Underwhelmed by ScreenClick

For the past few years, I’ve been a very happy user of Netflix, the innovative web site which let you receive DVDs via the post for a flat fee per month, for US residents. When I got back to Dublin, I was very happy to see that there was a local equivalent, in the form of ScreenClick — so I signed up.

However, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with their service, for the same reasons as Adrian Weckler writes about here

Turnaround time: this varies wildly, and can take nearly a week to turn around a DVD from dropping it in the postbox to receiving the next one. Netflix was reliably two days for me, out in suburban Orange County, California; Even this Kansas blogger noted that the longest they’d waited was 4 days.

This may seem to be an externality for Screenclick — but really, it shouldn’t be. Their business is built on the postal service, and they have to have decent results for it to work.

The ‘wishlist’ model: Netflix uses a queue, operating on a first-in, first-out model, while Screenclick uses something they call a ‘wishlist’, where the DVDs are delivered based both on position in the list and availability — in other words, you can find you’ve been delivered the DVD at number 10 in your list, instead of whatever’s at the top.

Again, superficially a minor point. However, one important factor is that these services are bought by households, not by individuals. Chez jm, that means that we operated a pretty strict alternating system in our Netflix queue — one movie for me, one movie for the lovely C, repeat. This is now thoroughly scuppered with a random ‘lucky dip’ system. On top of that, forget about watching a serial in order. The end result is a mess.

The website: it’s atrocious, a hodge-podge of ads for third-party sites, press coverage of Screenclick, more ads for Screenclick (hey, I’m already a customer!), and news clippings I couldn’t care less about — with finally a few tiny sidebar boxes containing the things I want (login, search box and wishlist). My impression: it’s designed to sell the company to investors and advertisers, not for customer use.

On top of that, it’s all squished into a tiny window — Irish web designers need to buy bigger screens! That late-’90’s Jakob Nielsen thing about users not knowing how to scroll? They’ve learned by now.

That’s not even talking about the awful Javascript that’s used to edit the wishlist ordering, where little buttons need to be clicked repetitively, one by one, to reorder the list. Surely someone took a look around at other sites first — Amazon perhaps — to see how other sites do it?

Anyway, on this count, I sent in a mail containing a batch of bug reports and unsolicited opinions, and got no reply. ;)

Less bang-for-buck: pretty simple. Netflix: 3 movies at a time, more movies in the collection, $17.99 per month; Screenclick, 2 movies at a time, EUR 19.99 ($25.56, $10 more expensive than the equivalent Netflix service) per month. Surprisingly, this is actually a minor issue compared to the others, though, since it’s made plain from the outset.

These may seem to be minor points, but when selling a disposable-income service to consumers, the difference between an essential leisure-time service and a waste of pocket money is a very fine line. Looks like Adrian eventually cancelled. I’m not at that point yet, but it’s heading that way…

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  1. Posted August 3, 2006 at 14:09 | Permalink

    I joined Tesco DVD Rental in the UK, which is another ScreenSelect/LoveFilm/Screenclick rebrand. At 8 quid for 1 at a time, GBP12 for 2, GBP 14 for 3 it is certainly a bargain.

    The problem is that they just don’t send out the new blockbuster movies quick enough. If you have a long list of two-years-old or older movies that you want to catch up with, it is great. However, about four months in, I’d already received most the old stuff that I’d ranked as middle priority, and was still waiting for most of the new DVDs that I’d ranked as top priority. Can’t complain about their turnaround time though – 2-3 days, very impressive.

    Also was a mite annoyed to discover that their catalogue lists stuff they just don’t have. It isn’t until you’ve paid for your first month and you have a proper login, that you order that the ultra-rare DVD you wanted to rent (in my case, the Peter Greenaway arthouse flick “Drowning By Numbers”) and it says something along the lines of “Unavailable – we will let you know when this title becomes available”. Well, it’s been deleted for ten odd years, so I sincerely doubt that is ever going to happen, so I was rather perturbed that they didn’t make this clear when I paid my money.

  2. Posted August 3, 2006 at 14:28 | Permalink

    I also found their selection of new DVDs a bit thin.

    However I can’t complain as I am using the 02 ScreenClick offer which gives me DVDs for 1c (one euro cent) until the begining of October. I’ll see how it goes till then and cancel if I am not happy.

  3. Posted August 3, 2006 at 17:17 | Permalink

    when they first started, netflix had similar problems with not always getting the top movies in your queue. i think a certain amount of scale is required before such a service can afford to stack titles deep enough to reliably have each person’s top-listed queue item available.

    there was a time i held on to one disc of season one of the sopranos for almost six months while waiting for an earlier disc to be sent.

  4. Posted August 3, 2006 at 17:42 | Permalink

    6 months — that’s dedication!

  5. James Flynn
    Posted August 3, 2006 at 19:10 | Permalink

    When I moved house in 2004, I changed my address on the screenclick site. They billed me twice (once for the old address and once for the new). When I brought it to their attention, they apologised, and then next month they billed me twice again.

    Then I sent them in a few emails explaining the situation, to which I got the a fairly narky reply telling me it was my fault, (being too stupid apparently to figure out how to use their website, despite working in I.T. for the past 15 years.)

    So I spent an hour or so collating details from the various credit card statements, and sent them an email cancelling my account and asking for a refund. They finally did so, but then billed me once more, just for old times’ sake.

    I’ve never had trouble with any other online service, but I wouldn’t use screenclick again if it was free. Of course, your mileage may vary.

  6. Posted January 14, 2007 at 02:38 | Permalink

    At least they didn’t charge you when you’d already cancelled, as happened to me