The dawn of the POS-less cinema era

I may be showing my age here, but I can recall going to the cinema as a child, watching the cartoons and newsreels in awe before the feature and looking forward to the intermission so we could stock up on ice creams. We even stood up before the show to sing the national anthem (God Save the Queen in those days!). Not only that, but cinemas were things of wonder with great sweeping staircases and ornate decor.

Basically, going to the cinema was an experience and everyone appreciated it. There were staff to help you every step of the way, directing you to the right doorways, selling you stuff and showing you to your seats (with a torch if need be!), and generally making you feel welcome.

I’m not suggesting we should go back to those days, but I was intrigued to visit a cinema a while ago that had gone ‘POS-less'. They offered moviegoers a box office area dedicated to purchasing and collecting tickets, and another location that was purely for concession pick-up. There were one or two staff helping the less tech-savvy to navigate the kiosks, manning the ticket validation stations and scanning moviegoer's print-at-home and kiosk tickets. But other than that, not surprisingly, there wasn’t quite the same feeling of service.

POS-less cinema: Is it a good thing?

POS-less cinema clearly introduces some design challenges; I walked straight past the box office area with no idea that using a kiosk was the only option. Of course, this is something that people will become more familiar with as they visit the site and if other chains also adopt the POS-less model. And from a cost and efficiency perspective, it has obvious benefits for the cinema.

However, there are a couple of current trends that suggest that this may not be the nirvana that some people think it could be.

There has been a fair bit of commentary across the cinema industry recently regarding ticket prices. Despite ticket prices increasing, current data shows that occupancy rates are following an upward trend. However, this doesn't mean that cinema owners can rest on their laurels. It's important to make sure that moviegoers have a great experience and still feel special. I’m not sure that adding machines to the equation necessarily helps with the feel-good factor, especially for those less familiar with technology.

In addition, there has been an explosion of alternate sales channels. I feel that if someone is savvy enough to use a kiosk without guidance, then it’s very likely that they would have a smartphone and a preference for having their pre-purchased ticket scanned on their mobile at the entrance to their session. For one thing, it'd save them from having to figure out a process on a machine! While ticketing apps are great, personally, I'd still prefer to have some level of interaction with cinema staff.

My belief (and I would love to research this) is that there is some clear stratification in the cinema audience. There are those who love technology and will pretty much do anything for convenience. And then there are those who may not even have a mobile phone, who head to the movies for a coffee on a Wednesday at 2pm and want to chat with the staff about the week’s events. They need the staff to be there.

I am probably somewhere in the middle of these two audience profiles — I admit that I still want the cinema experience and definitely believe that having interaction with people helps to make that experience great. Technology does, however, offer us some amazing opportunities to improve the convenience of cinema visits by blending our social experience with the purchase of tickets or in-seat concessions from our mobile apps.

Interestingly, one of the biggest drains on a cinema’s labor resource is the part where customers tend to have the worst experience — lining up to buy tickets or concessions. It makes sense to focus our efforts in this area by creating a POS-less cinema environment. At the same time, ensuring that staff are available to guide and help moviegoers is vital to ensuring the cinema experience is kept alive and everyone is made to feel welcome.

Personally I found the POS-less setup a bit sterile. If forced to choose between not being welcomed by cinema staff and doing everything on a machine, but getting to sit in a big comfy chair, versus being made to feel welcome by a real person on my journey to a standard seat, I would probably choose the personal touch.

What do you think?

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