By Steve Jenner, UK Head of Business Development at PlayPass

The recent guest blog by David Kenny announcing the imminent demise of cashless wristbands at live events made compulsive reading.

Having delivered cashless wristbands to events all over the world for the past 8 years and now being part of a company that has exploded from start-up to a global market leader in half of that time, whilst continuing to grow exponentially, this is an area I know a thing or two about.

As such, I feel duty-bound as a person and a professional to set the record straight – for David’s own sake as well as any fellow RFID workers worried that they might be out of a job soon, having read David’s gloomy – and ludicrous – prediction.

In order to most effectively remedy David’s ‘thought piece’ with some sense and fact, whilst allowing you to enjoy it all over again, I hereby contribute a Cashless Wristband Professional’s commentary in blue (David’s original words are in italics).

“Wristbands and top-up cards were widely heralded as the future for festival and event organisers seeking to go cashless.”

They were indeed, and now they are the present, used as standard at most music festivals in mainland Europe, the US, South America and Asia including the most successful, forward-thinking and iconic events in the world like Coachella, Tomorrowland, Lollapalooza, Clockenflap, Melt, Splash, Bilbao BBK and Vive Latino.

But in 2019 we will see a continued transition towards more event organisers turning to new cloud-based technology to manage cashless transactions.

Is that so? The last event I’m aware of that turned to a cloud—based payment technology was Download in 2015, which proved that festivals and clouds are not in the least compatible. PlayPass has gained its rapid success in the festival sector by introducing a cashless system that can work fully offline, writing the live balance to the chip. Any system that relies on internet connectivity in a greenfield environment really will be yesterday’s news before it knows it.  

RFID Wristbands (or top-up cards) do provide a significant improvement on having to manage cash and card payments for event organisers. And despite the high investment costs they remain very popular for corporate events.

Sorry, going to have to stop you there, David. Firstly let’s call it NFC (as RFID is a bit old school). Yes, cashless providers that offered cloud-based systems in the early days came with high investment costs but most of this cost was attached to the site-wide internet they needed and the cost of the wristbands. Today’s NFC providers – if they are worth their salt – do not need site-wide internet. The wristband prices are a fraction of what they used to be, due to mass production, meaning that the expense of implementing an NFC cashless system is not just relatively low for a production outlay, it is also a highly profitable endeavour given that – with our system at least. It will increase your bar revenue by 24% in the first year alone (2000Trees Festival, 2018), not to mention significantly improving the visitor experience and making the event run much more efficiently.

However, festivals and the like are now seeking better ways to eradicate every event goers’ pet-hates: queues and cash.

Come on, I challenge you to find a more effective solution for reducing queues and eliminating cash than NFC. By working offline, our system has a transaction speed of milliseconds. At 2000Trees I was timing people leaving the bar with drinks in hand less than 30 seconds after arriving, the majority of this time being taken to serve the drink. A cloud-based system – if it can even get a connection – will be limited by the latency of that connection and will be much slower.

As technology continues to evolve, new systems are entering the market that enable organisers to sell not just tickets and food and drink, but also merchandise and additional up-sell products from travel to accommodation.

Yes, our NFC Cashless Payment system allows visitors to purchase upsells – like merchandise and access to premium onsite facilities – before the event in the same transaction basket as their cashless credit. This provides a lucrative new revenue source to the events as it is shown not to cannibalise onsite spend.

Smart phone and touch and pay technology are providing event organisers with various platforms to process transactions and crowds quicker and thus improve the event-goer experience.

It will be a long time before smart phones will be relied on – if ever – for processing payments at events. Whilst Lithium-Ion batteries continue to be used, event-goers won’t want to spend precious charge time on this and the event is not going to risk that people can’t spend without a live handset. Furthermore, when and if the time comes that smartphones become a primary payment method, it is more likely that they will be used as the form factor in a closed-loop payment system (like ours) – ie. substituting the NFC tag on the wristband.

Many of us are now used to making purchases via our smart phones, as a natural progression from contactless payments with our bank debit cards.

Event cloud-based payment technology works in a similar way to other daily payment platforms consumers will be familiar with, for example purchasing a train ticket where a QR code is generated and acts as a digital ticket.

But what you just described is a clunky and inferior user experience to the one that NFC provides. If NFC is yesterday’s news, QR codes are ancient history. Smartphones can be used right now to pay for on-site and online topups using our NFC Cashless system and that is as far as they will go anytime soon into the payments eco-system at live events.

It is this sort of technology which is gaining traction in the events industry and enabling event organisers to reduce the use not just of cash, but alternatives like wristbands and top-up cards.

I’m sorry to say it isn’t, as these are not valid alternatives to NFC wristbands and cards in the events space. The main reason is that these are open loop payment systems. These work in places like high street retail where banks control – and feed off – all the payment methods used, from cash to contactless cards and mobile wallets. The critical point here is that live events – on the other hand – are able to use closed-loop systems, leaving the banks outside the front gates and taking back control and ownership of all the transactions onsite including the money and the data. Whilst it is already well established that closed loop systems generate much higher spend per head at events compared to open loop ones, the increasing value of data in the events market will only increase the attractiveness of NFC wristbands vs any alternatives, especially open loop ones.

Our technology is now also enabling event organisers to automatically refund any unused credit to its customers at the end of the event.

And ours allows customers to get a refund or convert unused credit into a down payment on next year’s ticket. Event organisers quite like that.

Transactions with QR codes are also pretty much instant and much easier and quicker than using systems like RFID (radio frequency identification).

I’m afraid that’s not how the science works, David. QR Codes are ‘visual’ technology. You can see a QR Code and you need to point your scanner to align the camera/optical reader with the image which – as anyone who has scanned tickets at an event entrance knows – can be a fiddly and time-consuming feature especially when scanning phone screens outdoors. RFID is a ‘proximity’ technology. As long as your tag is near the reader, it will read it instantly. 

 I’ve seen first-hand both as an event organiser and a punter what a difference such technology can make to the overall success of an event.

Then clearly you haven’t attended any of ours. I would be delighted to open your eyes further with a personal guided demonstration of any UK event we’re at this summer – just say the word.

Wristbands will continue to serve a purpose in the event space, but with technology moving apace it will be interesting to see how the payment side of the industry evolves this year.

Spoiler alert: NFC cashless adoption will continue to grow exponentially, although it is still early days in the UK relative to most other developed events markets. Many smaller and more risk averse events will introduce contactless card payments, which they see as a soft way to move towards going fully cashless using NFC. None will opt to exclusively use an open-loop or system that uses QR codes on a smartphone, although I’m sure some will be interested in experimenting with this alongside other methods (I’m very curious myself!).

As a consumer society we are not only seeing the final stages of cash, but also witnessing the rapid progression of cashless alternatives. We have experienced contactless card payments, top-up cards and wrist-bands through to mobile-phone and cloud technology.

People rarely carry cash nowadays. But they carry a mobile phone.

Actually, festival-goers increasingly bring a cheap ‘B-phone’ and leave their precious smartphone back at home, so there’s no risk of it being lost or stolen. Everybody does carry a wristband with them at all times, though, and it never needs downtime to be charged.

And they expect fast transactions and short queues and technology is finding more and more ways to solve these issues.

NFC has already solved it more effectively than any other type of technology. If that wasn’t the case, companies like PlayPass would be focusing on these other types – our systems can work with any form factor, whether it’s a QR code, an NFC wristband or a smartphone. There are very solid good reasons why we continue to go in the direction we are going, and why backers continue to invest millions into what we are doing.

Revisiting the title of the original blog, the only reason why Cashless Wristbands are yesterday’s news is because they are now such a standard part of the fabric of live events that perhaps the novelty has worn off. Also, news will always love a disaster – yet another seamless NFC cashless delivery by PlayPass just doesn’t make sensational reading, I guess.

I hope that was informative and cleared up some misunderstandings. These are very exciting times for payment technology and the evolution of the live events market and although my words here are drawn from a lot of experience, I do know better than to second guess the future – at the end of the day we’re all just speculating on where it will go and none of us knows the answer for sure. So keep following your passion, that’s all we can really do.


Steve is the UK Manager of PlayPass, one of the world’s leading providers of NFC technology for cashless payments, access control and credential management in the live events market. Proven to significantly increase revenue and operating efficiencies, the company’s solutions have been used by over 600 events including major festivals such as Lollapalooza Berlin and Santiago, Rock Werchter and British Summer Time Hyde Park, as well as premiere football clubs including RSC Anderlecht. Steve has specialised in the RFID Cashless sector for 8 years, having worked with a number of suppliers before settling with PlayPass after discovering them as a trader at Melt Festival in Germany, and realising that they had the most robust and highly developed system in the market.

 

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Adam is the co-founder and editor of www.eventindustrynews.com Adam, a technology evangelist also organises Event Tech Live, Europe’s only show dedicated to event technology and the Event Technology Awards. Both events take place in November, London.