October 12, 2010, 5:00 PM

From WAP to app, what Fandango has learned in five years of mobile commerce

The movie ticket retailer had to think beyond buying when it went mobile.

Lead Photo

Jessica Yi, vice president of product development at Fandango

Fandango has long been mobile, just not always in as sophisticated a way as it is today, Jessica Yi, vice president of product development at movie ticket retailer Fandango and its sister site Movies.com, said today at Internet Retailer’s first Mobile Commerce Forum 2010 in Chicago.

Fandango launched in 2005 its WAP site, based on Wireless Internet Protocol, a technology used in the early days of the mobile web. Since then, it’s added robust shopping apps, bar code scanning and mobile advertising. Yi discussed what Fandango has learned from its unusually long experience in mobile, and her company’s plans for the future.

Fandango, which sells tickets to films showing on over 16,000 movie screens nationwide, first went mobile in order to be available to customers anytime, anywhere. It’s since launched apps for the iPhone, BlackBerry, Palm and Google Inc.’s Android, and is releasing one next month for mobile devices using Windows 7.

Beyond its apps’ basic tasks of simplifying the process of buying tickets via a phone, another important early innovation was to incorporate geolocation technology that identifies where a user is and show her movies playing nearby, Yi said. That way a consumer visiting her sister 40 miles away can still find movies playing in her area, despite not knowing the ZIP code, Yi said. Another feature, called GoNow, shows a list of movies playing within the hour—a handy tool for those who get to a theatre late and encounter long lines or a sold-out show.

Fandango also had to think beyond buying when it went mobile, Yi said. Many of its web site visitors come to Fandango to look up show times, read reviews or watch the movie previews called trailers. And so Fandango took the time to incorporate all these features into its apps.

“You have to have high-quality trailers; bad quality equals bad feedback,” Yi said, adding that it garners much of its feedback for its iPhone app from the reviewers in Apple Inc’s app store. “Those are some of our harshest critics,” Yi said. “It’s tough to get more than 3.5 stars.”

For example she says Fandango rushed to introduce the first version of its iPhone app and didn’t allow mobile users to register and save credit card information. App store consumers didn’t like that, and they let Fandango know, Yi said. It has since added the ability to sync web accounts with mobile, and also now shows purchase history and allows mobile shoppers to redeem promotional codes, Yi said.

To further serve as a mobile information hub, Fandango has added to its apps something it calls Movie Tweets that collects movie-related tweets from Twitter and feeds them to the app. “That isn’t an easy add when you have movies out there called ‘Up’ and ‘Salt’,” Yi said.

Success for Fandango in the mobile realm, however, doesn’t end with creating an informative, robust app, Yi said. It takes cooperation and external partnerships. For example, Fandango has rolled out two-dimensional bar code ticketing at 100 theatres that enable mobile shoppers to present a bar code on their phones to be scanned as a ticket. “With this, the cost was not just to Fandango,” Yi says. The theaters had to pay for special scanners, install them and train employees.

Yi added she sees a promising future for bar codes, for example by placing two-dimensional QR codes to posters that shoppers can scan for Fandango promotions and discounts. “I’d love to see that happen, but there are a lot of people who need to be involved to make that happen,” she says.

Another mobile goal: monetizing the value of users accessing Fandango’s apps, even if they don’t buy tickets. For this, Fandango is adding mobile ads to its apps, Yi said.

Other longer-term plans include offering reserved seating, adding mobile wallets such as PayPal Mobile or similar offerings from Amazon and Google, and integrating with theater concession stands. For example, Fandango might offer a free coke with a ticket purchase, Yi said.

Although there are still big goals for the future, Fandango’s mobile initiative has had a more than favorable reception.  Its apps have been downloaded more than 10 million times.  And while the iPhone is still No. 1 for downloads Android devices downloads are climbing rapidly, she added, and appear to offer more potential for growth. Fandango’s apps are also preloaded on millions of devices through deals with wireless networks and manufacturers, Yi said.

And there are other telltale signs of success: Mobile tickets have more than quadrupled as a percentage of overall ticket sales and peak ticket buying times have moved back two hours from about 7 p.m. Eastern time to 9 p.m. That suggests shoppers are buying tickets on their phones while out and about, such as during dinner, rather than at home on their PCs before they head out.


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