‘It isn’t fair most ticketers don’t refund’: Skiddle on industry ethics
Ben Sebborn, co-founder and director of UK primary ticket agency Skiddle, has called for higher ethical standards in the global ticketing sector, saying many of the major players still have some way to go in offering customer service on par with other industries – and that no-questions-asked ticket refunds should be the norm.
Speaking to IQ, Sebborn, who co-founded Preston-based Skiddle with Richard Dyer in 2001, hails the success of his company’s Cool:Off refund initiative, wherein ticket buyers are given 72 hours to change their minds, which contributed to a huge 67% increase in sales in 2016. “It isn’t fair that most ticketing outlets don’t offer refunds,” he says. “If the customer demand is there, then the industry needs to adapt to reflect this demand.”
Sebborn (pictured) says Cool:Off, along with its sister Re:Sell ticket exchange scheme, is good for both fans and promoters – the latter because tickets returned for a refund can be sold on, leading to fewer empty seats. “We introduced our Re:Sell and Cool:Off schemes for this very reason, and since their introduction they have been overwhelmingly successful, not just for customers, who want and need flexibility with their tickets, but for promoters, too,” continues Sebborn. “The refund option reduces the amount of no-shows at the event, increasing the amount of money taken at the bar and on merchandise.”
In terms of that 72-hour period, Sebborn says a three-day cool-off is “key for customers who have decided they can’t attend an event. However, if a customer gets in touch outside this period, we will offer name changes and the Re:Sell option on the tickets free of charge.”
With Skiddle on course for another year on strong growth, Sebborn attributes the company’s success to its focus on the consumer. “We like to think of ourselves as music lovers first and businesspeople second,” he explains, “so with every business decision we think, ‘How does this help our customers?’. If it doesn’t, we don’t implement it. It’s as simple as that.”
“We like to think of ourselves as music lovers first and businesspeople second”
That customer-centricity, Sebborn claims, is something that’s sorely lacking in the live entertainment ecosystem at large, where fans are forced to battle dishonest touts, clunky websites and “silly restrictions” on shows for a chance to see the artists they love.
Specifically, he highlights four areas where the industry can improve:
“For-profit secondary ticketing is always going to be an area of focus for Skiddle until the problem is resolved and fans get a fairer deal. We are constantly rolling out new measures to prevent touting, from printing customer names on tickets and changing names for free to withholding barcodes until just before an event and scanning our ticketing queue to remove known touts.
“We are doing all we can, but, realistically, the bigger players need to get involved, too.”
“Ticketing technology is extremely behind the times and needs to drastically improve. Our industry has always been slow to adapt – even in 2017, for example, a lot of outlets don’t have adequate mobile-friendly sites. We have always invested heavily in tech because we want the ticket-buying process to be as easy and efficient as possible. We recently introduced a swipe-to-review feature with Tinder-style technology that’s been really well received.”
“In terms of the events themselves, one thing that really bugs us is that for bigger events, the organisers often insist on silly restrictions for artists – such as not being allowed to play within 100 miles of that event in the months leading up to it. This increases demand but also reduces options for music fans, who can’t see their favourite artists or bands in their hometowns as a result of these restrictions.”
“Other areas of focus for us include working in partnership with charities and enterprises to make live music safer for women, and more accessible for people who are less able. It’s an important, but often overlooked, area.”
Despite these music biz bugbears, Sebborn says the industry is beginning to change, with “new and emerging competition from start-ups and other growing ticketing outlets” forcing the old guard to become more customer-friendly.
“For too long the big boys dominated the ticketing industry on every level,” he comments, “meaning that there wasn’t only a lack of competition, but also a lack of choice. It was a proper elephant in the room – everyone knew the ticketing industry was too focused on making money rather than the customer experience, but all the major players got away with it for far too long. This isn’t as much the case anymore.”
“One of the reasons Skiddle has been successful is because we purposefully tried to shake things up. We wanted to offer something different – ticketing with a conscience – and our products and behaviour reflect this. Don’t get us wrong: there is still a long way to go, and these issues can’t be stamped out overnight. Unacceptable and unethical behaviour still exists in our industry. But by speaking out and offering greater choice, we can play our part in ensuring ticketing changes for the better.”