This is an extended discussion of the question that appeared in the Viewpoints department of the July/August 2012 issue of Dimensions magazine.
Groupon and LivingSocial are neither good nor bad for museums. However, they are a tool that must be used with great care. As museum professionals, we must ask: What is the value to the museum for each patron generated by a deal of the day promotion over the life of that patron’s relationship with the museum? Will the patron spend money on food and retail? Will they become members and renew? Will they return for more visits once they have experienced our offerings? Will they send their children to summer camps? Will they make philanthropic gifts to the museum? Ultimately, these services deliver new patrons to our doors. We must be prepared to deepen the relationship once they arrive. If we can do that effectively, these services are a boon. Otherwise, we’ve just had a deeply discounted transaction with a one-time visitor, and that is a bust.
Jeff Hill, director of external relations, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Ultimately, deal of the day services hurt museums and all businesses. First of all, they publicize us for one day. That does not equal the amount of discount they require. For us, a ticket of $8 becomes income of $2. Just not worth it. Worse yet, people come to expect that they will get such discounts and then refuse to pay full price. It subsequently causes deflation, which hurts museum organizations. Bad, bad, bad, all the way around. Finally, they couldn’t give two figs about our mission and whether we are solvent or not; we are just another company trying to launch an IPO. Shameful!
Lon Smith, executive director, Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita
We did our first Groupon deal in 2010 and have tried several similar offerings since then. With all of these, we offered a Family Day Pass at a discounted rate. Our biggest worry before doing our first one was that it would give existing customers a cheaper way to visit without any benefit to us. We did an informal survey of visitors using the Groupon passes and found that most had not visited in the previous three years (many had never been) and came specifically because of the deal. We have plans to continue offering these deals at random times through the next year.
T. Woody Sobey, education director, Discovery Center of Idaho, Boise
We have been very selective about running these offers. I think each market and each museum has to see how it will affect them in the long run. Our region has many deal of the day options. I have chosen to keep with the local TV and magazine vehicles, not using Groupon or LivingSocial. Timing is also very important. For example, we ran an offer during spring break to be at the top of people’s minds, because we do not do any advertising. This was a huge success. As a new twist on this, we will soon try offering a discount for a specific event. We will see how that works.
Charlotte McCoy, marketing/special events director, Discovery Center of Springfield, Missouri
The above statements represent the opinions of the individual contributors and not necessarily the views of their institutions or of ASTC.
About the image: Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is considering a Groupon-style offer for its planetarium shows with a local online advertiser to boost summer attendance. Photo courtesy Morehead Planetarium and Science Center