Digitalizing to futureproof FECs in Asia Pacific in a digital economy focused on experience – the paths to take…

Laser tag, claw machines, and bowling – these are just some of the nostalgic experiences we have grown up with.

Such attractions are often found in Family Entertainment Centers (FECs), venues where fun experiences – such as games and other attractions – appeal to different age groups and entire families.

The FEC industry, worth US$50 billion by 2026, according to Market Data Forecast, continues to grow but digitalization has not kept pace. What can FECs do to succeed in today’s experience economy and bring back the age of golden arcades?

DigiconAsia posed this question – and more – to Renee Welsh, Global CEO, Embed:

What could be some reasons why family entertainment centers (FECs) are not keeping up with other industries when it comes to digitalization?

Welsh: Cost is the main factor when it comes to digitalization. The FEC industry has generally been slow to digitalize. They are largely mom-and-pop shops with limited funds and manpower.

Many FECs in the region still operate on analog processes, particularly on the point-of-sale system, which is cumbersome and inflexible to change.

For example, operators would spend hours collecting cash, a highly labor-intensive task that also comes with the potential of revenue loss, not realizing that going digital helps them cut back on operational costs since less manpower will be required to take on the daily tasks.

What are some key trends you’ve observed in the FEC sector in Asia Pacific?

Welsh: According to Visa’s Consumer Payment Attitudes Study in 2021, consumers in South-east Asia are driving the shift towards cashless payment experiences. Among non-cash users in the region, over 1 in 4 (26%) are users of contactless payments, including contactless cards and mobile contactless. Non-cash users have also turned to online card payments (25%) and online wallets (23%).

Cashless payments are the first step for FECs to futureproof their businesses in a time of a pandemic. The cashless and contactless modes of transactions are anything but a rising trend – it is now a consumer demand.

Contactless services like e-wallets and cashless payment are ubiquitous and provide a safety net to the “no contact” rule; consumers naturally expect entertainment venues to offer similar conveniences.

From there, integration is the crucial next step to streamline operational workflows.

Instead of having different solutions for cashless, loyalty, POS and so on, an all-in-one or end-to-end platform dedicated to FECs can help integrate multiple aspects of the operations while introducing new productivity tools.

Operators can expect simpler, more streamlined processes with centralization of operational data, reports and management, and enhancement of capabilities from a host of solution modules.

These can include cashless options, operations, head management office, customer sales channels, e-commerce management, distribution management and more. Integrating legacy systems with present and future technology investments is key to becoming an FEC of the future.

Renee Welsh, Global CEO, Embed

How should FECs in the region transform to thrive in the digital experience economy?

Welsh: There is an expectation for instant and immediate customer gratification in today’s economic climate. Customers expect a high-quality immersive entertainment experience from arrival. They demand premium customer service and ease. 

FEC operators are challenged to adopt technology advancements that elevate the customer experience. As a case in point – RFID technology also extends the customer experience through cashless technology. New tap cards and wristbands make it easy for hyper-personalization, with membership details, balance, and reward tickets available in a pinch. New technology also has the added benefit of lowering operating and maintenance costs, driving more significant revenue, strengthening, and futureproofing FEC businesses.

Consumers are expecting more information from their electronic products and personalization and connectivity from one gadget to another with more smart and convenient ways to connect and transact.

Robust integrated solutions that are guest-centric, enabling FEC owners to meet and exceed their guests’ expectations, are essential. For example, a party booking made via mobile using our booking module means that guests expect a seamless experience upon arrival. They want to play games, eat, bowl, tag, repeat. So, the check-in needs to be as seamless as possible, with no wasted waiting time.

With software and hardware solutions that bring even retro games to the digital age, FEC operators can digitally deliver a superior guest experience, available on-premises and the cloud, to best integrate the operator’s legacy systems.

How can technology help to transform FECs to meet the evolving needs and demands of consumers?

Welsh: Businesses need to adopt a customer-centric approach to thrive and stay competitive. Adapting to changing customer needs is critical. That means moving away from the mentality of this is what I have to offer, come get it – to – this is what you seek, and here’s how I can make it available for you.

Operators targeting youngsters and families must be ready to move with the times. Going cashless on a digital platform is a crucial transformation strategy to improve customer experience, streamline operations, lower maintenance costs, and reduce unnecessary downtime.

As the crowd slowly comes back to entertainment centers, FECs need visitors to quickly get to the game or the attraction safely and conveniently in these pandemic times. The greater the convenience to end customers, with the least amount of physical management and monitoring, is the key to operational success.

Designing a data-driven strategy will enable FECs to make smart, agile, and flexible business decisions. Specific promotions can be made in real-time to experiment and redesign these offers according to the data provided.

Adopting a mobile-first technology like a Mobile Wallet virtual game card can also provide insightful empirical customer data. This strategy can also involve AI-driven decision-making, targeted promotions, compatible APIs, and scalable infrastructure.

It is a mindset that transcends conventional notions of supply and demand and collapses any unnecessary supply chain in-between we, as an industry, need to shift. When there is a reason for all stakeholders in business ecosystems to make a change, there is available technology to help everyone do it collaboratively, quickly and more effectively.

In your opinion, what would an FEC of the future be like?

Welsh: A multi-sensory evolving destination is a next-generation FEC. While going cashless is the first mandate, much more can be done to drive greater efficiency and sustainability for the business.

One is changing concepts according to consumer tastes and preferences. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will bring consumers flexible experiences using the same set of equipment, with no additional infrastructure costs. Consumers can see projections on screens, floors, walls, and ceilings, creating an ever-changing ambient experience.

From a futuristic city to an underwater world or desert, visitors can expect a unique experience each time they visit. On the other hand, there are also specialist VR Parks, offering consumers varied experiences as well.

With the help of technology, FECs can redefine the consumer journey, revolutionizing it by hyper-automation. Technology will enable businesses to visualize how functions, processes, and critical performance indicators interact to drive value and opportunities.

For instance, once a guest enters the venue, AI or virtual assistants can help guide decision-making by ordering and receiving products, prizes, or food orders anytime, anywhere in the FEC. The guest experience can also start before guests step into the FEC. Through mobile control, the customer can be given options to join teams or leagues in gameplay, events, and more.