Taking the shine off the silver screen

Back in the day (‘the day’ being circa 2000), I wanted a Cineworld Unlimited card. Badly. Well, I say that – at the point I wanted that shiny little ticket to a bottomless cup of celluloid goodness, it was a Virgin Cinemas card, and I was too young to get one. Realistically, it wasn’t worth the cash for the number of Saturday afternoon cinema trips I made, but the notion of being able to see as many films as I could cram into my spare time was so effortlessly cool. I swore that one day, I would have one.

By the time I got my wish, I was about 18, and it had all begun to make a bit more sense. I had free time, but most importantly – I had a car. My card, adorned with the only ID photograph I’ve seen in my life that features a man in a hat, became one of my most prized possessions. Through university, it totally shone – I blasted through more films than I knew what to do with, saw films I liked two or more times, and often ended up seeing a random movie if there was nothing on TV. My friends caught onto how much of a good deal it was, and signed up with me. We began to go to late-night showings on the weekend, seeing films whenever we had a spare bit of time – truly, it was great. And it was a complete steal, because we rinsed our cards for all they were worth.

Thing is, after a while, I began to feel that Cineworld didn’t really give a crap about us Unlimited Card holders. The price went up and up, and despite relentlessly promising unique deals and great offers on things outside of the cinema foyer, all I remember is an odd cheap popcorn voucher, and some truly lackluster local deals. Even they’ve dried up completely of late, and all the correspondence I’ve had is the regular letter informing me that I’m going to pay more for my card. While the core service is undeniably good, there is a feeling that you aren’t being rewarded for your loyalty, so much as paying the price for it.

Firstly – you can’t book. This is the single biggest problem with the card. Despite the fact that you have unlimited access to films, you’re stuffed if you want to make sure you get a seat. Whilst every other paying customer gets the opportunity to book a pew for the next blockbuster, those most loyal to the company can only turn up in person and use their card to ‘buy’ the ticket, there and then. Want to go with your friends who don’t have a card? Well, if they’ve booked, then you better get there early in the day to make sure you get a ticket for the same screening – if it’s a popular film, you’re going to be queuing with everyone else, as at both the Scottish Cineworlds I used, they did away with the Unlimited Priority line a long time ago. When Inception came out, it was near enough impossible for me to go and see the damn film with my card-carrying mates.

Secondly – Cineworld now seem more interested in rewarding those happy enough to sign up for their new MyCineworld service. Fill in some details online, and you’ll be rewarded by not paying a penny in booking fees and get cheaper tickets in Scotland. It’s pitched as a more personalised approach to the company, but just smells like a grotty little data collection project on their part, where the customer is being given a straight-off discount for handing over their personal details. MyCineworld and Unlimited seem completely at odds with each other, almost to the point where it’s like the company doesn’t realise they’re both running.

Honestly, it wouldn’t take much for me to be a completely happy Unlimited customer – I have been in the past, and it still represents great value. However, given the well-documented rise in online video traffic, and the introduction of to-TV film streaming from companies like Sky and LoveFilm, Cineworld should be looking at their service a little more closely. It’s not hard to imagine a great online Unlimited offering, where cinema lovers can track the films they’ve seen, build up reward points for concession purchases, and above all, BOOK A DAMN TICKET.

In a climate where the customer is becoming less and less loyal, your company must rise to the occasion. Don’t assume your customers will take crap just because it’s cheap, because someone – in this case, any of the other big chain cinema operators – could come along and very easily offer your customers exactly what they want. And then, just like that, they won’t be your customers any more.

Photo courtesy of Cian Ginty

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