Thoughts on choosing a theatre box office system

Written by Andrew Thomas

Over the last 18 months we’ve designed and developed a number of event driven websites for the arts and creative industries - producing user experiences to promote and sell tickets directly to audiences.

A large part of these projects is integrating an organisation or company's website with an existing box office system, including the purchase path and taking online payment. Previously we've developed these features internally, within the website itself. However this has traditionally only captured basic online audience data. It has become more prevalent to connect online and offline data capture and all the channels in between - including social media channels like Facebook and Twitter.

We've witnessed this decision and the process of integrating a box office system in many arts organisations - being there at the start of the journey of selecting a box office system has provided us with great insight. And because of this we’ve had experience with some of the most popular choices and thought it would be useful to note some of the questions that we've encountered during the selection process.

Here are 5 question to consider when choosing a box office system
  • Will you be selling tickets off and online?
    If a box office operates both on and off-line you'll probably want them to be linked in some way - firstly to get an overview of sales, but perhaps also to map and report on audience purchase patterns. Consider a system that can sit at front of house as well as be linked to your website.
  • Will direct access be needed to audience data?
    This come down to data ownership and who's in control of the data. We've encountered quite a few systems that do not provide access to the audience data; limiting the amount of analysis you can do to the tools provided by the box office system. It also limits the potential marketing opportunities you can have with extended audience data.
  • How will box office be managed?
    Consider how your box office works at the moment - a dedicated events team that work from a central office may require access to individual parts of a box office system, but not as a whole. Its also likely that this type of system will be only accessible on-site - whereas a box office managed by an individual is more likely to require access to an entire system and to have access from anywhere via a cloud based box office.
  • Do you really need to take payments?
    Some shows are free and others have a ticket price. You'll probably want revenue from tickets to be paid directly, but its worth while considering the complications that come with it - applying for internet merchant accounts, and working to PCI compliance. If you're only selling low numbers of tickets then it may be worth considering a system that handles online payment for you.
  • Do you have a dedicated marketing team?
    This may seem a random question when selecting a box office software, but the two are roles connected in so many ways - if your marketing budget is limited you may consider a system that has marketing tools built in. Its common for box office systems to handling e-mail marketing or link with well known online providers such as Mailchimp or social media channels.

Unfortunately there's no perfect fit with any box office system, there will always be a compromise - making the choice difficult. Often its a decision that can prove to be quite costly in both time and money, but selecting the right system will be very rewarding and when done well - enhance the experience that your audience has of your organisation.

After all, the first interaction with your organisation is often your box office.