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Will Amazon Go Change the Registration Experience (again)?

Registration is often your attendee’s first touchpoint to your association’s meeting, event or conference and it sets the impression for their overall experience. A few weeks ago, Bloomberg reported that Amazon plans to open up 3,000 Amazon Go stores by the year 2021. These are stores that have no cashiers—you simply scan your app when you walk in, pick up what you want, and then walk out. No checkout lines, no small talk at the register, no fumbling to quickly put your change in your wallet. It got me thinking about how this new technology and customer experience will effect customer’s expectations and trickle into our industry—especially registration.

 

You could argue that the in-person retail experience hasn’t changed that much in the past 135 years since the invention of the cash register. Whether you are buying groceries, or clothes, or tires, it usually involves some type of human interaction in front of a machine that adds up your purchases and takes your money. Even the self-checkout lanes often need a human to intervene (no, I did not place an unidentifiable object in the bagging area!).

 

The same can be said for the registration experience at many association meetings, events and conferences. In most cases, the attendee completes a form—usually online. Then they stand in a line early in the morning to pick up a printed badge, which grants them access to the opening session and the promise of coffee. They then have no further interaction with that registration desk except maybe to ask where the bathrooms are or where lunch is being served.

 

Kiosk badge printing is also an option, but it doesn’t fit every meeting hosts’ budget, and like self-checkout lanes, most still require some type of human assistance with lines during the busiest times.

 

I came of age as an event planner during the advent of registration websites. I remember the excitement of not having to manually enter forms into a spreadsheet anymore and I remember that every vendor had the same pitch: “Attendees want registration to be like Amazon.com. If you can buy things online, then why can’t you purchase registration online? It should be easy.”

 

Amazon was not in the registration website business, but the site did play a large part in normalizing online purchases for our society and those expectations bled into our industry.

 

Fast forward a few years to 2005 and now Amazon is the powerhouse online retail site. You can buy almost anything and everything, seamlessly, and even get recommendations for what you should purchase next. And then came the time of single sign-on. Associations have adopted different technology at different stages, resulting in multiple systems spread across the organization. Attendees do not want to remember 15 different logins or visit multiple sites to verify membership and complete a registration transaction. I remember the user survey feedback: “Registration should be easy, like Amazon.” So, we worked to link the membership database with our registration system.

 

And now, we are maybe five years away from Amazon Go stores making a no-checkout experience commonplace. And they are not the only ones. Starbucks, Chipotle, Shake Shack and other food outlets already allow for mobile ordering, and then you can simply walking in and pick up your items—no line required. Hotels are also experimenting with mobile check-ins and using your phone as a room key which allows you to skip the front desk all together. Sam’s Club just announced it is going cashier-less. And hard to believe, but November 2018 is the 10-year anniversary of the airline mobile boarding pass on your phone.

 

What impact will these new conveniences have on attendee expectations? Can we create a comparable registration experience to Amazon Go or Sam’s Club? Do we even need to have a registration desk when everyone is carrying phones and digital watches and other personalized devices that can easily display a name? Could it be as simple as allowing attendees to print or create their own badges and then they are verified for sessions by scanning in, much like boarding a plane?

 

Why does it matter? Well, Gen Z is starting to enter the workforce now and they are “mobile natives” with built-in expectations for these types of conveniences. Standing in line at a registration desk is just plain inconvenient. For these future attendees, it will make your event seem dated, stale, and unattractive.

 

So, I challenge us as an industry to think about the simple, seamless, no-line, no-checkout registration of the future. How can you make it a better experience, and how can you redefine what registration means at your event?