Unified baskets: Challenges, questions and looking ahead

Author: Caspian Turner

Even before Coronavirus, arts and cultural organisations were working to develop secondary revenue streams in response to reducing subsidies.

And despite the cultural recovery fund package (that was introduced in direct response to the pandemic), many organisations are still facing significant financial challenges. With the UK government announcing plans to cut arts subjects funding by 50% last  month, the need to increase earned and donated revenue is only likely to continue.

One way to diversify revenue streams is by ‘upselling’ other parts of an organisation’s product offer, and this is something that many cultural venues are already doing.

Arts organisations have a varied offering. A single venue might offer memberships, donations, performances where customers can select their seat, timed admission plays or exhibitions, talks before or after the event, travel and parking options, drinks and dining options, programmes, prints, books and other memorabilia. The list goes on.

Yet, while there have been many attempts to solve the challenges around integrating ticketing and ecommerce platforms, we are yet to see a site launched that can adequately support the sale of each of these products at the same time.

Which raises the question, does there need to be?

We wanted to reflect on some of the current challenges that might be causing this blocker, to help explain why trying to integrate every platform into a single user experience may in fact not be the best solution, from both a user experience and cost point of view.

This will also help us to consider some of the things that you, as arts and cultural organisations, can be thinking about when establishing the best checkout experience for you and your audiences.

Do your users want to buy everything you offer at the same time?

This is arguably the most important question.

Do your customers want the option of purchasing all of your products as part of a single transaction? Customers booking months in advance of an event may not know whether they want to pre-order a drink, or their mode of travel.

Presenting users with too much information can result in cognitive overload and in turn create a poor overall user experience. And presenting customers with too many options can lead to analysis paralysis – an inability to choose between the options presented.

If customers spend time browsing products having already selected their tickets, it’s likely that they will run out of time and their basket will be emptied, which creates a hugely frustrating experience and importantly, a loss of sales (Hick’s law explains this in more detail).

Of course there are routes to avoid this. But it’s worth noting that the ticket booking experience shouldn’t be the only touch point you have with your customers.

How many different products do you plan to sell?

Are you new to the world of ecommerce, or are you looking to increase sales of an established shop?

Most ticketing systems allow some kind of ‘work around’, where events can be repurposed to sell products, rather than tickets.

If you only plan to sell a small range of products (e.g. programme books), then handling this through your ticketing system may be the best option

But if you have a larger collection of product lines we’d always recommend working with an ecommerce platform, as they have a number of out-of-the-box features available, including product previews, offers, taxonomies and inventory management.

Typically we’d recommend Shopify. Though if you have specific integration needs (and more budget!) you might look at something like Magento. Emma Roberts from Digital Culture Network recently shared a really useful round-up of the top 7 ecommerce platforms.

How will you manage fulfillment?

If there are different fulfilment options for each type of product, your customers are forced into making multiple purchase decisions – presenting a barrier to task completion and increasing the risk of abandoned baskets.

Each of the following questions adds another level of complexity to the ‘unified checkout experience’:

  • Do you still post printed tickets? As organisations move to contactless and cashless experiences, it’s likely that if you hadn’t offered digital tickets before, you are trying to now.
  • Do you have general admission spaces? If so, do you have scanners in place?
  • Can programme books be collected on attendance? How do you record whether they’ve been picked up?
  • How does your ticketing & CRM system handle memberships? Do you send a membership card?
  • Can customers gift memberships, products or tickets and send them directly to friends and family?
  • Can shop items be collected on attendance? If not, how much will you charge for postage?
  • E-commerce platforms tend to offer more granular control of shipping fees. Do you charge based on product weight? Will you ship products internationally (think about taxes and import charges?)

What can you do now?

Assess your organisation’s motivation for exploring a unified basket

  • Is this driven by an objective to increase sales, or to provide a better user experience? Are you trying to gain a more holistic view of order data?

Analyse your data

  • Your data may exist in multiple systems, but it’s likely that you can analyse it in a unifying key, such as an email address (using tools such as Tableau or Microsoft BI, even Excel!)
  • Use this data to verify whether customers are already buying multiple products or product types, and decide whether there’s actually a need.
  • If customers are buying, supporting or engaging in multiple ways, you can analyse the timings of those transactions in relation to one another (e.g. when are customers most likely to purchase from the shop or make a donation in relation to when they visit?)
  • Assess when your communications are most effective and display appropriate upsell options or ‘nudges’ based on the context of the customer’s transaction.

Obscure complexity

Your customers are looking for a quick and easy checkout experience, so while your website may be supported by a chain of complex business systems, try to keep this hidden. How?

  • Rather than trying to integrate all of your software solutions, present users with just one or two ‘upsell’ options within your ticketing system that are specifically relevant to what they were already buying (e.g. a programme for the theatre show they’re booking). This is more likely to have a positive impact on conversion rates.
  • Try to make it as easy as possible for customers to complete discrete tasks, removing distractions and only displaying relevant upsell options.

Another element to consider here is the work that goes into reconciliation for finance teams (something else that’s of no importance to your customers).

If you opt to sell products via your CRM and Ticketing system, you’ll need to manually manage stock control between systems. And with most cultural organisation’s shops operating under a separate trading arm, this also requires internal cross-charging to ensure that the finances are correctly accounted for.

This is another thing to try and hide from your users, but also raises questions around the value of trying to create a single checkout experience (and justifying the associated costs).

  • Do you confirm completed transactions in each system and reconcile finances? How much additional work would this create for finance teams?
  • Would a combined basket generate enough additional revenue to make this additional administration worthwhile?
  • Would a fully integrated solution generate enough additional revenue or reduce manual intervention enough to justify the development costs?

Without a ‘one-size-fits-all’ software solution that easily and adequately manages ticketing, memberships and commerce, we hope that this article provides a useful starting point for organisations considering how to build a checkout experience that’s best suited to both their business and customers’ needs.


If you have any questions or would like to have chat about any of the above, please do just get in touch: team@substrakt.co.uk