Three weeks in . . .

More than a year ago, Peter and I were in the midst of discussions about how we wanted to launch the Criterion cinematheque. Over time, those discussions expanded to include every department at Criterion. We wanted to have a single website that continued to sell our DVDs and merchandise but that was also driven by content, and would enable our community to begin experiencing these films online. Over the course of the next year, we found a wonderful partner in the Auteurs, explored ways that our viewers could watch films that were new to them without having to make the full commitment to the DVD (that’s how our $5 “try before you buy” was born), developed a whole new way to introduce content to the site (the Current), and began a redesign and site-rebuilding project. As you know, we launched the site on November 25, and the feedback has been terrific.

Before we publish a DVD, we test it, watch it on a dozen different TVs, and hit every button on the remote (a couple of times), and we tried to be as thorough with the website. But we realized that if we tried to make sure everything was perfect, we would never launch. I think we came close, but a few things didn’t work the way we had hoped. We’ve addressed most of them already, and here’s a look at what we found.

Loyalty program

All you have to do is register on the new site. We knew from the start that we would not be able to electronically carry over points that had been earned by customers from purchases made on our old website. But we also knew that in developing a new site from the foundation up we could begin to automatically track one’s purchases and send out gift certificates as soon as the 500-point threshold was crossed (we tracked purchases manually on the old site, which is why it took so long to send out certificates). In addition, we wanted customers to be able to see their own point totals, which you now can when you log into your account on the new site. When you register, you can use the same e-mail address as before or a new one: just send an e-mail to [email protected] with your old and new user names, and we’ll transfer your points. We’ll check your previous purchases and gift certificates, and we’ll have the total carryover posted to your account in about two weeks.

$5 credits against DVD purchases when you rent a movie

When you rent a movie and watch it online, you will receive a $5 credit (good for one year) against the future purchase of the DVD. This was supposed to work whether the film was available individually or as part of a box set, but it isn’t for box sets. We’re working on fixing this. If you rent a movie that’s part of a Criterion, Essential Art House, or Eclipse box set and want to buy the box set before we get this solved, drop us a note at [email protected], and we’ll make sure you get the credit for your purchase. We’ll be putting some DVD supplements on the site shortly as well, and when you watch those, the rental price will go against the purchase of the DVD too.

Warehouse and back orders

As part of the new website, we moved to a new warehouse and began working with a new partner to handle the back end of our order fulfillment. We’re now centrally located in the United States, so it should take less time for packages to reach most of our customers, and we should be able to get more packages out the same day orders are placed. Our partners in the fulfillment world pick, pack, and ship hundreds of thousands of packages a year, but this is the first time they’ve agreed to handle another company’s orders, and we’re very excited they have.

When we flipped the switch on November 25, there weren’t supposed to be any back orders for out-of-stock items from the previous week’s sale. The purpose of the sale (besides giving our fans a chance to stock up at very good prices) was to deplete our inventory so we wouldn’t have to ship it to Kentucky. We weren’t planning on taking back orders, but somehow the message got lost when we tried to communicate that to our fulfillment operation. We’re shipping product from several locations, but we are honoring all orders placed during the sale. All of the product should be back in stock and shipped by the end of December.

Credit cards

We had enabled Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express, but the latter two proved trickier than we expected. When we tested each of them on $5 try-before-you-buy rentals, it looked like they worked. It turns out they didn’t, and any fifteen-digit number was giving access but not necessarily charging the customer. It took us a couple of weeks to dig deep into the code, but I think we’re fixed now.

That’s the big stuff. We’re three weeks in. I’ve watched a couple of movies online, personally shown Jason’s introduction to well over a dozen people, and we started selling art prints from our packaging just last Friday. All in all, I’m pretty happy and excited. I’ll check in again and give you an update after the first of January, but in the meantime, happy holidays and a safe, happy New Year to all.

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