Event Genius’ Lauren Lytle on the benefits of cashless technology at festivals.
The cashless movement for events has developed rapidly alongside the wider move towards a cashless society. As contactless cards and mobile wallets have proliferated in shops, cafes, restaurants and elsewhere, cashless RFID or NFC technology has come on in leaps and bounds after some notable poor results and thus a difficult start in the eyes of the public. The industry has been battling against this perception ever since, but 2019 marked a tipping point in the number of events embracing cashless, with some of the world’s best known music festivals like Tomorrowland now using the tech to great effect.
Encouragingly, event organisers from a wide array of event types and sizes are now realising the benefits of cashless technology. Following in the footsteps of the early adopters in the music festival sphere, cashless systems can now be found at boutique and medium-sized music festivals around the globe, at warehouse and club nights, in sports stadiums or replacing physical token systems at food and drink festivals. Exhibitions and trade shows are also increasingly turning to RFID tech to gamify their guests’ experiences.
Event Genius is currently working with a client to provide cashless payments for an entire theme park with an expected footfall of over a million customers over the course of a month – a testament to the versatility and reliability of the technology in its application to all sorts of event types.
How does it work?
One of the first questions prospective clients ask us concerns how the technology works. Cashless technology is simple in principle. Customers are given a wristband or card with an RFID or NFC chip embedded in it. RFID stands for radio frequency identification and NFC means near-field communication. Both work in a similar way, passing small amounts of data from a transmitter to a receiver, like with a contactless card or Apple Pay.
Vouchers can be purchased before an event and redeemed on entry, or a wristband/card can be topped up at top-up stations around the event using cash, card or mobile top-up. Vouchers have the benefit of giving event organisers an idea of spend at their event in advance, and customers are incentivised with free credit when purchasing.
Once a customer has topped up, they simply head to a vendor, place an order and have their wristband or card scanned by a mobile scanner. The correct amount is debited from the chip and their remaining balance is displayed to them on the scanner. Once the event is finished, customers can reclaim their unspent balance using an online refund portal.
Cashless transactions typically take 1-2 seconds to process compared with 7-8 seconds for a contactless card, and this saving is greatly increased when considering the time needed to load an amount to a PDQ machine, or give change in a cash-based transaction.
Another significant advantage of this technology is that it can run perfectly offline, meaning organisers needn’t worry about Wi-Fi outages crippling their PDQs. If there is a stable internet connection, all the better, as behind the scenes organisers can see in real-time how everything is performing, from the number of vouchers redeemed, to sales by product, which vendor or staff member is selling the most, which bar or food stall needs extra staffing and more.
At the end of the night, reconciliation is instantaneous, cutting back on the hours of late night accounting and the extra staff needed to perform this function. Post-event, organisers can access reams of data to improve and streamline their next event, from marketing, to layout to staffing levels.
Event organisers need to do very little differently in order to implement a cashless system. At Event Genius, our experts in the operations team have a vast wealth of knowledge on cashless technology and event management and are on hand to guide clients through the process, offering advice where it is required.
Best practice when implementing cashless technology would include giving the operations team as much time as possible ahead of the event to benefit from advice in terms of event layout and which product would be most suitable for them.
Communicating to customers that the event will be cashless is an important aspect of pre-event marketing. When customers are well informed about the technology, and know what to expect in advance of their arrival, the benefits of the system are most felt.
One crucial requirement for organisers to consider is if they want real-time reporting. If so, a stable Wi-Fi connection is needed. Events often require Wi-Fi for other aspects of their operation so this is rarely an additional cost, but extra bandwidth may be required to ensure things run smoothly. For those organisers wishing to avoid Wi-Fi implementation, Event Genius Pay is perfectly capable of running offline.
The cost of implementing cashless tech varies depending on the parameters of the event, from expected attendance, to the number of vendors and level of reporting required. Events using the technology typically see a significant uplift in revenue; on average this figure is 26 per cent more customer spend compared to traditional cash and card events.
Traders using cashless technology for the first time are often sceptical, but it usually only takes one event to convert them into believers. We load all their product options to our devices ahead of time and then provide them with our cashless scanners on the day, so there’s no extra effort required.
Our support staff provide comprehensive training on the devices to each vendor individually and ensure they have a direct line of communication to us if they have any issues. More often than not vendors quickly realise the benefits of Event Genius Pay’s speed and ease of use and report better takings than in a cash-based environment. We see vendors on the festival circuit now that have used our system several times and would feel comfortable training others.
Vendors are occasionally nervous about the idea of a third party being introduced to the payment infrastructure at events. In truth, however, Event Genius doesn’t hold any money at all. All payments go directly to the organiser for them to pay their suppliers as would normally happen at an event.
Event Genius Pay actually provides the additional benefit of creating a complete transaction ledger for vendors and organisers should there be any disagreements, and vendors can check how much they have taken throughout the event. They are also given their full takings figure for the day, and often enjoy being able to leave shortly after customers as they are spared having to count their cash.
Security and analysis
Added security is another great benefit of cashless tech. Without the need for cash-based transactions at vendors, cashless events typically see a reduction in theft and fraud and visitors have less to worry about when enjoying their time. RFID/NFC chips are also encrypted, meaning they can’t be read by any unscrupulous characters that may have gained access to the event. Staff cash handling errors can also be eliminated as there’s no back-and-forth between tills holding money and giving change.
Aside from better revenues, shorter queues and a more secure payment environment, one significant advantage of cashless technology is the data it produces. In a cash and card environment, either no data is produced or it is sent to the cardholder’s bank, which makes event analysis difficult.
Using Event Genius Pay, a live reporting suite shows organisers which bars are busy and which are quiet, allowing them to move their staff between locations with ease to keep queuing to a minimum and prevent wasting money. Organisers can also check what is selling well and what isn’t at each location on a reporting dashboard. If one bar or trader is outperforming the others, stock can be diverted to ensure the drinks and food keep flowing.
When it comes to events, some staff are more efficient than others, serving more people in the same period. With cashless payment devices, organisers can see who is taking the most money at each location and form a superhero team of staff on the busiest bars/vendors at peak times.
Cashless data can also improve event planning year on year; events like music festivals require an enormous amount of planning and coordination, and more often than not some bars or vendors will fall victim to poor footfall or overcrowding. With Event Genius Pay, organisers can build a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t and make changes accordingly. Was the main bar overwhelmed? Make it bigger and add more staff. Did nobody happen across the cocktail lounge? Move it to a more prominent position.
The current benefits of cashless tech are clear for both organisers and guests, and the market is becoming more receptive. The onus is on the industry to continue to communicate well and to improve the customer experience through innovation. Notable emerging uses of RFID at events include access control and crowd management, social media location check-ins, and treasure hunts. As event-goers increasingly look to spend their money in immersive environments, diversifying the cashless tech into new streams will be crucial in the years to come.
About the Author
Lauren Lytle is head of operations at Event Genius. An industry expert in delivering RFID, POS and other event technologies, Lauren has worked with some of the biggest stateside festival brands including Coachella, C3 Presents, Outside Lands, X Games Los Angeles and Bonnaroo Music + Arts Festival. She now leads Event Genius Pay (Cashless POS) services globally. www.eventgenius.co.uk