Ballet, Opera master the art of discount sales with PriceWhispers

Do you find tickets to the ballet gliding out of reach? Are seats to the opera slightly beyond your range? Wouldn’t it be great if there were some way you could “negotiate” ticket prices without having to deal with scalpers?

Thanks to a Canadian-based online service called, patrons of the National Ballet of Canada (NBC) and the Canadian Opera Company, as well as customers of British Columbia fashion retailer and a Minnesota-based electronics store are able to name their price via an online bidding mechanism.

Businesses that sign in with basically offer a minimum, marked-down price for a show, product or service. The company’s site will have a link to, which enables bargain hunters to make a counter offer.

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The PriceWhispers client is able to view via a dashboard the volume of bids and prevailing price offers. With this insight, the PriceWhispers customer can decide whether to accept, decline or make a counter-offer to the bidder.

“The upshot for businesses is that they are able to avoid losing revenue through typical blanket discount prices that are picked up by customers who might be willing to pay a higher price,” said Neil FitzGerald, CEO of FitzGerald founded the company together with fellow Canadian Chris Anderson, a professor at the University of Waterloo, and computer engineer Eric Liang from the United States.

Using analytic models from Cornell University and a built-in reporting analytics modules, PriceWhispers users can also gain insights on product traction and targeted demographics which can be useful in increasing positive brand association and boosting revenues, FitzGerald added.

PriceWhispers claims it can raise a company’s “top line” by 30 to 50 per cent because the method encourages customers to “commit” to the price they specify.

There is no upfront cost for user, said FitzGerald. earns money by taking a anywhere from five to 20 per cent off sales from tickets or products bought through the PriceWhispers site. “The commission is likely to be lower the more sales are made through our site.”

The National Ballet of Canada began using the system last Fall in a bid to reach out to audiences who were getting a bit old for their Dance Break discount tickets for those aged 16 to 29. Julia Drake, director of communication for the National Ballet said the campaign has been a success so far.

Dance Break clients are a very smart and passionate ballet audience, but most are students or otherwise budget constrained. Compared to the normal $40 to $170-plus regular price of tickets, Dance Break tickets sell for around $30.

“But we also have audiences who were formerly in the Dance Break age group that we would like to reach out to and retain, but I would like to see them pay at prices closer to reality,” said Drake.

“Doing it the old way there was no assurance for the buyer that they would get good seats or if there would be any tickets left,” she said.

For the NBC, the old system meant that a large block of might not get sold or that a bunch of tickets that were sold a discount could have been bought by audience willing to pay more.

She said providing customers the ability to negotiate prices proved to be popular. Typically those looking for bargains would wait to the last minute to purchase rush tickets at a lower price.

Using the PriceWhispers system the NBC sets up a minimum discount price for a block of tickets to a show. Buyers use the site to enter a price that they want pay for a ticket or several tickets. Based on computer reports covering ticket demand and remaining tickets, NBC will either accept, deny of make a counter offer.

“If tickets are hot we might deny or give a counter offer. If we want to get rid of more tickets we could accept the buyer’s offer,” said Drake.

The NBC which makes about $11 million in ticket sales throughout the year was able to realize an additional $20,000 in sales through tie-up, according to Drake.

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It is this sort of successful performance that the Canadian Opera Company (COC) was hoping to achieve when it drew the curtains on its PriceWhispers offering in January this year.

“It’s is still too early to how much the use of PriceWhsipers has helped us” said Jeremy Elbourne, director of marketing for the COC.

The opera company also likes to improve its reach with its younger audiences aged 16 to 30 who typically purchase discounted tickets. For tickets that cost around $170, COC would offer a minimum PriceWhispers price of $59.

“That’s already a terrific bargain, but audiences have a chance to even get the ticket for less when they negotiate,” said Elbourne.

The PriceWhsipers system also means that audiences need not confine themselves to get seats away from the stage in order to get discount prices. “Of course all seats have a good view, but with the PriceWhispers system, people can negotiate for better prices for seats nearer to the stage,” he said. also offers three other services apart from the online auction connection:

Recommendation Engine – Automatically recommends to users what actions to take regarding bids. Based on data received by the system, the recommendation engine will advise users on whether to accept, decline or negotiate a bid.

Rules engine – Enables users to automate responses to bids. Users can set up rules regarding when bids would be automatically declined, accepted or negotiate.

Reporting engine – This is PriceWhipers’ business intelligence tool that helps users gather and analyze data about their products and customers.

Drake of NBC said the ballet company did not sign up for any of the additional service because it is using Tessitura, a data mining application developed by a Dallas, Tex-based company.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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