I planned a Las Vegas trip for a long time. And I was super excited about the cool new attraction that was added last year during the pandemic. I was really looking forward to experiencing Omega Mart.
The Omega Mart is an immersive Dada-esque art and commentary experience. It’s a bit hard to explain, but you can get a taste at https://meowwolf.com/visit/las-vegas. The interactive display uses all the classic elements of Dadaism, plus all the modern media they could add to the adventure, including lighting, 3D artwork, collage, interactive experiences, computers, photo montages, assemblages, and more.
Thematically, it is a massive commentary on modern corporate culture, the relationship between individuals, businesses, information, labor, and the complexity of more knowledge-based interaction and commercialism. You can read a better description of the goals and experience of the Omega Mart in this article from last year’s launch: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/lifestyle/lifestyle-news/inside-meow-wolfs-new-omega-mart-interactive-experience-in-las-vegas-4133153/.
SO . . . My friend and I buy tickets. We’re both photographers, although I am as amateur as you can get. I mostly use the Auto feature on my camera. But we’re in the habit of looking at web sites before we take cameras, because cameras are not always allowed. Here’s a great example of a site that does not allow cameras (I added the big arrow):
Anyway, we pay $55 each to get in the door. And THEN we’re told that our cameras are not allowed. Only cell phone cameras. But, we protest, we see other people with cameras. Well, we’re told, our cameras are “professional” and not allowed. (If you’re a camera buff, we each had a Canon EOS M6 Mark II – absolutely not what you would call professional equipment.)
We go to check our cameras at the bag check for $5 and I ask the woman checking the bag (I’ll call her Marin) how we were to know not to bring cameras. She had printouts with rules of what’s not allowed. See the paper on the counter in the photo below. This sheet did not mention cameras at all. It listed strollers, handguns, food and drink, luggage, backpacks, etc. Not one word about cameras.
So I pointed that out and she handed me a big printout of pages in protective sheets and said that the prohibition on cameras was in there somewhere. I asked her to show me and she responded, “I don’t know where it is, but it’s in here somewhere.” I pointed out to her that this was a bit absurd. How would I find this on the web site? She said that these were their terms and conditions and that it’s in there somewhere. (Note that the document is entitled Code of Conduct, not terms and conditions.)
I asked if I could take a picture of her with the absurd terms and conditions. I said she could hide her face. So that’s the picture here.
We then proceeded into the “experience” and met a few people who had “professional” cameras that were not cell phone cameras. One guy actually had the exact same camera that my friend and I had. So, it appears, there is a rule but it is completely arbitrary.
Note: I did go click through the Meow Wolf web site and I did find camera prohibition, based on whether the camera has changeable lenses. I have no explanation for that, but it doesn’t matter. The reality is: It’s their property and they can do whatever they want. I don’t actually care about the camera rule.
The camera rule is not on the About page, or the Visit page, or the Explore page. It is inside the FAQs inside the About section. It’s also not in the email you get preparing you for the event, or on the tickets you print out to get in the door. It exists, but it’s a bit hard to find.
I really don’t care about the camera rule: I care that the customer service experience was on par with the cable company.
My companies have an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for fine-tuning customer service. Every time we have to deal with a question, we tweak or clarify the customer experience so that things are easier, more transparent, and more obvious for the client. This is true of web sites, our store fronts, download materials, memberships, etc. Everything is constantly tweaked to improve the customer/visitor interaction.
Omega Mart has clearly had this frustrating conversation with visitors again and again. So much so, that they’ve printed out the absurd terms of service (which I never found on their web site) and put them into sheet protectors so they can argue with their customers.
Instead of either changing their policy or making it really obvious on their web site, they built a system so they could literally argue with customers and “win” because they have 1/2″ of documentation – even though the woman I talked to (I’ll call her Marin) could not find the camera rule in the printout.
I often tell people that most bad customer service happens when employees don’t know why their job exists. I think that’s the case here, with the woman I’ll call Marin. I think she thinks her job is to enforce the rules. And others have helped create an SOP inside Omega Mart that is more interested in rules than customer experience.
As an outsider, I think her job is probably supposed to be focused on checking bags and making visitors feel welcome into this cool, fun adventure. I don’t actually know what her job description is. As a visitor, it feels like her job is arguing with paying clients.
I told her that I realize this is not her fault, but it really is an absurd way to communicate a simple request. I go to many, many art and performance events every year. And I try to always hop over to their web site and make quick check to see if cameras are allowed, encouraged, limited to non-flash photography, or not allowed at all.
It is the norm to make this information easy and obvious on the web site. People with cameras work through these rules all the time. It’s really a much better system than picking a fight with your visitors after they’ve paid $55 to get in the door and are already inside the “experience.”
Review: The Actual Mega Mart Experience
We enjoyed the immersive experience. It was filled with humor, satire, weirdness, fun things, cool things, and many little micro-experiences to explore. It certainly filled all the senses except smell.
Having said that, it’s really a one-and-done experience. Once you’ve been, you don’t need to go again. In summary: It’s worth doing once.
(I’ll be honest: I feel the same way about the Road to Hana, but that’s another story.)
My recommendation is to go. Take whatever camera you want, just keep it inside your coat until you’re past the entry point. Since enforcement is completely arbitrary, you’ll probably be just fine.
I mulled this over quite a bit the day after I had a talk with the woman I’ll call Marin.
My horrible customer service experience might actually be part of the show. After all, a good piece of the entire Omega Mart experience is making fun of the entire modern relationship between customers and the corporations they deal with. The Mart, after all, is a commercial establishment in which customers hand over money to be sold a bill of goods controlled entirely by the corporation.
Maybe treating visitors like adversaries and pointing to a fat printout of “terms and conditions” is just performance art making further satirical commentary on Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and the world we live in.
I’m sorry. You just have to believe me. It’s all in the fine print.
Final Note: The Finger
Did you notice that the woman I’ll call Marin is actually flipping me off with her left hand? It might be an accident, but kudos to her is she’s actually flipping off a paying customer in the midst of pretending to give customer service. Props.