Tag Archives: ecommerce

A new feature you may never see – ticketing follow up emails

A few weeks ago we rolled out a small update to the ticketing website that sends a reminder email to anyone who has purchased tickets in advance.

This is sort of an experiment. but first, some background.

Recently I attended an event at another cultural institution ( which I won’t name ). A few days prior to the event I received a very up-selling reminder email, reminding me of membership discounts and other events I might like. The links within the email took me to the landing page for the event, and offered little actual information that I found useful unless I wanted to buy even more tickets, or combine my purchase with a book in the shop.

To make things worse, on the night of the event, and just as it was finishing up, I received a “follow up email” , which I found really annoying. It was literally timed to send exactly as the event was ending and while I was on my way out the door, as if to say, “wait, come back in and buy the book too!”

In fact, the subject line read “How did I enjoy [insert event title here]?” But, the email itself didn’t offer me a way to answer that question ( even if I wanted to ) and instead simply pointed me to the same landing page of the event I had just attended, along with links to their social media channels and other upcoming shows I might be interested in. The whole thing made me cringe a little as I pressed the delete button on my phone.

I thought to myself, “let’s not do that.”

I really just wanted to send a gentle reminder email, full of actually useful info to people who were planning to come visit the museum. I thought it would be nice if I had booked tickets in advance to get something like this the day before I was planning to visit. Something with a map and some info on how to get here, and potentially a little synopsis of what I might do once I arrived.

So, here was my thought process.

Like I said, it’s an experiment, and so I’m still just sort of beta-testing this feature, and trying to analyze how useful/annoying people find it. We already get so many emails, so I really wanted to make sure I wasn’t bombarding our visitors with additional garbage, or even worse, confusing them with unneeded information like what I’d recently experienced.

First of all, it would be all about timing. While talking out loud in the Labs about this one, Aaron’s comment was simply “time zones.” Computer’s have time zones ( all of ours are set to UTC ), people are in time zones. It was clearly something to consider.

Right now, we can only assume that you will be here sometime during our open hours on the day you purchased the ticket. We don’t presently do timed tickets, and unlike an event space, each day’s “performance” spans the entirety of our hours.

So we decided to try out sending the reminders the day before at 4pm, our time. I guess it’s generally safe to say that visitors are nearing our time zone the day before their visit, but its really still a best guess. Also, we are not going to “remind you” if you are booking for the same day as that’s probably overkill. So for now, at 4pm, the day before your visit, is when the email goes out.

Next I had some fun coming up with a way to extract all the relevant info from our Ticketing CRM ( Tessitura ).

I needed the following info:

  • All the things going on tomorrow ( this is sort of future proofing for when we let you book other things beyond general admission )
  • All the current orders for all the things going on tomorrow.
  • All the email addresses for all the orders for all the things going on tomorrow.

Getting “tomorrow” was pretty easy in PHP.

$datetime = new DateTime(‘tomorrow’);
$tomorrow = $datetime->format(‘Y-m-d’);

4pm EST is 9pm UTC on the same day, so all good there in calculating “tomorrow.”

Our Tessitura API wrapper I mentioned in my last post has a method that lets us get all the “performances” in Tessitura for a given date range. Simply passing it “tomorrow” yields us all the things we are looking for. We also have a method that can get all the orders placed for a given performance. Finally, we have a method that gets the email for the user that placed the order.

Now we can send the actual email.

Obviously, people place multiple orders and buy multiple tickets per order. I really only want to send one email regardless of what you’ve booked. So when I am looping through all the orders, I only add the email address to the list once.

The last step was to make a cron job that runs this script once a day at 4pm. Done!

( Incidentally, all of our servers are set to UTC, but for some reason our RedHat server’s crontab doesn’t seem to care, and somehow ( possibly magically ) thinks it’s on EST. I have yet to figure out why this is, but for now I am just going with it. )

Right now, the email is a fixed template. We are sending out emails via Mandrill, so we get some decent analytics and can track open rates, and click rates. We also added Google Analytics tracking codes to all the links in the email so we can see what people are clicking right in GA.

So far we’ve experienced an open rate of about 75% and a click rate of about 20%, which seems pretty good to me.

Our open and click rate for the last 30 days.

Our open and click rate for the last 30 days.

And here is the GA results for the “Ticket Reminder” campaign from the same time period. From here you can dive deeper into the analytics to see what pages people are heading to once they are on the site, and all sorts of other metrics.

GA TicketReminder

Since you can only really “see” this feature if you book an advance ticket I’ve posted an image of what the email looks like below. We went through a few design iterations to get it to look the way it looks, and I’d really love to hear your thoughts about it. If you were visiting us, and received this email the day before your visit at 4pm, would you find it useful, annoying, or confusing?

Reminder Email Template

Our reminder email template

Of course this will change again when the Pen goes live shortly.

Rebooting retail – redesigning the Shop at Cooper-Hewitt

Jocelyn Crapo is the Cooper-Hewitt’s Director of Retail Operations. She and her team have been working to transfer the focus of the museum shop from its former physical presence in the galleries to an online experience whilst the redevelopment takes place.

To that end, a brand new ecommerce presence went live as public beta last week.

Here’s Jocelyn.

Tell us about the history of Cooper-Hewitt’s online shop.

The Shop’s first ecommerce site launched in June of 2006, using a custom content management system on the back end and was a close visual representation of the physical shop space. The first iteration used Paypal as the payment processor and the shop staff maintained inventory levels for both the physical shop and the Ecommerce site by running online sales through the Point of Sale in the Shop.

At the time we were using and constantly maintaining three different content management systems within the Retail team and as many accounting platforms within one department.

1. CAM Commerce’s Retail Star Point-of-Sale system to maintain inventory levels and Accounting reports,
2. Filemaker to maintain “blurb” information for display in the physical shop space and to maintain online blurb information
3. Custom CMS to maintain the Ecommerce website
4. Paypal to process Ecommerce sales

It was very inefficient and downright clunky. Not to mention a high risk of human error.

If there was a price change on one product, the price had to be changed in four different places, often requiring action from at least three different people. The price had to be updated in Retail Star, a new tag printed and affixed to the product, the price had to be updated in Filemaker and a new blurb had to be printed and displayed within the shop, and finally the Ecommerce CMS had to be updated for the web. All this for a small change of price in one product!

We began looking for a new inventory management system that could handle more of our needs. We wanted a system where the product attributes (price, blurb, inventory) could all be managed by one person in one place as much as possible. We finally identified a system and launched with the new system in October, 2010.

How did the old site perform?

During the first 5 years, our online sales ranged from 5-8% of our gross sales – which may not seem very significant, but given the small investment cost that went into the site in 2006, it paid for itself many times over.

As we were able to gather better and better data from Google Analytics we found that we had a conversion problem. We were getting visitors to the site, but in the end only 0.39% of the total visitors who came to the online shop actually purchased something.

Worse, only 10.81% of the visitors who put something in their cart actually completed the transaction.

While we were frustrated with the back-end functionality we knew that we had to streamline our front-end usability issues and bring up the conversion rates.

As we approached the beginning of a major renovation at the Cooper-Hewitt campus at the end of 2011, it was crucial to move forward as quickly as possible to get the new website on its feet. It quickly became the sole revenue source for the retail business venture and we needed a way to put more products online – quickly and easily. Moving from having both a physical shop and an online shop to having just an online shop has posed some new challenges.

We’ve had to re-evaluate order quantities and think differently about our space constraints. We don’t have the luxury of having two different selling platforms. We no longer have the face-to-face contact on the sales floor that inherently sparks a connection and relationship between the retailer and visitor. We are also challenged to interact visually and via narrative, rather than a tactile, person-to-person selling experience.

What were the features you looked for in a new site?

We needed a new system that offered;

– Real time inventory management for multiple sales channels: POS in physical shop space, Ecommerce site, potential pop-up shops, etc.

One immediate problem we experienced was maintaining inventory levels, especially when we had a product that was picked up for editorial coverage and we had a hard time keeping product in the shop, while fulfilling the website orders. It became obvious very quickly that we needed a much more robust system that could maintain real-time inventory, selling products through the physical shop, through an off-site kiosk or pop-up shop, and on the web with one central inventory.

– Seamless payment.

The old site used Paypal as the payment gateway and we knew from Google Analytics that many visitors to our site who had placed items in their shopping cart were not completing their purchases. By doing some tracking we discovered that nearly 9 out of every 10 were abandoning the purchase when they left us to checkout through Paypal.

– Modern, flexible navigation and search, not to mention SEO.
– Integrated members discounting
– Flexible product pages that would allow us to tell the stories of different products and why we had selected them for our shop.
– Real time Fedex pricing

Let’s look at some before and after screens

Home page before and after. The new site is less cryptic and allows us to show many more products immediately.

Product category view before and after

Product detail before and after. The new site gives the ability to have more detailed information on the products, large pop up views, as well as recommendations in the sidebar.

Checkout before and after. A much more streamlined checkout process without having to go offsite to PayPal.

How do you think the online shop will affect the future retail presence of Cooper-Hewitt?

Looking forward, I imagine we will have a very different perspective as we plan to open the next iteration of The Shop at Cooper-Hewitt when the museum re-opens.

What were once major factors in product selection will likely become less important, for example, our audience won’t necessarily be limited to people who can physically come to the Upper East Side, and we’ll undoubtedly have an off-site storage facility that will allow us to offer larger footprint products like furniture, lighting, textiles, even wallpapers.

We will also be able to use web analytics to inform merchandising strategies as we re-open a brick and mortar shop down the line, for instance, we can start to drill down into the purchasing habits of our customers, i.e. people who bought “x” also bought “y”. Armed with this knowledge we might merchandise two products together, that we wouldn’t have ever dreamed of displaying together before.

In fact, we will have the tools to do some online experiments which will provide quick and measurable results about what products sell best when merchandised together. These types of statistics were impossible to gather within our physical space since we had no way to track real time results of merchandising changes.

It will be very interesting, now that we have this new ecommerce system in place, whether the new identity of the physical shop will respond to the website or if the website will morph to a brand new graphic expression in response to the design of the new Shop to open with the new museum buildings.

When does the new site launch?

It is in public beta right now! And we’re doing a formal launch in May after we make some incremental improvements to it over the next two months.

Check it out!