Howard McAuliffe’s Now Trending – February 2018


Attractions & Experiences Are Great…

But Cultivating the Social Experience is Essential to Longterm Success


Howard McAuliffe

by Howard McAuliffe, Partner, Pinnacle Entertainment Group

“What are the best new games?” This is often the first question we hear from clients, and we can see from the clicks on our emailed Pinnacle Report that articles about top games are by far the most popular. But in reviewing TrendWatching .com’s 2018 trends, it is clear to me that how facilities interact with customers is far more important than what games are earning currently.

Our industry has been cyclical over the last 50 years. New machines come into popularity and then die out. Think about pinball, video game arcades, pay phones, and cigarette machines. Currently, redemp­tion arcades are booming –– and how each game is performing does matter –– but the thought in many forward-thinking operators’ minds is “What’s next?” Focusing on societal trends will help us predict where our industry is going and, more importantly, how to engage our customers so they help us know what is next. is very much cutting edge and, at first glance, their trends seem outlandish, especially for our industry (which, let’s face it, tends to be less than cutting edge). However, there are some that very much apply to our industry now. Here are five of their trends for 2018 that have practical applications for FECs.

1. A-Commerce (automated commerce, often linked to artificial intelligence): “Here’s what comes after e-commerce (electronic commerce) and m-commerce (mobile commerce). Automated commerce will begin telling customers when it is time to buy.” For retail, this trend will focus on automated recommendations and offers based on style and consumer interests. In our industry, setting up automated offers or reminders that are sent as a customer’s birthday approaches is a perfect tie-in. Customers are busy, and making it easy for them to book a party at your facility gives you a leg up on the competition.

2. Assisted Development: “Post-demographic consumers are crafting new narratives of adulthood. In 2018, they’ll look to brands to help. This trend focuses on a world where adulthood is redefined.”
This trend is about people improving their lives and typical age stereotypes not applying. Examples of this trend are seniors taking classes on entrepreneurship, gender stereotypes being erased, and street artists creating luxury brands. Behaviors are changing, kids are staying home longer, youth unemployment is up, young people get married later, have kids later, and baby boomers are staying active.
The FEC industry is thriving because of aspects of this trend. Grandparents, like my parents, grew up playing pinball and arcade games, so playing games with other generations is not a stretch. There is no need to educate these consumers about the experience. The modern FEC is a place for men, women and kids events, a night out on the town, a corporate event, a family dinner, as well as for bowling leagues. We provide entertainment for nearly all demographics when done properly. This is one trend as an industry we are on top of.

3. Virtual Companions: “Virtual entities make the leap from assistants to companions.” Throw in the dawning realization that traditional social media can increase feelings of isolation, and the final piece of the consumer demand puzzle is in place. A recent study found that among users ages 19 to 32, those who spend more than two hours a day on social media have twice the risk of feeling socially isolated than people who spend less than 30 minutes a day on the same platforms (American Journal of Preventative Medicine, July 2017).”

I see our industry’s popularity primarily as a counter trend to this trend. We provide places for people to interact socially as opposed to online, which is desired by the market. However, we can still do a better job of extending our mobile technology to educate consumers on new games and experiences, virtual tours, and bridge home and in-store experiences. The trend in retail is “omni-channel retailing.” While it is difficult to provide an experience online, we can see the experience through purchase offers as well as through websites.

4. Forgiving By Design: “Post-purchase forgiveness is 2018’s must-have feature.” This trend is nothing new. Guaranteed products, and an easy ability to return products has become standard. Howe­ver, with many consumers purchasing online, there’s a need to easily be able to return products, including shipping the items back to the retailer.

Because we are selling experiences, customers can’t “return” our “product.” How­ever, we need to know when they are upset, and make it easy for them to tell us about bad experiences, so we can remedy the situation. VIP and loyalty programs are key to building customer relationships, which makes them more likely to communicate when they aren’t happy. This starts with gathering customer data and signing them up for these programs. Monitoring social media sites like Yelp and actively responding to bad reviews and ratings is key.

5. Glass Box Wrecking Balls: “A revolution in transparency is just getting started.” This trend is demonstrated by the fact that it’s easier than ever to see into the culture of a company. Employ­ees can go on Glassdoor and rate their experience working for a company, and customers can make public reviews on Google, Yelp, and any number of other sites. In addition, customers can share this infor­mation with all of their contacts with a push of a button. Businesses can be brought down as quickly as people like Harvey Wein­stein, so building a positive culture and responding to problems quickly and appropriately is essential.

As I’ve thought about the incredibly cutting-edge technologies described in the above trends, I’m struck by how most of them relate to the way customers interact and consume, not what they desire. Customers still want the same essential things they always have: a good experience, strong customer service, and to support good people. What is changing is how they find, consume, and tell others about these essentials. It is vitally important that we both hold onto tried-and-true core customer service principles and ensure our relevance by staying on top of consumer trends.


Howard McAuliffe loves to imagine and implement new products, business models, and ideas, and is a partner in Pinnacle Entertainment Group Inc. He’s an industry veteran who got his start in the business when he was just 16 and has 20 years of expertise in product development, as well as FEC and route operations. Howard’s wife Reem and young son Sami are the center of life outside of work. When he’s not working, Howard can be found enjoying the outdoors, hiking, fishing and mountaineering. Traveling anywhere new or to old favorites like the American West is a passion. Readers can visit for more information or contact Howard at [email protected], he welcomes positive as well as constructive feedback and counterpoints.




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