We need to talk about your website

I apologise for the terrifying-sounding title for this blog. It’s not that scary, honestly.

I’m from Spektrix, where we make ticketing, marketing and fundraising software for the arts. We work with arts and cultural organisations in Europe and North America, but the core of our user base is here in the UK – including 8 out of the 9 Future Art Centres founding organisations.

For our annual conference last year, we put together our first aggregate data report. We oversee a huge amount of data from over 190 arts organisations, so we’re in a unique position to see how the UK arts sector is performing in terms of their sales, fundraising and marketing. We’ve explored all kinds of data for this: things like average email open rates, audience re-attendance statistics, and which sales channels sell the most tickets.

We’ve averaged these stats across all of the venues who took part in the study, but we’ve also divided organisations by type to look at groups in isolation; groups like regional producing venues, London venues, as well as arts centres. Of the 144 arts organisations included in the report, 22 of these are UK arts centres. I want to look closely at one particular statistic in this report about arts centres, and offer some solutions to the problem it raises.

(Disclaimer: this is quite a statistics-y paragraph.) We divided up ticket sales by channel to compare online sales with over the phone / at the box office sales. The average for 144 organisations shows that 43% of sales are now processed online, whilst 57% happen on the phone or at the box office. Arts centres, on the other hand, average 35% web sales to 65% phone and counter sales; 7% below the average for online sales and the lowest proportion for any venue type we looked at.

Should this be cause for concern? Many arts centres sell tickets for their cinemas alongside live performances and other events, meaning a greater amount of walk-up and audiences who are less likely to book ahead than theatre audiences. By their nature, arts centres have a more complex programme on offer than theatres and other cultural organisations, that might be easier for audiences to understand whilst standing in the building at the box office rather than when browsing online.

There is a missed opportunity for arts centres here, however. The general trend means that websites are increasingly becoming the primary sales channel for all arts organisations, and for good reason. Per ticket sold, websites are much cheaper to run than box offices with less staff resource needed. They give audiences the option to learn about your organisation at their own pace too, and offer a quicker and easier method of buying tickets for many – not least for younger audiences, who often feel most comfortable purchasing online.

Arts centres evidently do a good job of converting their box office visitors into paying customers, and it’s important that this continues to happen. But what about those who browse an arts centre’s website, consider buying tickets, then leave without doing so? These are the potential customers that arts centres need to engage in order to make the most of their websites.

So how can arts centres get more people buying tickets online? Here are a few pieces of advice:

  • Scrap booking fees. Don’t penalise your customers for saving you money and buying online.
  • Improve your cross-selling. It’s much easier to encourage someone who’s already looking to buy tickets to your events than to attract a brand new person. Make sure your engaged audiences get to know about everything else they might like on the way to the checkout.
  • Invest in analytics. Think of your website as your most efficient member of staff. Review it regularly, monitor everything that’s important to you in Google Analytics, and invest money to make sure your site is constantly improving.
  • Make it look good. Your website should be attractive to look at and easy to use, whatever device your audiences are using. As a creative organisation, your website should look as vibrant as your programme.

The 8 Future Arts Centres principles are a powerful reminder of what’s unique and exciting about our arts centres. But we shouldn’t gloss over the importance of principle no. 3: ‘Arts centres are ‘businesses’ making significant contributions to the economy’. Arts centres are absolutely businesses, and having a website that successfully contributes to this is just good business. Taking an honest look at your data can help you to generate (and save) more money, and this isn’t something to be squeamish about – it’s integral to securing the future of arts centres.

Want to ask anything about our aggregate data project? Get in touch on libby.penn@spektrix.com