The ticket to Pia's survival = a more usable Web site?

One of Japan's leading ticket vendors - "Ticket Pia" - appears to have hit some financial problems. The company recently announced that it will receive an injection of two billion yen (roughly $18.7 Million) from Toppan Printing to pay for restructuring costs and system costs. Pia says that it's planning to partner with Toppan for some new initiatives:

The editors at the "Web Dice" online magazine point out that Pia will use 1.2 Billion yen to pay for layoffs and the remaining 0.8 billion yen will go towards renovating their ticket system. This leaves no money for collaborative initiatives between Toppan and Pia. I wonder how Toppan's share holders view this.

The Web Dice editors point out that most Japanese people over the age of 30 will feel some emotional attachment to Pia. After all, Pia is the company that sold them the concert tickets for their first dates... Actually that's my experience, but I'm sure it applies to my Japanese friends too.

Back in '80s and '90s, we would make our reservations over the phone and then take some cash to the Pia outlet in the nearest department store. If we wanted to, we could thumb through thick directories of upcoming events and use one of the little pencil stubs that Pia provided to jot the reservation code numbers onto little paper request slips... Fond memories. (Anyone from the UK would find it somewhat reminiscent of Argos).

Sadly, I don't think I'll ever look back on the current Pia Web site with such sugar-coated nostalgia....

I recently attempted to find some entertainment for a specific date in July when some friends of mine are in town. We didn't have a specific event in mind... The first thing I wanted to do was browse events on that date in the Tokyo area. Here's a blow by blow account of my experience:

(1) Browsing the Pia Web site by date wasn't easy... I ended up rooting around in the Music section and then the Theater section and then the Sports section of the site...

(2) Eventually I found a baseball game. Yakult Swallows vs. Yokohama Bay Stars. So I made a note of the reservation code number and sent a message to my friends to ask if they liked the idea. They did.

Yakult_2

(3) I came back to the Web site and input the reservation code number in the search bar....

(4) Nothing came up in the search results. I went through the entire process of hunting down the event through the Sports menu again.

(5) I attempted to buy tickets but was redirected to a registration process that required e-mail verification and other things. I decided to input my credit card information to the profile that I created, thinking that it would save me some time later...

(6) I logged on to the site and went through the entire process of hunting down the baseball game again. I tried to buy tickets, but this time the site demanded a special verification code for online purchases which I vaguely remember receiving from my credit card company...  I couldn't remember the code.

(7) I gave up.

(8) I walked across the road from my apartment to a Lawson 24 hour convenience store. I used the Loppi Kiosk to find the baseball game (also not exactly easy). I paid by credit card and walked out with baseball tickets five minutes later.

Time wasted on the Pia web site: Hours

Time spent to buy a ticket at Lawson: 15 minutes -- including the walk from my apartment

There are more than 40,000 convenience stores across Japan -- and almost all of them seem to be equipped with kiosks and other equipment to allow them to offer a range of event tickets, hotel reservations, ski lift passes and so on. In some industries, companies are doing away with paper tickets altogether -- For example, ANA now allows people to check in for domestic flights by using mobile phones to replace paper tickets.

Simply put, the world has moved on since the 1990s but Ticket Pia is struggling to keep up.

If Ticket Pia wants to reverse the decline in its business it must find ways to be easier to do business with than the neighbourhood convenience stores. Web site usability is probably not the only challenge that Pia faces right now -- but if it doesn't fix that, then its customers are bound to shop elsewhere, regardless of how well that first date went.

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