Changing Consumer Habits

January. A time when we all tend to take stock about what we have done in the previous year and what we want to do in the new one. It is also a great time for retailers of all types to capitalise on this ‘open to change’ mentality and woo new customers. But Retailers need to get their offering right if they are going to turn these opportunities into ongoing sales.

I wanted to share some of my recent experiences with some retailers who were new to me and see if they passed the test. Were they welcoming to new customers or do they still have a lot to learn?

Cineworld at Genting Resorts World Birmingham

The new Development adjoining the NEC is a mightily impressive facility with casino, restaurants, many upmarket retail stores and an 11 screen cinema operated by Cineworld. I had been recommended to see the new Star Wars film on the iMax 3D screen and like half of the UK I wanted to see it between Christmas and the New Year.

The  first hurdle was the booking process. Booking on line was impossible. I still cannot work out why as it seems to be working now (13/1). Their website appears to facilitate online bookings but Star Wars in the iMax theatre was not possible so I used the automated phone booking system. This voice activated process costs the customer money and can be a protracted affair. The 0871 number is also hated by independent consumer experts like Martin Lewis at Money Saving Expert as he cannot see why customers should have to pay extra for an automated service. It took me about 10 minutes to make the booking and get my reference number. I then told my family the good news.

“Oh Dad, we can’t make that date”, “Can you move it to a different time as I have a late shift.” My heart sank but I called the customer service line to make the change. It was on the same 0871 number but eventually I got through.

“I am sorry Mr Ratcliff but we cannot change your booking until you have booked a second set of tickets. We will then refund you for the first booking.”

“Why do you force your customers to pay twice before they can get a refund?”

“It’s company policy”

At this stage I as about ready to bang my head against a brick wall but having shelled out nearly £100 for a family treat I then had to double that expenditure and hope that they would refund me. Even though the Customer service operator was polite they could not give any logical reason for this bureaucracy and pain for Cineworld’s customers.

I kept my cool, bought duplicate tickets and was told that I would get a refund (and I did thankfully). The day approached for the show.

The Genting Resort is a highly impressive facility. Stewards guided us to the covered and secure car parking and finding a space was not a problem but finding the cinema was. Signposting inside the building was not great. We were joined by two other families who also couldn’t work out which floor the cinema was on. Eventually having been guided by a member of the Genting staff, we walked past many impressive but quiet shops with beautiful displays on our way to the cinema entrance.

Ticket collection was mercifully easy but impersonal but I then realised that I had been told to buy 3D glasses when I booked. I queued up to buy them and all 6 of us went through to the iMax theatre. Our seats were reserved, comfortable, spacious and clean and the views were spectacular but we were greeted by an employee who gave out additional sets of 3D glasses saying that we didn’t need to buy them.

One of the advertisements was offering an annual pass for all Cineworld Cinemas. If this experience had been smoother I might have been interested.

The film (or product) was magnificent. The whole family enjoyed it enormously as J.J. Abrams reinterpreted, or rather repeated George Lucas’s magic from a few decades earlier.

Our experience wasn’t quite over though. Having scanned my car parking ticket to ensure that it was free on exit, I was asked (by the automated barrier) to pay an extra £2. The hundreds of other cinema goers were all trying to get out of the car park behind me so rather than quibble, I tried to pay with a debit or credit card or even cash. No chance. I asked for assistance and an apology came over the intercom and we were eventually released. Humiliation is never a great impression to leave with first time customers.

I started to wonder if anyone at Cineworld had been through the purchasing process and encountered any of the issues that I had through all the stages of my experience. I appreciate that Genting Resorts is a new and impressive facility and Cineworld is similarly new but if you have a chance to impress new customers, it is important that they feel that you are doing your best, giving good value for money and facilitating a smooth transaction. None of these were evident from my experience which I won’t want to repeat in a hurry.

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