The Secret to Cutting Queues at Festivals

Nick Hucker is CEO of Preoday, a role he has fulfilled for over a year after initially joining the company as Head of Business Development in September 2017. Prior to joining Preoday, Nick was Regional Sales Lead for Northern Europe, Middle East and Africa at global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson. In this role he was responsible for all software solutions sales across the Life & Non-Life solutions, Enterprise risk platform, Iaas and Saas solutions. He managed over 150 clients and a senior sales team. Nick has also worked at Microsoft UK in business development and solution specialist roles, SunGard iWORKS and London First Group.

Every year, thousands of fans look forward to their summer festivals, but one element they don’t look forward to is having to stand in line for food and drink, or toilets! The nature of the music festival industry is rapidly changing. Consumers are looking at the bigger picture and demanding a better all-round festival experience. The exponential rise in boutique festivals illustrates the drive for a highly curated, enjoyable customer experience. Unable to rely simply on headline acts, organisers must provide a service that addresses these grievances.

The area of queues is one that some festivals urgently need to improve on if they’re not going to suffer serious reputational damage. As an example, music fans who attended events at Finsbury Park at the start of last July called for refunds after reporting ‘shambolic’ organisation, much of which was down to queuing times. There were reports that fans had to wait up to two hours to get a drink at the bar. Not only did they argue this was dangerous due to the blazing heat, but it caused many to miss large chunks of the show.

However, it’s not only the customers and festivals that suffer, it’s also the vendors themselves. Thousands of food traders, charities, campaigning organisations and other vendors are present at festivals every year. Competition is high for custom, but the nature of the hungry or thrifty reveller means that it’s not always the product on offer that is most likely to win their wallets. No, for a good portion of revellers, what is for sale – be that food, drink or sunglasses – will be of less consequence than the size of the queue leading to its purchase.

With almost all festival-goers bringing a smartphone and 4G WiFi gradually becoming a growing reality, mobile transactions in pre-ordering food and drink have become the natural progression for a much improved and positive consumer experience. Pre-ordering only requires signposted collection points, meaning no long queues and no cash. We would argue that enabling customers to pre-order food and drink ahead of attending a festival, or at the festival would be a logical step, but we are aware of the unique challenges that festivals face. Despite progress, a stable internet connection for the vendors and customers can be a problem, particularly for rural festivals.

This can impact both the ordering and payment of purchases. One way around this is to require customers to pay in advance when they order online, to then pick up at the festival. All that needs to happen is for drink orders to be placed in advance and the customer to be sent a unique number or QR code. The vendor will receive orders in advance of the festival and be able to see them on their tablet or print-out list.
Then, when the customer comes to pick up their purchase, all they need is a print-out or to have taken a screengrab on their phone – no internet needed. When at the event, the person walks to the bar, has their code scanned / entered into the system and the pre-ordered drinks are handed over. If the vendor has the orders on their tablet, the staff member can check off the orders offline and once the device is connected to the internet, it will sync up to confirm that the orders have been completed.

This offline pre-order system works particularly well with pre-made food or drinks that can be picked up. If the refreshment being ordered is in a can or bottle, then it can easily be chilled prior to collection – far more pleasant for the customer than warm, pumped drinks. Not only that, but drink quantities can be accurately judged, meaning little to no waste as the operator knows exactly what volume to have delivered in advance. This can be a huge money saver for vendors.

During last year’s season, we had the pleasure to work with some amazing household brand names in a festival setting. For example, one is a wonderful charity called FRANK Water, which sells refillable water bottles at festivals around Britain. Customers at festivals including Cornbury and Green Man had rapid access to drinks – already paid for – and that the extra revenue generated has a direct benefit for the charity’s fresh water initiatives.

Digital ordering at festivals can only be win-win-win for the customers, the stall holders and the festival organisers themselves. Stallholders will lose less business if they aren’t obscured by lengthy queues and will therefore attract more walk-by customers; customers will benefit by paying, collecting and returning to their gig at record speed; and the festival gets more downloads of its app and greater engagement.

Festival-goers have strangely contradictory personalities. On the one hand, they act on impulse, heading for food only when they feel hungry, sleeping only when they absolutely must. On the other, they plan their days intricately, knowing exactly where they want to be and who they want to be seeing at what time. It’s this aspect of the festival-goer’s personality that would go head-over-heels for the opportunity to pre-order their food, drink and merchandise in advance. No more queues, no need to carry cash and a lower risk of losing their well-earned viewing spot for Ed Sheeran on the Pyramid Stage.

One of the recurring issues that arises is queuing. In 2014 and 2015, queuing in festivals constituted one of the top three biggest pitfalls within the UK and Europe, and has been mounting every year. Similar grievances surfaced in a report across 40 states in America. Queues act to remind consumers of day-to-day life they seek to avoid, and whilst many experience their highest moments at festivals, feelings of disgruntlement are more immediate and acute. Overinflated ticket prices have placed huge pressure on attendees to get the experience that they had anticipated. Latitude, for example, saw a 103% increase in ticket prices from 2006-2015.

With many of these music festivals drawing in A-List musicians from around the world, standing around in a queue for 45 minutes every morning just to get a bacon butty and a coffee seems a heavy price. Whether lining up for food and drink or entry, visibly long queues stunt revenue and profit. In ordering food or drink, 45% of potential customers in the last 12 months have abandoned lines because the queue was too long. This demonstrates that poor customer experience directly affects businesses within music festivals. Efforts to reduce queuing at Glastonbury Festival went unnoticed as people still waited up to 12 hours to enter the grounds. However, there are signs of a better consumer experience ahead.

The key challenge for festivals around the world is to re-establish connection with the music fans themselves. According to a recent market report, attendees ranked cashless transactions as one of the most important changes they want to see across festivals.

What does this mean for the consumer?

  • Faster transactions mean less time waiting in queues
  • No need to carry around large amounts of cash on them
  • No need to pay ATM commission fees

What does this mean for the vendor?

  • Faster queues bring in greater revenue
  • Cash loss is reduced to 0%
  • Order value increased by up to 40%

Chip-integrated wristbands started to tap into the idea of the resourceful festival-goer with entry and contactless payment on a tech bracelet. However, user feedback has often found it lacking. In 2015, bracelet failures left people unable to buy food or drink at Download Festival and led to queues bigger than before. Moreover, these bracelets still necessitate a face-to-face transaction, still resulting in queues.

With over 90% of festival-goers bringing a smartphone and 4G now a reality, mobile transactions in pre-ordering food and drink have become the natural progression for a much improved and positive consumer experience. Pre-ordering only requires signposted collection points, meaning no long queues and no cash. Customers order on average nearly twice as much compared to standard purchases. Additionally, information gathered through mobile pre-ordering provides essential information for vendors in better managing order flows, costs and also providing personalised deals and rewards for customers. Those who order once are three times more likely to use the service again. Whether for food and drink or other merchandise, books and records, the simplicity of ordering allows a fluidity that benefits both the consumer and vendor.

The importance of the festival experience cannot be overstated. The growth of boutique festivals reveals a developing industry towards a more immersive experience, free from distraction and curated for its attendees. Long queues have been damaging for both this consumer experience but also for retail, which loses out on far greater potential revenue. Pre-ordering has become the natural progression that gives freedom to the customer in choosing when and where to order but also to the vendor in understanding the customer’s habits and needs. Trends are changing rapidly and it’s important to follow the pulse on what mattes to the consumer.

What’s more, because of the collective nature of the festival, stalls don’t need to build or promote individual apps. To expect customers to download and compare apps from hundreds of stalls is unrealistic. Instead, food, drink and merchandise options can be integrated into the festival’s existing event app and laid over a map so as to be easily sorted and identified – much like an aggregator. Everything in one place? What could be easier for them?

With the offer of pre-ordering driving even more app downloads, food, drink and merchandise, sellers can integrate their business smoothly into the overall festival and app experience. And, after all, isn’t that what Glastonbury, Bestival, Download and every other festival of this kind is really about, the experience?

The great news for festivals is that Preoday has the ability and the experience to integrate its technology neatly into existing platforms, thereby creating a seamless experience for the customer, and a smooth workflow for the app manager.