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Customer experience: Movie theaters are missing the boat on key trends

In 2014, the movie industry in North America had the worst summer since 1997—even after adjusting for inflation. Why? Movie theaters are not keeping up with consumer trends.

Aside from improving content quality (do we really need “Transformers 4”?), going to the movies is simply not a great time anymore. Americans are not only going to the movies less often—they prefer watching movies at home, according to a Harris poll released earlier this year. Movie theaters are competing with home theaters, and are losing the battle in terms of customer experience.

Consumers have higher expectations for entertainment, shopping and eating and movie theaters need to catch up to these trends to bring consumers back to the big screens.

Image credit: Valerie Reneé

Image credit: Valerie Reneé

Here are a few instances in which the home theater is doing better:

1. Comfort

At home, you can put your feet up and enjoy your favorite seating. In movie theaters, we are all expected to sit (and fit) on the same chairs. There’s an opportunity to enhance the experience by creating different areas within the theater. Take, for example, some cushy foot-rests, wider seats and armrests to make you feel like you’re at home in your favorite chair. How about more room for a bag and a coat? Anyone who ever had to bring an umbrella and raincoat to a theater will appreciate extra storage.

2. Food and beverage

Dine-in theaters are starting to gain traction. However, the majority of venues still rely on popcorn and the usual concession stand offerings. When it comes to food, consumers are more sophisticated and adventurous than ever. Quick service and fast-casual restaurants, as well as food trucks, continue to invest in bringing new ingredients, chef collaborations and healthy options. There’s a huge disconnect between food trends you see on the street (truffle butter, kale salad and Angus burgers are now mainstream) and the same-old overpriced nachos and cheese movie theaters are offering.

3. Pets

At home, you can watch a movie with your pooch curled up on your lap. Pet lovers could have an opportunity to see a movie in a designated pet-friendly room within the movie complex. It might sound eccentric, but finding a way to accommodate this type of preference would mean gaining loyal customers.

(Please note: By pets, I am thinking about dogs on a leash and certainly not a pet ferret or snake… certainly a few guidelines would be recommended!)

4. Breaks

At home you can take a break. (This one is tricky to deal with in a movie theater without creating an interruption of the experience, but that’s still an advantage.)

5. Overall setting and style

The overall décor and layout of mainstream movie theaters needs a refresh. It doesn’t create a desire to arrive earlier, spend some money and hang out. When the movie is finished, you want to run out of the place ASAP. Other than a lounge area with appealing food, movie theaters could explore shopping options to bring extra revenue—

movie paraphernalia anyone? Star Trek or Toy Story fans would certainly appreciate finding the latest goodies from their favorite characters.

6. Technology

Flat panel TVs, improved (or surround) sound, HD, blue-ray…watching a movie at home can be a pretty good experience now that so much great technology is available. That’s not the same as having a 70-ft screen, but it’s still a compelling reason to stay home, especially when you finally consider #7.

7. Price

At home, you can purchase and download a movie and watch it with family or friends. In the theater, you pay for each seat. Margins have decreased for theaters over the years, so making money out of ticket sales only is not a viable business model.

Offering better amenities at a premium could be a way to make up for meager ticket prices.  People are usually OK about paying more for a service they find relevant—be it better seating, quality food, shopping opportunities and an overall ambiance that consumers will find relevant and valuable.

The U.S. is still the largest movie market in the world and there’s still a lot of money to be made. These ideas should spark a conversation about a revamp that’s long overdue. After all, anything that improves box office sales is worth considering.


One comment on “Customer experience: Movie theaters are missing the boat on key trends

  1. Hospitality Shero
    November 20, 2014

    Fantastic post! It’s all so true, too. The experience of going to the movies has definitely plummeted over the years and they have yet to figure out how to get it back. Good luck with that, though. Customers want more to justify the high ticket prices these days.


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