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Title: Masters of Ticket Selling? Not by Brad King -- WIRED.COM
3:00 a.m. May. 22, 2000 PDT Ticketmaster's sometimes contentious relationship with its customers is flaring online.
Long the subject of fan's ire over hefty surcharges added to ticket prices, recent glitches at Ticketmaster Online have fans without tickets and without explanations.
Fans are complaining they are being charged for tickets that never arrive, that they can't track their orders online, and that it is extremely difficult to find a way to communicate their situations with the ticket-selling giant.
But Ticketmaster.com president Tod Stockham said he wasn't aware of any major system problems.
"All of our online features should work all the time, period," said Stockham. "We work really hard to make that happen. That being said, the nature of this business is that everyone wants a ticket in the first 20 rows and when 200,000 people want that, that means by definition people are frustrated with the experience."
When Ohio State University student Joe Polchow received an email notice about an upcoming Counting Crows concert, he immediately linked to the Ticketmaster website. He found a posted message informing fans that the tickets would go on sale the following Thursday. He returned to find that the sale had actually begun the day before.
Still, he found two tickets for a surprisingly low $13.50 each plus surcharges, which brought the total to $42.85. He bought the tickets, got his confirmation number and didn't think about the tickets until he received a phone call from Ticketmaster a few days later.
He said he was informed that the price of the ticket had been inaccurately displayed and should have been $31.50. Polchow said he was told he would have to make up the difference before he received his tickets.
"It's not my fault Ticketmaster has a dyslexic person typing in the price," Polchow said. "A deal is a deal. Their policy is no refunds and exchanges. Then why can't our policy be the same for them?"
According to Ticketmaster, "Policies set forth by our clientsprohibit ticketmaster.com from issuing exchanges or refunds after a ticket has been purchased or for lost, stolen, damaged or destroyed tickets."
Stockham said he would personally look into the matter to find out what happened.
That's not the only complaint fans have about Ticketmaster. Debbie Curren has just been trying to use the service to track her order.
When Curren purchased 'N Sync tickets on the phone for her daughter's 15th birthday, the operator offered her a T-shirt and a signed laminated picture of the band for an extra $40. Figuring her daughter would enjoy the gifts, she took the deal.
Three weeks later, she received the T-shirt, but not the picture. She logged on to the Ticketmaster website and had a difficult time finding the page to send email, which can only be found on the Frequently Asked Questions section.
"I tried to call, but getting through is nearly impossible," she said. "Then I tried to get online to find somebody that I could communicate with. But my daughter's birthday is coming and I wanted to have this gift for her. Now I'm just hoping to get a refund or get what I'm supposed to get."
On three separate occasions over the past week, Wired News attempted to send an email using the website and each time was informed that the request could not be processed. A fourth try was successful.
Stockham said that the company had oversold the posters and would be shipping the orders out as soon as the inventory could be replaced.
Ticketmaster does roughly 20 percent of its business online, Stockham said. In the first quarter alone, the company sold about $2 million a day. On peak days, the site can do as much as $2 million an hour. That makes Ticketmaster the second biggest ecommerce site on the Web, behind only amazon.com.
With all that traffic, the company decided to dedicate an office in Denver to deal with all the customer service problems inherent with online ticketing, including handling the 80,000 emails that flow through the company a month.
But that doesn't ensure that problems won't happen.
Brian Galante hoped to get good seats for an upcoming concert when he encountered problems at the Ticketmaster website.
Galante, a public relations account executive for Pipeline Communications in Washington, was trying to purchase tickets for a Phish show in Raleigh, North Carolina. He went online in hopes of getting his tickets quickly. He filled out the order form and had pavilion seats for the show, but when he clicked on the purchase icon his order was wiped out.
The website offers a password-protected, express service so users can store their billing information. Before Galante could continue purchasing his tickets, he had to create an account with the company.
"I got pretty good seats for the show, but not like what I had before I was sent back to the beginning of the process," he said.
Stockham said there was no company policy that requires users to register for the express system.
While there isn't a watchdog organization that monitors the ticketing industry specifically, there is some recourse for consumers.
"Like any other company, if people are having problems, they should go to an organization like the Better Business Bureau," said Andy Donkin, senior vice president of marketing for Tickets.com.
"Selling tickets online is a little bit of a science and a little bit of an art. In the extreme case where somebody has bought a ticket and hasn't gotten it, you try to work with the venue to replace the tickets. If something does go wrong, we try to help them out."
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), May 24, 2000