. 

If you’re still wondering whether it’s an investment you should consider, you may appreciate what Matt had to say when I asked him this exact question. “It’s far, far better to have a virtual queue and not need it, than to not have one and need one.”

If there is a good business case for attractions and event ticket sellers to implement online queuing, the next question would be which one is right for your organisation?

To help you get started I’ll leave you with Matt’s top 3 takeaways if you’re considering a Virtual Queuing System, or perhaps you’re looking to change existing providers;

  1. Shop Around – Just as ticketing systems are not the same, neither are Virtual Queuing systems, do your research  
  2. Tech Guides – Quality documentation says a lot about a company, ensure you don’t just rely on sales pitches/presentations
  3. Simple, Clear, Easy to Understand –  Ensure the queue page messaging is crystal clear so that it’s really obvious a customer is in the queue

ReWork provides you with advice, guidance and support with your Ticketing needs, and software solutions within the Ticketing technology ecosystems. Please get in touch if you’d like to arrange a call.


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