13 May 2007

Tickets@Phone - Get the kinks out

Yesterday I bought a ticket for the game online. Instead of going the will call route, I chose the A's new Tickets@Phone option, which sends a e-ticket to your mobile phone. The idea is that instead of waiting in line for will call tickets at the Coliseum, you could go straight to the gate and show the ticket on your phone. You (and your compatriots) would then be allowed in through the turnstiles.

Two days into this trial period, and I have to go with a phrase we commonly use down here in the Valley:
This product is not fully baked.
Ordering tickets is simple enough. You don't see the option until the last ordering screen where you put in your credit card info. Tickets@Phone costs $2.50 per order, the same price as the Print Tickets at Home option.

The partially hidden paragraph under them menu says this:
If you have selected the Tickets@Phone delivery method. Please enter via the Luxury Suite and Westside Club entrance on the Plaza Level when using Mobile Phone Tickets
IMPORTANT: Remember to save the message on your mobile phone, as this will contain your ticket(s).
Please read the following Terms and Conditions
Mobile Phone Ticketing FAQ
Before you click the Buy Tickets button, you must select your carrier and phone. The technology supports many WAP-enabled phones on Cingular, Verizon, and Sprint/Nextel.

After you've finished the transaction, you'll wait a minute or so in suspense. Relief will come in a WAP Push Alert, which contains a super-special address that you can only reach with your phone. Click on the link and you get this:

Underneath the Harmon Killebrew silhouette (yes I know MLB denies it) is a small, illegible square. That's your barcode, also called a Data Matrix.

The order instructions tell you to go to the Luxury Suite/Club entrance. This is where the positive experience ends. I brought up the e-ticket on my phone and showed it at the gate. The ticket taker had to awkwardly connect a printer to her PDA and a power supply to the printer. Once that was all connected, she took my phone and attempted to scan the barcode. After 30 seconds of futility, she handed the phone back to me and asked me to recite the alphanumeric code underneath the barcode. After another 30 seconds of fumbling with the soft keyboard on the PDA, she got the congratulatory ding! from the PDA, signifying a successful scan. She printed out a paper ticket and handed it to me. After checking with others, she directed me to walk down to Gate C (it was a Plaza Level seat in 208). Confused, I followed her orders and was routinely rejected when I got down to Gate C. According to them the ticket was already scanned (the ding!), so I had to walk back up to the Luxury Suite/Club entrance. After I explained what happened, they let me through - though I was told not to go through the turnstile. I took the elevator up to the Westside Club, completely bewildered.

Obviously, the A's and kept this trial small so that it wouldn't impact regular ticketholders. There are problems that could prevent real acceptance:
  • The gate experience is much more complicated than Tickets@Home or Will Call.
  • Ticket takers don't have a self-contained scanning solution that would make their lives easier. What they have is incredibly kludgy.
  • Instructions for dealing with Tickets@Phone users weren't clear for Coliseum staff.
  • There's no feedback mechanism for Tickets@Phone users. I expect this post to eventually circulate back to the proper parties, but not everyone has the forum I have.
  • Eventually, the technology will morph into ordering/upgrading via mobile phone. Yet there are numerous warnings that Tickets@Phone users should have a printer available and print out a backup just in case. Not everyone who orders via this method will have a printer readily available
My experience is no reflection on the courtesy of the staff. They were quite friendly, just unprepared. There were others who used Tickets@Phone on Saturday, so I couldn't have been alone.

There are simple ways to enhance the experience so that it's smooth for all concerned. Once they address the concerns above, they'll be well on their way. Until then, the product is half-baked.