On a recent visit to Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom in Allentown, Pennsylvania, I got a chance to try out the new FastPay system the park has been piloting. Cedar Fair, who owns the park and many others like Cedar Point, Kings Island and Knotts Berry Farm, has been testing the new touch to pay system in Dorney Park because it’s one of the smallest parks in the chain and thus, the startup costs are smaller.
The way the system works is you can buy a rubber wristband that has an RFID chip in it from most of the gift shops or designated kiosks in the park. Once there, the wristband can be loaded with increments of $20 and as an incentive to use the system during testing, they are giving a 10% bonus to anyone who purchases a FastPay wristband, up to an additional $10. The wristbands can be redeemed at any location where credit cards are accepted. For the guest, the system is designed to be more convenient in a park that has water slides where wallets and purses are left in lockers. In addition, parents can buy their kids wristbands with spending limits for souvenirs and food and not have to worry about them losing it like a gift card.
However, for Cedar Fair, the benefits for FastPay are enormous. They can actually track guest spending and determine what kinds of food or merchandise a guest buys, how long between transactions and there is a lot to be learned from that data. In addition, you now have a certain amount of in park spending that is guaranteed. In addition, as with any form of gift card with pre-loaded funds, there will be a certain percentage of those dollars that go unused that Cedar Fair gets to pocket. However, that’s not why this system is in place. It gives them an enormous potential in focusing in on what consumers want and how to deliver it, but at what cost?
The readers for the FastPay bands needed to be installed at every register in Dorney Park that was capable of accepting credit cards. In addition, all of those readers needed to be connected to a central server capable of storing, authorizing and verifying FastPay band balances. The setup on a system like this is not cheap. It’s worth mentioning that my recent visit was not a press trip of any kind. I wasn’t met by anyone from publicity, nor did anyone walk me through the process of buying one or using it. I walked into a gift shop in the Planet Snoopy section of the park and asked for a FastPay wristband to be loaded with $20. He then pointed me to the wristband section of the store, which didn’t have FastPay bands. After explaining what it was and opening the map to the section advertising it, he then said he had never heard of it and would have to get his manager.
A few minutes later, his supervisor arrived who knew what FastPay was, but had never sold one before (because no one had ever asked for one). So after a few minutes of the two of them trying to figure out how to activate it and then accept payment, they finally figured it out. Fifteen minutes later, I was out the door with a snazzy band loaded with $22 on it. Convenience be damned! I decided to try it out at the Philadelphia Pretzel Company stand to see how it worked. I placed my order and then said I was going to pay using my FastPay and she told me she didn’t accept them there and that she had never seen one before. I informed her of what it was and that it was supposed to be accepted anywhere they took a credit card. She got her manager who came over, who had heard about these mythical payment bands, but had never seen one either. Ten minutes later, the two of them together figured out how to charge me and off I went with my delicious pretzel. Convenience be damned!
This routine went on in a total of four different merchandise and food and beverage locations. Not a single employee I encountered had seen one, knew how to redeem it or even knew they existed. Luckily, their managers at least knew the procedures on how to redeem them as payment, even though not a single one of them had seen one either! Will this program succeed? Based on my visit, it’s looking doubtful. Training and awareness is key to the launching of a program like this and if Cedar Fair wants to at least see a return on their investment, they have a long way to go. Your thoughts? Make sure to follow Theme Park University on Twitter and like our Facebook Page!