AMC Theaters and Loyalty: A Study in What Not to Do

If you know me you know I'm an obsessive movie-goer. Each of the past three years I've kept track of the movies I've seen in the theater; in 2010 my tally was 57 movies. Almost all of those movies I saw with at least one other member of my family, and some all four of us saw together. Even with some free movie tickets courtesy of my Discover card rewards, seeing 57 movies in the theater costs a LOT. Especially when you have to eat and/or drink something while you watch a movie, which I do--I shudder to think how much I spent on concessions alone.

Which brings me to today's post. Yesterday Patrick and I went to see The Lincoln Lawyer. Our theater choices are pretty much either Regal Cinemas or AMC Theaters. I prefer Regal because their loyalty program is much better than AMC's--as is their food--but recently it's just turned out that the times movies play at AMC work better for us, so we've been on a jag of visiting AMC Theaters (Rio, to be exact). In fact, I'm the Foursquare mayor of AMC Rio. Even though I had 3 coupons for free tickets, courtesy of their rewards program, I couldn't use them because they're not valid for new releases. Also, I hate lines so I don't use the box office if I don't have to and use the ticket kiosk.

So we go to buy our tickets from the kiosk--which I could do in my sleep since I do it so frequently--but when the swipe your rewards card step comes, instead of it accepting my card like usual, there's a message that the old program has been discontinued so I can't use my rewards card. WTF? There's no way to convert your old card to the new program? Well, no....because the new program is pay-to-play and costs $12 per year.

Rather than spiral further into this rant, let me just list what AMC Theaters is doing wrong in this situation:

  1. Send existing loyalty card members an email saying that they'll be automatically enrolled in the new program with the first year for free--but then don't actually enroll them and let their existing card expire. On March 1 I received an email from AMC that said the following: "You will be automatically enrolled in AMC Stubs and, even better, we'll get you started by waiving your first year's $12 annual membership fee. When it's time to renew, you'll have the option to use your rewards toward your renewal fee. We'll be sending you your exclusive AMC Stubs membership cards soon." Um, where is that card? I spent $40 yesterday and got credit for none of that because my old card had expired and I have not received a new card.
  2. Make it impossible for current members to sign up for new program. You want people to cough up $12 for your rewards program that basically is the same as Regal's free program? Well, how about for starters when people swipe their existing reward card at the kiosk, give them the option of purchasing the new membership on the spot. As mad as I was about the new program and not being able to use my existing reward card, I probably would have just paid the $12 at the point of sale. But that wasn't an option.
  3. Don't have any information about your new rewards program on your website and, instead, continue to post information about the old, now extinct, program instead. You're discontinuing a LOYALTY program. How about giving your LOYAL customers--those who might actually spend $12 a year on your new program--any information at all about signing up? And, incidentally, telling me to go wait in line at the box office to talk to the clueless theater manager to sign up is not an option--I don't want to wait in line, and the people in line behind me waiting to buy tickets to the show that starts in three minutes don't want to stand there while I rant.
  4. Have an "exclusive" group for loyal fans who you use to get free market research...and that's it. I'm a member of AMC Insiders and regularly receive invitations to participate in very detailed surveys that are, essentially, focus groups. The likes of which people are usually compensated for participating in--I know because I've both been a participant and a facilitator of focus groups. Instead of compensation you're entered in a drawing of some sort...yawn. How about comping Insiders the $12 for the loyalty program?
Maybe I take the concept of loyalty too seriously and am off-base with these suggestions, but I have to say--as a person who is both involved in social media/community management AND a customer who is able and willing to spend money going to the theater at least once a week, call me arrogant but I think I'm in a pretty good position to judge AMC Theaters' loyalty program. And I give it my lowest movie rating: SUCKS.