Ticketek's website was not a favourite of IDG's Russell Brown back in August 1999, when he warned that the system generally seemed unprofessional and that with other players about to arrive on the scene, this ticketing firm could be about to surrender the market.
This hasn't eventuated, perhaps in part because Ticketek have heeded their critic's advice. Their new site, www.ticketek.com, is intelligent and increasingly successful.
Ticketek.com, the first online transactional agent in Australasia, offers the same access to tickets as a booking office or phone line.
The website itself is based in Adelaide, Australia, and a small local team use a unique HTML process (as opposed to FTP) to transmit local data to Australia, every hour of each working day. An SQL query is used at the other end to extract the data into a more useable format.
"The website has a pretty HTML front-end based on an SQL database, and then it has a very smart engine to communicate with the ticketing application," says general manager Ben Unger.
The ticketing software application Softix, a programme developed by Ticketek itself, facilitates all website, booking office and phone line purchasing and authorises credit card numbers. Communication between the website and the ticketing application is intense, with 30 to 40 "interrogations" flying between the two before sale completion.
Ticketek sells up to 60,000 tickets for as many as 800 events, meaning over $120,000 is put through Softix each day, at an impressive four seconds per transaction.
Meanwhile the website is Verisign-certified, and includes a secure payment gateway that is inaccessible to the public. This focus on security is good public relations, as is building trust with personal responses to customer queries and regular tailored email newsletters. For Unger this is especially important in establishing rapport with those who might be making their first online credit card purchase.
However, Unger is disarmingly frank about current sales. "Our conversion rate's appalling. The number of sales per number of visits is absolutely shocking. The site gets typically 15,000 sessions per week and on it we sell on average 1500 tickets. But that's growing, and it averages about 4% to 5% of our total sales," he says. "With the old site, roughly 1% of our total sales were from the internet, but now with the really popular events, for instance the rugby sevens, that can rise to 8%."
Ticketek plan to boost sales to 10% within 2001. How? For Unger it's that magic word: rebranding. The company is now Ticketek.com. "We have a lot more signage at selected events, just pushing Ticketek.com, and we put our brand on the four million pieces of promotional material we print each year," he says.
But questions remain about the rebranding's success. Net monitor Hitwise research suggests Ticketek.co.nz is far more recognised than Ticketek.com.
Unger says in order to strengthen their online brand, the company ensures internet customers get perfect service. "There are frustrations no matter which way you book a ticket, but the internet is now the easiest and cheapest way to book a ticket," he says.
"Is it cheaper for me to sell a ticket on the net? No, not yet. We don't sell enough to cover it, but certainly I can see in the future our call centre getting smaller and our internet department growing," he says.
With the rash of failing e-commerce sites, how confident is Unger that Ticketek.com can stick it out? "We're not an e-commerce company, and this website is just one way among many for us to sell tickets."
Ticketek.com has the luxury, like other 'bricks and mortar' firms, of not keeping all its eggs in one basket. The website is simply a new conception of an existing retailing game. "It doesn't matter if you buy a ticket through the website or through the Mad Butcher in Mangere," says Unger.
"It's a question of trust. Fortunately we've built on a very established brand, so obviously we'll continue to grow."
What has Unger learnt whilst nurturing the site he calls "my baby"? Firstly, don't underestimate the staffing.
"You can't just put up a complex site like this and just leave it. Management have a tendency to underestimate the service side of things, but it makes such a difference to be able to have someone answer a customer's email within 10 seconds, or have a phone number for them to ring.”
Secondly, don't under-resource the site. "We didn't maintain or evolve the old site. With the new site, we do a major upgrade every three months."
"Listen to the critics, because they give really good advice. That article by Russell Brown was one of the most instructive I've read, and he was absolutely right."