Enhanced intelligence: New technologies provide better knowledge of customer preferences


The barrage of new technology in the cinema industry over the past five years has been staggering, and difficult to even keep up with. But the advances that have been made have truly enhanced the movie experience for the customer and this must always be our end goal.

We have embraced and accepted the digital revolution, and the many peripheral adoptions that have accompanied it. For the concession stand, as for the box office, this means that the intelligence that we can now gather about our patrons is far superior to what we had in the past.

At the recent CinemaCon in Las Vegas, the new technology on display that links the moviegoing experience together with the financial transaction was impressive. Calling it “artificial intelligence” might be a bit of a stretch, since it is ultimately up to the operators to analyze and act on the data that is being gathered, but the machines that are capturing it are anything but human. We are learning how to better understand our theatre patrons before they walk into the theatre and while they are there.

The first stop is the box-office ticket POS system and the ability to drive customers to certain movies at certain times. The loyalty programs that have been enacted around the country are working in tandem with the robust new POS systems that capture specific purchases to specific patrons and can speak volumes about consumer habits. Theatres can now offer specific discounts to specific patrons to view movies at off-peak times. They can also offer concession discounts and coupons that can be cashed in at specific times.

There have been wonderful surveys conducted over the years that have given us a data bank of knowledge of concession habits. But today, companies can gather this data themselves through technology and can base their communication back to the consumer on this data. This has the most application for site-specific traffic to understand the make-up of the demographic and its habits.

The concession POS systems have also come a long way in sales tracking and trends. The systems are user-friendly, item-specific, and integrated with replenishment. There are also new applications that allow ordering from smart-phones to go directly into POS systems. These apps are primarily designed for the dine-in theatre concept, for the menus that are offered inside the auditorium. But they also open up the door to the ever-elusive pre-ordered concessions. The apps that are just entering the market today allow for both the order and the payment to be made from smart-phones.

Digital Signage

Transformation! That’s the word that sums up the menu boards introduced over the past five years. The digital signage that is available today to advertise the latest movies, concession promotions, hot popcorn just popped, and many other things have become very versatile, very graphic and very integrated. Digital signage can even be integrated with POS systems to advertise specific promotions. This technology is also a takeaway from other industries, but is here to stay in cinemas.

The ability to watch movie trailers and commercial clips while waiting in the concession line, including clips tied to the screen-ad programs that theatres have available, have made it financially feasible for the theatre to absorb the cost, and entertain the customer at the same time.

Mobile Marketing

Mobile text messaging is also new in the market, with coupon delivery via smart-phones scanned on theatre barcode readers. This ties in nicely with the applications mentioned above where the patron can actually place an order. It would be the textbook definition of a call to action if you could text a coupon to the patron and have the order placed for it referencing the coupon number, all from the same device.

This all sounds great, and it is. It just means that we are catching up to what is already happening in some other industries to really harness the power of all the smart-phones in the marketplace and the applications they can run. Marketing through new and innovative technologies to the consumer both before they get to the theatre and while they are there simply allows us to maximize the real estate we are managing.

There were many technology companies exhibiting at CinemaCon with these solutions and more. The intelligence that we are gaining about the consumer through these programs is invaluable to answering the customers’ needs and wants to keep our industry strong and healthy. The theatre is a social gathering place, and knowing what makes the consumer tick, and come back for more, is more important than ever. Social-media communication itself is an important component of this and a topic to be taken up another day. But the technology that is driving the transactions in the theatre should be front and center when looking at how to improve a theatre operation and drive food and beverage sales.

Please send comments to Anita Watts at anita@reactornet.com.