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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Our Organized Play Pre-Registration Case Study

DSG has our Fantasy Flight Store Championships coming up for Android: Netrunner, Star Wars X-Wing, 40K Conquest, and the Star Wars LCG this spring.  The event kits for these are sent with capacity for 32 players to get the exclusive promo cards or acrylics.  For most stores that would have a SC event, this is enough.  In fact, for our Star Wars LCG event, it will surely be.  But where we have active communities in the games, it is not enough.  We will easily go over on X-Wing and Conquest, and we might go over on Netrunner.

I'm playing in the Netrunner SC and I'll yield my promo to another player, because I don't use the FFG print-to-order cards in my decks, but that only gets us to a capacity of 33.  What will likely happen is that latecomers will get to have promo cards from Game Night kits, other promo material, or even possibly store credit or complimentary concessions instead of the SC promo.  There's nothing we can do to get a second X-Wing kit; FFG simply will not offer it.  We have room for 146 players for card games and about 60 for X-Wing.

Early in the process, we were asked if there would be pre-registration available so people could pay early and ensure they get the SC promos.  We pre-register for Magic prereleases and States events all the time, so obviously we could do the same thing: get a clipboard ready, get a sign-up sheet ready, and start taking payments.  However, that method has drawbacks.  Loss of the paper record could be a disaster.  Proof of payment taken is sometimes sketchy -- we have a staff initial spot on the sheets, but in busy times the staff may forget to tag it, and we have a player who swears they paid... if they paid in cash, we have to take their word for it.  There had to be a better way.

Last fall, we migrated away from Crystal Commerce and TCGPlayer for our web platform and used our point-of-sale system, Light Speed Retail, which has its own web application built-in and hosted by the publisher.  It's extremely limited for TCG singles compared to the focused and dedicated solutions Chedy Hampson and Dan McCarty are offering, but the back end of Light Speed is a mile ahead of anything CC and TCGP have.  This suited us fine as our singles sales in store were consistently more profitable and sustainable, and our online sales through eBay provide superior workflows and metrics.  And it dawned on me: Why could I not use Light Speed for the event pre-registration BOTH online and in-store?

There would have to be a SKU for each event, we knew that much.  Usually we take event payments on "categorical" SKUs, such as this one for our Standard MTG FNM event:
The SKU is used every single week.  There's no barcode; a staff member simply has to type "FNM" and it will show up on the pick-list when ringing it up, and it is priced so that sales tax brings it to five bucks smooth.  We have this set up for booster drafts, general constructed, FFG constructed, Pokemon, and a few others, but the total number of SKUs for events is less than 40, and half of them are duplicates except priced ~20% higher for players using store credit to enter.  (That's its own topic I should revisit at a later time here on the Pass.)

While it's possible for us to simply share SKUs like this through to the website, we realized this would not help pre-registration.  It does not differentiate by event.  Each event open to pre-registration would require its own SKU for this plan to work.  It would be prohibitive to offer pre-reg on every event we do because of the clerical workload (and it being overkill), so we decided we would configure the workflow so we could use it for FFG SCs; Regionals (if we get any, last year we got Star Wars LCG); Magic prereleases; Magic State Championships (we are running two this year); and Magic Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers.  Potentially other prestige events might arise for which this would be a sensible system to use.

I built custom SKUs for each event and stocked "inventory" of 32 slots for each:



The above is what it looks like from our side in Light Speed.  As you can see, several have already been purchased since yesterday when the system went "live."

The player registering sees this when they go to our website at dsgcw.com:

Not bad!  When they mouse over a given option, they see this:

Clicking through takes the player to the appropriate add-to-cart and purchase mechanism.  The $9.28 turns into $10.00 after sales tax.

The customer then pays, which on our website is currently limited to PayPal only for reasons unrelated to this particular situation.*  Once they pay, the system sends them a confirmation email, and we see both a PayPal email and an "ORDER PENDING" in our Light Speed system.  From there the order is processed exactly the same as when a player has an open tab in the store.  It gets saved as an invoice, their payment is applied to it, and it goes into the books like any other sale.  It's a snap.

The benefits of this system are becoming more and more apparent the further we tinker with it.  We can take pre-regs in the store and on the web and they are kept in the database record attached to the event SKU.  Players who want to pay in with cash, store credit, or a card swipe can still do so in-store.  The day before the event, or when the "inventory" of 32 slots sells out, we simply print out the player list in order.

For MTG prereleases where the players pick their colors, guilds, or clans in the order they signed up, this is especially nice because it provides an instantaneous reference of their place in line.  And best of all, that order remains correct even when we are mixing web pre-regs with in-store pre-regs!  Regardless of how a player paid in, their priority position is still guaranteed to be correct!

After the event is over, I can just make the SKU "non-current" in the system and it will no longer show up on pick lists or in records, except in completed invoices when running reports.  This should prevent instances where players are mistakenly enrolled in past events.

The system is not perfect:

  • Registering for our website forces the generation of a new customer account in the system, which we then have to merge manually with their in-person customer account if they already had one.  
  • Customers cannot currently pay on the web with store credit on their existing account, even after we merge the accounts.  Light Speed is aware of this problem as I have opened up a ticket for it.  
  • Some browsers have trouble with the website, even though I've taken steps to keep the website as simple as possible.  It's just part of the reality when you have a web app with functionality beyond basic hypertext markup.
  • It does not appear possible for a given product category, in this case Event Registration, to default to requiring no shipping method.  The customer is still able to select In-Store Pickup, which is free and of course gets the job done, but it's non-intuitive and we have already heard from customers asking why it costs ten bucks to ship their pre-reg via snail mail.
  • The available inventory displayed is not always consistent with orders taken, which I believe to be caused by carts not emptying immediately when a customer doesn't complete the order.  I am still exploring this as there is probably a setting in a config menu somewhere that I have overlooked that flushes abandoned carts more quickly.


Overall, I am extremely happy with our experiment with unified in-store and online event pre-registration in Light Speed Retail.  Given time to work out the rough edges, this could turn into an extremely efficient means of administration for organized play.

*Apparently later this spring, our credit card interchange key will be upgraded to use chip-and-pin, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and both card-present and card-not-present permissions.  At least, thus we are promised by Chase.  Once that happens, a customer will be able to pay by any of those means in-store and online.  Unfortunately, for now, our interchange key for in-store swipes is antiquated, like a bank draft on parchment in quill ink, and does not allow card-not-present transactions, meaning telephone or web orders.  We must instead take PayPal on the website.

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