Michael Nabarro gives his advice on how to gently upsell online in the arts


Regents Park Burger

Even in the arts, where we’ve traditionally been loath to adopt tactics or language superficially associated with telesales and fast food outlets, upselling has its place. And that place is to increase revenues. Moreover, it works. Just look at what London’s Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has done with something as simple as a branded hamburger.

From the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre website:

A summertime favourite available before all performances when gates open (90 minutes before evening performances and 60 minutes before matinees).

The Regent’s Park Beef Burger

Our homemade 6oz burgers contain 100% prime Hereford beef, matured for 30 days for extra flavour. Gently seasoned and served with melted Cheddar in a lightly toasted bun. A mouth-watering barbecue classic.


The Regent’s Park Vegetable Stack  

Why not try our roasted Mediterranean vegetable stack; seasoned Portobello mushroom, courgette, aubergine and a trio of bell peppers.

Then there are the extras you can add (two rashers of streaky bacon for £1 (€1.35)), even a gluten-free bun is on offer. That’s upselling in action: where offering an additional product or upgrade enhances the customer’s experience and generates extra revenue along the way.  Critically, the Open Air Theatre offers this upsell online after the customer has their tickets in the basket – the show remains the primary experience on offer, the burger is just an attractive (and optional) extra to order in advance. Introduced at this point in the purchase path the burger is just the icing on the cake of the whole theatregoing experience. It’s the kind of offer that’s proving popular with audiences too: driving F&B (food and beverage) revenue by simply presenting an offer at the right place in the purchase path.

It’s encouraging to see the arts sector beginning to embrace this way of thinking. We have audiences who are increasingly used to making purchases online for anything they might want – and who are well used to being upsold something that adds value to the experience. The time is right for our arts organisations to make this a vital part of every purchase path, be that online, via an app, over the phone or at the box office.

The key to success is to get the tone and approach right, listen to what the customer has to say and be alert to the potential for adding revenue at the ticket purchase stage.

Consider how actively cinemas approach this tactic: sales desks more closely resemble a food outlet than a box office. As a result, the UK’s second largest cinema chain earns 40 per cent of its revenue through food and drink alone. Or look at how Amazon tries to offer you slightly more expensive or additional products based on everything it knows about your preferences. Amazon presents bundle offers and suggests alternatives that ‘you might also like’ and the chance to see what  ‘other people also bought.’

The theatre bar, for instance, has long been a source of additional revenue for venues, but you should look again at your online purchase paths to ensure you’re making the most of this upselling opportunity. A bar has a typically high profit margin, so offers and promotions are an effective (and low risk) way of enticing audiences to spend more money. For online bookers, try maximising the revenue of every sale with a drinks voucher, for example offer £6 worth of drinks at the bar by paying £5 in advance. The customer gets a good deal, and the theatre gets that extra bit of committed revenue. Offers like this don’t only have to be part of the traditional purchase path, on the way to the checkout. They could also form part of a pre-show email, as a limited offer for people who’ve already booked tickets in advance.

Remember that a committed audience member who attends two or three times a year is worth much more to you than a customer who turns up once, buys a gin and tonic at the bar, and never returns. Loyalty is still king. There’s a delicate balance to be struck here, as audiences want to feel welcomed into an arts organisation and to experience something unique and exciting – regardless of whether they do or don’t take up your offers.

Nonetheless, upselling and loyalty don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Alongside upgrading an audience member’s experience, try creating compelling multi-buy options or package deals, encouraging audiences to book for a second visit when they had perhaps originally planned to visit only once. This might come at a new point in the purchase path altogether, for example in a post-show email that offers a reduced rate for new first-time attenders to return and see something else. Upselling and loyalty can be different sides of the same coin, giving audiences the opportunity to support you without undermining what they most care about – the work that you present.