Saturday, August 20, 2016

Standon orders

Last month was Standon Calling, and we went to the first day.

There's a bit of a problem, though.

Not with the festival itself - well programmed, lovely location, friendly staff. The Hives were an amazing amount of fun, and they goaded Suede on to giving a brilliant performance.

The problem, though, is with the cashless nature of the festival.

Your wristband becomes your wallet; once inside the festival ground all transactions flow through the little RFID chip on your arm.

I can see the attractions - you don't have to worry about accidentally dropping all your cash into an unpleasant toilet; you shouldn't have your money pinched; it makes waiting behind people as they fumble in their pocket for a card that hasn't been maxed out a thing in the past.

The trouble is, this is a bit of a fiction: unless you're turning up at the festival, Lenin-style, in a sealed train, you're still going to need to have cash and cards on you to buy pasties and petrol en route.

And while removing the payment point as a potential focus for clusterfucks developing, that's not really the cause of slow moving queues at festivals. Sure, paying is a breeze, but you still have to wait ten minutes for a coffee between bands while a family of ten take their time choosing between three types of waffle topping.

There's also something a little philosophically worrying about the idea that you're entering a place where every piece of business transacted on the site is channelled through the hosts.

In action, though, it definitely worked - "here, you have given me a tub of delicious macaroni cheese, in return point your little device at my wrist" is a pleasingly friction-free transaction.

The background organisation, though, wasn't as friction-free.

First, there's the problem of having to preload the wristband. This has to be done in advance, which means I'm having to surrender the liquidity in that amount to Standon.

In other words, the cash that gets locked into the wristband is no longer available to me to spend as I wish - if between preloading and the festival day, I need to suddenly purchase a papermaiche swan with that money, I am unable to.

This might sound like the sort of point that barely matters outside of GCSE economics, but it's important because attendees have no choice but to take part in this scheme.

There's a structural problem, too, of knowing how much to put on the wristband. You don't want to overload it - because you're losing that liquidity - but you also want to have enough to ensure that you're not going to have to face queues at the places in the festival where you can add more money to the band. (Yeah, you can do that - apparently, although the festival is totally cashless, there are sheds where sterling somehow still works.)

We were going for a day, and figured that between the pair of us we'd probably spend about thirty quid. (I've more or less stopped drinking alcohol, and try to avoid buying 'stuff' that is going to need to be carried in the front row. Also, I'm incredibly cheap.)

Here's a problem, though - if we were using money, or cards linked to our joint accounts, it's not a problem if one of us bobs to the bar or the macaroni cheese stall to get food or drink. That notional money flows easily between us. Not so with wristbands, where the money is linked to our actual physical presence. I can't say 'go get yourself a drink at the bar', I have to be at the bar to buy you a drink.

Still, at least you can have a decent stab at preloading the amount you need, right?

Not so much.

Because you preload in £25 increments.

Somehow, a system which allows you to pay £1.50 for a cup of coffee without a problem doesn't allow you to decide exactly how much you wish to spend.

Between the two of us, then, we're expecting to spend about thirty quid on the day. But we're forced to hand over fifty to Standon, in advance, to hold.

What if you underestimate what you load? Well, yes, you can go to the queues to top up - awkward if you're halfway through buying a pizza when you realise you're out of funds.

Helpfully, though, there's an autotop up facility. When you preload, you can choose to allow the organisers to notice when you are low on wristband cash, and take a fresh payment to allow you to carry on spending.

The minimum amount you can allow this to happen with is twenty quid; but you can choose an option to allow sixty quid a time to be moved from your bank outside the site, onto your wrist. To sweeten the deal, if you click on this option, Standon will give you money to spend in the bar.

And if you're as cynical as I am, you'll be thinking "when people are bribing you with beer to do something, that's got to be something you're not going to want to do, right?"

You're allowing a business to dip into your bank account or credit card and help itself to money at will.

But why would that be a problem?

Everything's regulated by terms and conditions, isn't it?

This is where it gets really murky. There is a link on the page about cashless on the Standon website to terms and conditions, and when you hand the cash over, you have to agree to those t&cs.

Trouble is, the terms and conditions are useless. (I've saved a copy of them for when the website changes.)

They're terms about the ticket registration, not about the cashless transactions. Sure, they're mentioned:

Cashless payment service (see further under 4.3.1.)
There is no clause 4.3.1, and section 4 is about intellectual property, not cashless transactions.

Amusingly, the intellectual property clause forbids saving any content from the website - which, in effect, bars you from saving a copy of the terms and conditions you've signed up to for future reference.

When I asked about the cashless terms and conditions, Standon pointed me back to the page that pointed at the pdf:

Except the pdf expressly says that it doesn't:

The present Terms of Service govern the use of the website [] and all of its sub-sites (hereinafter “Website”), housing that “online ticket registration service”. The present Terms of Service do not govern the RFID-services themselves, that may be subject of specific terms and conditions as determined by Standon Calling and / or third parties.
No explanation of who is holding your money, or where it is. No rights to reclaim. No indication of how much all the infrastructure is costing, or any fees levied on transactions. If I have a dispute with a trader, do I take it up with them or with Standon, or the PlayPass company who is running the system? What happens when the festival is over and I want my unspent money back?

It's pretty shabby way of handling people's money. And with 10,000 people attending, even if they're all as cautious as me and only load the barest minimum amount, that's quarter of a million quid we're talking about, being put somewhere, with no proper contract. The truth is, there's going to be a lot more cash involved.

And what of the unspent money? Inevitably, this is a circus, too.

Although your wristband is linked to your account, and your account is linked to the bank which you used to load the wristband with, and they've managed to track your transactions as you move around the site, somehow this data falls apart when you leave the site.

You have to reclaim the money. Rather than it being returned automatically.

And you can't reclaim it as soon as you're done. You have to wait.

Then you fill in a form, and wait again.

And... inevitably, eleven days after putting in a request for my own money to be given back to me, in comes an email:
Hi Everyone,

Alex here, Founder and Director of Standon Calling festival.

As you may know it is now fourteen days since we launched refund requests for any outstanding balance on your 2016 festival wristband.

We had hoped to begin payments today. Unfortunately, and with regret, this timeline has had to change. We will now process all requested refund payments by Friday 26th August.

I would like to offer my sincere apologies to those awaiting their refund. I understand this has been a frustrating process.

Overwhelmingly, feedback on the 2016 cashless experience at the festival has been positive. It is a shame then for you to experience this delay on your refunds.

Be assured we are working with Barclays to process refunds as efficiently as possible. We have learnt lessons from this experience and I am committed to an improved refund system in 2017.
Assuming that this new timetable is stuck to, that's a month after the festival. Four weeks to get back money that you had no choice but to pass to Standon on trust.

It would have been nice for some sort of explanation as to why there's this delay - there didn't seem to be a problem with the system when it was being used to turn wristbands into gin at the bar and - presumably - the cash was being held in a separate, secure account and not just sloshing about in the general Standon accounts, right? Right?

If only there were some terms and conditions governing this, but - that's right - there weren't any.

Now, it's only a few quid, and I'm not exactly sweating on it. But there's a principle here, that Standon are telling customers they're going to look after money for them, that it's a better experience - and then when asked to stump up the refunds, they're patting their pockets like Terry-Thomas when the restaurant bill comes round.

When I started going to festivals, I was at a time in my life when a shopping trip meant adding every penny in a running tally in my head. The ticket was a luxury, but I figured that the experience was worth it and if it meant a couple of weeks on No Frills beans, that'd be fine.

If getting home I discovered that the money I needed to buy the beans, though, was being held for no apparent reason in the account of the organisers, I think I'd have the right to be very pissed off indeed.