It doesn't feel like that long ago when this phone conversation was a common occurrence...
Automated Booking Line: Please say the location of your chosen cinema clearly.
ABL: Did you say Chester?
ABL: Here are the film times for Chester.
ABL: You have selected The Nutty Professor 2 The Klumps.
Thank goodness those days are over... or are they?
Modern online cinema booking is certainly far from the flawless experience it should be. In my experience its full of limited navigation, poor search and endless booking options.
In this user experience test I'll be taking three of the biggest UK cinema chains through a vigourous check to see which one offers the best online experience, for desktop and mobile.
‘Fanatical about film’ apparently. Well good, I would hate to frequent a cinema that actually preferred car mechanics or synchronised swimming to film.
The Odeon homepage is fine. Overlarge carousel showing the latest film releases, providing quick links to book now.
Let’s test how quick that ‘book now’ link is.
Handily The LEGO Movie is the control example and it’s the first image I see. On clicking on ‘book now’, I’m taken to the film info page.
I was expecting to go straight through to a booking page.
The ‘Quick Book’ link on the top right of the page is a permanent tab that opens a drop-down menu with further drop-down menus revealing cinema, film and day choices.
This is a handy feature and features the complete collection of films that Odeon offers across the country, however I was again expecting to be taken directly to the LEGO Movie booking page.
In fact you have to scroll down below the fold of the ‘film info’ page before you find the specific ‘book now’ button. Clicking this takes you further down the same page to a ‘select cinema’ drop down menu.
Thankfully Odeon has been clever enough to leave out any cinemas that aren’t showing the film in question, saving a lot of hunting. My complaint that The LEGO Movie isn’t showing in any Central London Odeon will have to be kept to myself.
So how do I find an Odeon nearest to me that’s showing the film I want to see? You have to go back to the homepage, where hidden in the ‘Cinemas’ are options to find your nearest Odeon by postcode or by browsing the complete list in a drop down menu.
Once entering your postcode you’re offered a Google Map pinned to it your nearest Odeons, with details and directions for each.
Also note that the postcode search field doesn’t require you to add a space in the middle.
This then takes you through to something that I think is a necessity for chain cinema brands with multiple locations: a branch specific landing page.
Here there are easily navigable options for films, times and days with options to view trailers and sort the films by accessibility.
Pick your film or day; it’s all fairly straightforward.
What if I want to search via film though? I would say that more than half the time I’m going to the cinema to see a specific film rather than just going to my local cinema for the sake of it.
The permanent ‘Quick Book’ tab allows you to search for the film of your choice through a drop-down menu, which then filters out the cinemas the film isn’t showing in. The same feature is accessible on the homepage under the carousel.
Here they are both at work.
Once you’ve chosen your tickets, you’re taken through to the login page, where you can choose between logging in with your account, through Facebook or continue without login. Very handy if you’re in a rush.
Booking the tickets takes five whole screens of choosing tickets, choosing seats, choosing extras and entering personal details. I would say this is unnecessary as most of this could be done on a single screen.
To give Odeon its credit, it asks for a minimal amount of personal information, just a name and email to send confirmation.
I would suggest that cinemas are one of the main offline businesses that would benefit from having either a mobile site or responsive site.
How many times have you been out and about, and then have thought “I fancy seeing a movie”.
Responsive design and mobile sites allow for easier navigation, quicker load times and a superior user experience when away from a desktop.
How does the largest cinema chain in Europe fair when it comes to mobile?
I won’t even waste my time navigating this as we all know what a frustrating experience it will be, full of pinching, squinting and inevitable abandonment.
This is a massively missed opportunity and a disappointing oversight from a major cinema chain.
I’m not going to pretend this is the most aesthetically pleasing homepage I’ve ever seen. The reds blended with the yellows are meant to indicate a certain explosiveness of entertainment, but come off a bit tacky.
However this is meant to be a user experience test so let’s ignore that.
Straight away I’m impressed that the cookies have remembered that my local cinema is Westfield Stratford City, so provides me with a homepage of films showing there.
All I need do is scroll to my choice, click on the image and I’m taken straight through to the booking screen.
This has already cut out a couple of steps that I had to go through with the Odeon site.
I’ve just checked back to see if Odeon has remembered that I booked tickets for Manchester and whether it presents film times for that cinema on its homepage. It doesn’t.
The Vue homepage also allows you to choose the cinema times from up to three different locations on your personalised homepage.
This site is built with the repeat customer in mind.
The ‘book tickets’ option is a permanent resident on the homepage. It’s not hidden within a drop-down menu or housed on another page.
Similar to the drop-down options on the Odeon site, if you scroll through the ‘Film’ list first, picking your chosen movie, it will filter out the cinemas its available in, and vice versa.
Basically I’ve done everything I really need to here. Search for film, location, find times. It’s all simply done from the homepage.
The booking process is completed over four screens, a slight improvement over Odeon, however where Vue really beats Odeon is on the ‘seat selection’ screen.
The film I booked through Odeon had unallocated seating. Vue lets you choose where to sit.
Personally I hate unallocated seating. It means you have to get to the screening much earlier than you normally would in order to beat the rush for the best seats.
Also if there’s only rubbish seats left in a screening, I’ll pick a different screening. Going to the cinema is meant to be the optimal way to experience a film, therefore I’m not spending between £12-£20 to be sat extreme front-left and end up with a detached retina.
Vue requires you to complete a registration form if you’re not already registered. It also asks for your full address details too, so this is quite time consuming.
Vue has a dedicated mobile site.
You can simply search via two drop down menus: film or location.
All screen times for your film selection are available once you’ve clicked through to the specific film page, swiping below the film description.
It’s only through experience that I know that’s where the screen times are. Perhaps these could be better indicated at the top of the page.
Seats are pre-selected for you when booking via mobile. It’s a shame that this sacrifice had to be made, possibly because the seating plan simply wouldn’t fit the screen.
You are told which seats you’re allocated though, so its possible to cross-reference this with a seating plan online. Although that sounds like a massive hassle and probably something that nobody in their right mind would do.
At the very least it gives you an indication of whereabouts you’ll be sat, and that it won’t be a free-for-all.
Booking is all kept to one screen, although this is a little fiddly.
Also there really isn’t any need to ask for all of that personal information. Just a name, email address and payment details would be fine.
For true ease of payment, why not offer PayPal as an option?
In spite of the minor niggles, at least Vue has the forethought to provide a mobile site. You could easily book a film while away from a desktop relatively quickly and easily through this site.
This has a similar layout and feel to the Vue website. Disappointingly though, in the 'Book Tickets' navigation box you have to pick a location before you can search for the film you want to see.
This can cause a lot of hunting around trying to find the right cinema convenient for you, showing the film you want.
To its credit though, once you've selected the film and time you want to see, it's a very simple booking process with only two screens to negotiate.
The personal information asked for is minimal too.
Cineworld incentivises sign-up though, by offering a 10% discount to people who register their details.
A clever way to obtain some data and exploit marketing opportunities via other contact channels.
Here's where Cineworld really wins though.
A mobile site that uses geolocation to provide you with a home screen optimised for mobile with immediate links to your nearest cinema.
Choosing the screening time and seat options is all done on a single screen, meaning a significant reduction in load times and how often you have to wait for loading.
The next screen allows you to register your details to get the 10% discount, therefore not prejudicing against mobile users. If you're in a hurry though you can just tap 'continue without a discount'.
Finally the 'Personal Details' screen contains nice large input fields and requires the minimum amount of information.
Cineworld could certainly benefit from a more user friendly homepage that allows for film search, the eight films highlighted only scratch the surface of what's on offer and Cineworld should realise that people go to the cinema because they want to see a specific film.
Odeon is an unwieldly experience with unnecessary navigation and absolutely no mobile presence whatsoever.
I like Vue a lot, it certainly has the best desktop site of the three and earns points for having a mobile site, even if it's slightly flawed.
However, as Cineworld provides the easiest and quickest booking experience on its desktop site and its mobile site, it's the clear winner here.
For more on movie marketing from the blog, check out these 14 blockbusting examples of movie website design.
For more UX comparison tests check out Fight Club! BBC iPlayer, 4OD, ITV Player and Demand 5.