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More Than Music: How Outside Lands Utilizes Technology to Create Memorable Experiences [VIDEO]

Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco sees over 200,000 people. Learn how they are using Square to create a memorable customer experience that keeps lines moving.
Kaitlin Keefer, Editor

Every August over 200,000 people descend on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to attend Outside Lands, an annual three-day music festival.

Since the inaugural event in 2008, Outside Lands has been a place for music fans to congregate and listen to their favorite artists. Today, the festival is just as much about the food, merchandise, and art as it is the music.

Like most festivals, as Outside Lands evolves, attendees look to get more out of the experience. This leaves festival producers tasked with delivering an elevated, seamless, and modern experience.

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Setting the foundation for a seamless event experience

Music festivals — and live events in general — operate at a large scale and attract huge crowds, but succeed when they feel personal for each attendee.

“The magic occurs when people go to the event and all the things that they expected are there, but then they discover and find all of these experiences that they didn’t expect. A lot of that happens creatively, but for the most part that happens from a utility or technology perspective,” says Chad Issaq, executive vice president of business development at Superfly, the festival producer.

Outside Lands partners with companies like Superfly and Square to create not only unique customer experiences but also seamless ones.

Today’s festivals aren’t just music sets. They are made up of a web of touchpoints designed to keep attendees engaged and offer activations that fill the needs of everyone in attendance. In addition to music at Outside Lands, there is a large variety of food vendors and food trucks. There’s also Wine Lands (a collection of 125 California wineries), Beer Lands (Bay Area craft beer tent), Cheese Lands (award-winning cheeses for sampling), Grass Lands (a curated cannabis experience), Eco Lands (sustainability awareness booths), comedy tents, GastroMagic (chefs and music artists team up to put on a show), art installations, and craft marketplaces like West Coast Craft.

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For a festival organizer, making sure all the touchpoints work together seamlessly is paramount to ensuring festival-goers have the best experience possible.

One consideration is lines and wait times. The last place attendees want to spend their time at a festival is in line — especially if they are jumping from stage to stage to catch as many artists as possible.

That’s where technology comes in. With faster processing and modern technology solutions like Square, Outside Lands is able to optimize the buying experience and move attendees through more festival touchpoints.

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Building an ecosystem of products for fast payments and better data

Outside Lands offers a lot of things to buy (food, beverages, clothing, art, blankets, and other official merchandise) and needs to offer a variety of ways to buy them. With a centralized payments platform that allows for a variety of payment options, attendees can pay however they want, whether that’s with cash, card, or by phone (Apple Pay and Google Pay).

Just by enabling attendees to pay with their phones, food and beverage vendors like Best Beverage Catering can move more people through lines and process more throughout the day.

“When you add up thousands and thousands of transactions, when you’re dealing with 80,000 people and they’re each going there two or three times, it makes a big difference, especially during peak times,” says Dirk Alton, CEO of Best Beverage Catering.

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Moving attendees through lines quickly is better for them, and it helps festivals reach more customers and take more payments. Outside Lands can see activity across all its touchpoints, getting an integrated and holistic view of its payments and customer data.

Aggregated data from all channels can help identify opportunities to improve attendee experience. Data can help identify who customers are, how they shop, when they shop, which items are popular and which are not, what processes are working, and where a festival should invest more.

The data gleaned from a centralized payments platform at a large event makes it quicker and easier to make connections across all of the many touchpoints in the festival-goer’s journey.

Tracking real-time inventory for best-selling merchandise

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Concert merchandise is big business at festivals. At Outside Lands that might mean buying a poster to commemorate the experience or a sweatshirt when the sun goes down and the temperature drops, as it famously does in San Francisco.

Buying opportunities for merchandise are designed into the footprint of Outside Lands to make sure that festival-goers have numerous opportunities to buy merchandise in a way that doesn’t interrupt their overall experience.

“We spend a lot of time working with the site ops teams at these festivals to lay out a merchandise footprint that is not only convenient for the people working there, but that also allows the greatest access to the patrons at the event,” says Alex Stultz, CEO of Red Star Merchandise. “We think about the frontage of merchandise stands to make sure that we can service enough people fast enough. We also think about how it is that people want to shop. And to that end we build out a retail experience. This is a 5,000-foot store in the middle of the polo field where people can come in, see the merchandise, touch it, feel it, try it on if they want, and really get up close and personal with it.”

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Merchandise vendors like Red Star move through their inventory at a rapid pace during a festival. In the past, vendors would go through inventory to identify which items were sold out at the end of the festival in order to plan what items, and how many, to have at next year’s festival.

Now with real-time data, merchandise vendors like Red Star can check inventory while they are in the field and start planning for the next day of the festival.

“By watching the inventory in real time, we’re able to see what’s selling and place more orders for product overnight. So if we have a cold night in Golden Gate Park, we can call our printer and have them knock out some more hoodies and have them delivered to the site about 12 hours later,” says Stultz.

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Skipping lines by ordering ahead

At this year’s festival, attendees could also place orders for merchandise through the app and have it sent directly to their homes, or order ahead and pick it up at the festival.

“With the order-ahead technology, we’re finding it to be a more and more important piece of our sales picture at a festival like Outside Lands. Sometimes it can take ten minutes to get through the line, but with the order-ahead functionality, you can stand there, place your order, and step up five minutes later and have your order ready to go,” says Stultz.

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Merchandise isn’t the only way Outside Lands is utilizing ordering ahead through its app. Last year, Outside Lands also introduced order-ahead capabilities for food and drinks. Attendees can place orders for food, drinks, and merchandise right in the app and pick them up at designated pickup areas. By integrating order-ahead functionality into the app using the Square In-App Payments SDK, Outside Lands enables festival attendees to skip the lines altogether.

Through the combination of fast processing and order ahead, Outside Lands is able to keep everything moving and provide a much more convenient and enjoyable experience for its attendees.

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Cultivating the customer experience that works for your event

Music festivals have rapidly gained popularity in recent years, and are only continuing to grow. Fans will travel across the country to experience different festivals, and they’re not looking to have the exact same experience at each event.

Creating a unique customer experience at a festival comes down to a lot of factors, including merchandise, food and beverage, specialty activations, VIP areas, and everything behind the scenes. These factors vary from event to event, but the key piece is that they all work together and that technology connects all touchpoints to create the experience that works best for each individual event.

“Square [is] an operational partner that without, it would be really difficult for us to operate the event at the same level. There’s an understanding of what our goals are and we really appreciate that perspective on the part of a partner like Square, who understands what we need to achieve. As we grow and evolve and the platform grows and evolves, all ships rise. That’s a key piece for us. And those are things that we didn’t have in our earlier days, but are fundamental to what we’re doing today,” says Issaq.

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Learn more about creating personalized buying experiences in Square’s Path to Personalization white paper.

Kaitlin is an editor at Square where she covers everything from how small businesses can start, run, and grow, to how enterprise companies can use tools and data to become industry leaders.