SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has a portfolio of 12 destination and regional theme parks. Its parks feature a wide choice of rides, shows, and other attractions. On a typical visit, park-goers have a lot to consume. A lot.

To leverage this interest, SeaWorld realized it needed to modernize its digital approach and develop a more engaging experience for visitors.

The park’s primary challenge was simple: How to create a simplified app and online experience for visitors. This meant particular attention to the in-park mobile experience, which generated 75% of site traffic.

Going into the upgrade, SeaWorld's existing apps were merely a non-optimized native wrapper around its websites, a method that produced an outdated user experience. For example, the app rendered PDF maps sized for browsers. The app also did not provide wait times or in-park e-commerce, which most modern park-goers expect.

“Our challenge was to go from zero to one on mobile,” said Benjamin Vulpes, Director of Engineering at SeaWorld.

Vulpes recently joined Jim Noellsch, Senior Director of CMS & Web Platforms at Rightpoint, to detail the project's evolution during a Sitecore Symposium 2022 breakout session.

To “modernize and own the mobile experience” while creating a common design system, SeaWorld worked with Sitecore developers and Rightpoint to generate seven branded apps from one codebase.

As a result, SeaWorld combined a hybrid-headless approach and composable technology stack with Sitecore to deliver a guest experience designed to drive incremental conversions. “Our challenge was a gap in marketing. The existing experience was a little hairy,” Vulpes said.

Developing a more native app experience

Starting off, SeaWorld turned to Rightpoint for sensible organization and design using an incremental test-and-learn strategy.

SeaWorld's brands — Busch Gardens, Aquatica, Sesame Place, Adventure Island, and Discovery Cove — are built from the same codebase, providing consistent navigation and display on iOS and Android.

The app also creates a day-of-visit native experience, providing a schedule from open to close. Instead of PDFs, the app renders 12 maps, each with 200 points of interest. Developers literally deployed boots on the ground to achieve these details.

“We had staff walking the parks, building out GPS traces, figuring out which parts of the park were accessible to guests, and which weren't, and encoding them into the native applications,” Vulpes said. “Using that data, we could deliver a really great search map and a walking directions experience.”

The app debuted with positive ratings — 4.9 stars on iOS and 4.6 on Android. In-park usage increased by four- to five-fold. The upgrade delivered new revenue streaks and in-park efficiencies with streamlined e-commerce flows, maps, and searches. E-commerce development was particularly key to the project's success.

“[Before], there was no way to use your phone to buy the things that make for a really great experience, in our hearts,” Vulpes said.

Next: Upgrading the web experience

The website also was fine-tuned. Before, the web experience for pre-visit tickets and pass purchases included slow performance, lack of a clean design, confusing user experiences, and high error rates.

“The problem is that because the site's really not designed and optimized for mobile, it led to some frustration,” Noellsch said.

Research showed that users lacked clarity at key moments in the ticket purchase flow. Questions as simple as “Does my child get in for free?” or “What if I need to reschedule or cancel?” were not answered in the ticket purchase journey, Noellsch said.

The modernization of the websites came up with these conclusions:

  • Build a strong data and research foundation
  • Develop design and usability hypotheses and learn from experiments
  • Develop a modern design system for 12 websites
  • Implement winning designs to create a full content management system (CMS) experience, delivered via Sitecore
  • Test to validate conversion lifts and scale to each site and page

To improve e-commerce experiences, developers took aim at the cart page. They decoupled cart and log-in flows, elevated upsells, removed distracting elements in the header design, swapped the order summary with cart items, and promoted customer-friendly policies. The result was a 5%-10% increase in cross-sells, and a 3%-4% increase in visits from cart to checkout.

In the app's evolution, these objectives were sought:

  • Rebuild critical guest experiences such as the Pass Portal
  • Hone the funnel with new features and experimentation
  • Reduce friction with native payment solutions
  • Expand mobile app in-park use cases
  • Upgrade to Sitecore 10 to accelerate an expansion of the DXP’s ecosystem
  • Expand the composable DXP ecosystem to prioritize customers and create omnichannel experiences

“We all know quality experiences drive conversion,” Vulpes said. “If you do a good job on building an experience that people can get through, that they can understand, and figure out how to do what they're trying to do, they will buy the things that you want them to buy.”

To learn more about Sitecore XP 10 and how it can improve your organizations’ mobile experience, visit here.

Jason Masini is the Senior Director of Content Marketing at Sitecore. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.