Saturday, April 6, 2013

Still Life With Robin: That's (Not) the Ticket

by Peggy Robin

There's no web purchasing experience worse than buying concert or theater tickets. Oh, maybe buying from some fraudulent or phishing website is worse in terms of money down the drain, but for sheer irritation, nothing beats that anxiety-inducing countdown message you get when you hit the "add to cart" button and see that "You have six minutes to complete this purchase."

It's like someone put a time-bomb with a six minute fuse right under your keyboard. You now have five minutes left to try to find the seating chart, look for the fine print about lines of sight and obstructed views, see the possible seats left in groups of four together, make a choice, get back to the credit card information, fill everything in, check the date, check the time, check the year ... tick, tick, tick ... If you decide to go back a screen to make sure you didn't make a mistake in your order, oops, your credit card information has vanished, and you have to fill it in all over again.

Tick, tick, now it's three minutes. Maybe the view is better in the middle of the balcony than in the extreme left of the orchestra? But is there enough time left to check that out? If you hit submit now, remember the tickets are non-refundable. Okay, do it, hit the button.

What's happened? Some obligatory field is now shown in red, indicating that the purchase did not go through. Is it that the name on the credit card does not exactly match the purchaser's name? Or that the promo code for the ticket discount needs to be in ALL CAPS? Or that you failed to provide your mother-in-law's maiden name? And is there a time limit to figure out what's wrong before your purchase evaporates and you have to do it all over again?

Now suppose you have redone the purchase order and this time, it's worked, you've got your tickets. Whew. It's not all fine: You forgot to un-check the box that says you want to receive all future promotions of every production this theater is ever going to undertake, forever. And not just this theater, but a half dozen other venues that use the same ticket vending site.  Next time you go to your inbox, it's full of flyers for shows you never heard of, and never want to hear of.

Unsubscribe! But it's not that simple. You can't do it with just one click of a link; each sender is asking you to confirm the address you want to remove. But because you ordered the tickets under a special email address you created just for these sorts of web purchases, one that forwards to your real email address (to protect it from spammers), you don't actually remember what email address you used, and it's hard to look it up. Perhaps you forgot that you used a specially-created email address, and you try to unsubscribe with your real email address. Now they've got that address, too, and you're receiving duplicates of all the theater spam.

Does this make you nostalgic for the days when you bought your tickets on the phone? You called an 800 number and then spent the next twenty minutes on hold while Muzak played, interrupted at regular intervals by a robotic voice reminding you that "Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line." More Muzak, and then another canned message: "For quality assurance this call may be monitored or recorded."

Either way, by phone or by web, there follows the final indignity, the $3.75 slapped on top of each exorbitant ticket price as your "convenience fee."  It's enough to make you swear off theater entirely. Or maybe just swear.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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