Olympic usability failure

Over the last couple of days I’ve been trying to buy Olympic tickets on the www.london2012.com website. I’ve been astonished at how frustrating the process is, not because I can’t get tickets, but because the usability of the website is so poor.

The process for deciding what event to go and see at an Olympics is quite a complicated one. For some people there will be a definite draw to a particular sport which makes it easier to select the sessions they want. For others the process is simply wanting an Olympic experience then there is more choice, and more flexibility. In the initial ballot I felt there was a need for a lucky dip option where people could select dates, times and maximum price and then be randomly selected for an event that filled their criteria. For various reasons we decided to apply for tickets in the initial ballot for the Paralympics rather than the Olympics. We found the Paralympic ticketing options, many of which included an Olympic Park Pass provided a perfect opportunity for us as a family to see an event, and then have the possibility of experiencing another using our pass.

So we selected one session, on a day where there were other events of interest to us going on in the Olympic Park, and applied for Paralympic tickets. The decision process was not straightforward, but once made we could forget about it. But we didn’t get tickets. We were gutted.

When other tickets were released what would have been good would have been for us to be notified when tickets became available for events we had applied for. This would save us from having to do all the thinking and working out again.

We have subsequently purchased Paralympic tickets and are looking forward to sitting in the Olympic Stadium, watching the best in the world do their thing under the shadow of the cauldron. But there are other sports that we might like to see. So I’ve been trying to get tickets to the Olympics over the last few days, and I’ve noticed a few usability ‘niggles’…

Remember me.

I am always going to want 2 full price tickets and 2 child tickets when available or 4 full price tickets. I’m not going to suddenly acquire another person to take. I’m sure most people are the same. Also, I have a set dates when I can attend. I would like to think that the website would remember all of that and give me those as preset options, after all I have an account. But I need to re-enter all my ticket requirements each time I want to add tickets to my shopping list. This is particularly frustrating when time is of the essence: I have to enter much more detail than a child-free person wanting to buy tickets (and it would be the same for seniors too).

This would have made the process of adding tickets to my shopping list less labour intensive, and much quicker.

Show me what I want, and not what I don’t want.

I love boxing and martial arts, but I’m not going to take my two very young children to those events. So I dont wan’t to see them in the list. I also dont want to see football, we’re simply not interested. So it would be great if we didn’t have to sift through all those to find events we might be interested in.

Also, if I’ve looked at a session and dismissed it, because it’s too expensive or not the right time, it would be good if I could mute it, so I didn’t see it again. The session could then be highlighted again if additional seats became available in different price categories.

Similarly, if I select a volleyball session, request tickets and am then unsuccessful, how about suggesting other volleyball sessions that are available with tickets, to save me going back to the search?

This would make the task of selecting sessions easier, as only information that is pertinent to the user is displayed, and the system is actively helping them in their selection.

Show what tickets really are available.

When I do scroll down and see a hockey match available I get all excited, click on the link only to find on the subsequent page it says there are no tickets. It’s only just appeared, so either there weren’t tickets, or someone has magically bought them two seconds after they seem to become available on the website. This is really frustrating, particularly when the session stays in the search results for sometime after, even though you know there are no tickets.

Another frustration is when a session appears in the search results clearly marked  ‘currently unavailable’. What does this mean? Is it about to become available? Or has it been available and snapped up? 

Similarly, the search results are not sensitive to the price of tickets available, simply all tickets are listed whether they are available or not. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has seen an event gone into it and discovered that £420 is probably a bit out of their price range.

This would have made the process of adding tickets to my shopping list less full of navigation dead-ends. It would also have given me greater confidence in the system, and would have prevented me from feeling like I needed to recheck whether tickets are available when I’ve previously been  unsuccessful reserving them.

Don’t make me wait.

When I add something to my shopping list, it would be great if the background check started then, so I could look for other tickets. At the moment, I add tickets then need to wait several minutes to see whether I’ve reserved them, so other tickets I might be interested in could be snapped up before I get to them. If there was a background check then I could browse and add other tickets knowing that the tickets I’m interested in are being searched for.

A little bit of intelligence from the system would make the process of reserving tickets much more focused on the my (the end users) task, rather than system constraints.

Take me to where I need to go.

Please can I have a link to my shopping list on every page, in the same place, so I know where to find it, rather than having to go into my account and find it there. This would save so much time, by reducing unnecessary navigation around the site.

Take me back to where I was.

When I request tickets, sit for several minutes waiting to see whether or not they are reserved, find out that they are not, they still appear in my shopping list. Does this mean I can resubmit them and have a chance of getting them? If I then delete them from my shopping list I’m taken back to ‘my account’ not back to where I was in the search, so I have to go through the whole thing again, forcing me to redo work I’ve already done, and this takes up time.

Stop changing my options.

Please can you remember that I only ever want to see available sessions when I’m searching? At least have that as default. And definitely please stop changing it. I don’t want to have to recheck my options on a search, which is more work than is necessary.

Make it easy to see everything.

If I leave all the search options as their defaults the website cannot ‘complete the request’, whereas you would imagine it would return everything that is available. Again this requires the user to unnecessarily interact with the interface. I appreciate that originally this would have returned thousands of results, but that isn’t the case any more, and there is no indication that any of the options are mandatory to complete.

My lasting thought is that the website makes the user work too hard, it is unforgiving, and it doesn’t support the flexible requirements of many ticket buyers, particularly during the ‘first-come-first-serve’ ticket buying window. The information it provides is updated too infrequently, and it doesn’t provide the correct information to support ticket selection.

The Olympics certainly is the greatest show in earth. And people want to be involved. But just because there is a captive audience of ticket buyers, who have no where else to go to buy tickets, that shouldn’t mean that  fudamental usability is flouted and that the experience is a painful one. But then maybe the designers were trying to be true to the Olympic motto:

‘The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well”

This certainly resonates with me at the moment.

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One response to “Olympic usability failure

  1. I’ve found a great service on twitter that automatically updates when tickets become available. This circumvents the whole issue of searching, and saves a massive amount of time. Tickets are going so fast though that they have often gone as soon as they are posted so there is still the issue of tickets being unavailable as soon as you load the page (the ticket site is checked every 3 minutes, so someone could get in there as soon as tickets are posted).

    Follow @2012TicketAlert, @2012TicketAler2 (when lots of tickets become available the initial ID reaches it’s ‘tweets per hour’ quota, so it rolls over to the second ID), and there is @2012ParaAlert, which updates on Paralympic tickets as they become available. Check out their FAQs for an understanding of the ‘unavailable ticket’ issue (http://www.2012ticketalert.com/).

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