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Does Netflix Care What Its Customers Think?

Recently, Netflix did a redesign of their website, which made it harder to navigate their website. ¬†They changed from a mix of words and pictures to a infinitely scrolling series of large images of the box art. This new layout made it hard to actually find movies someone would want to watch easily. This week, they brought a similar redesign to their PS3 interface, which makes it impossible to view more than five movie titles on the screen at the same time. Add to this Netflix’s announcement that they would be raising their rates on September 1, and their users are up in arms.

When Netflix released the new layout to their website, it was universally reviled. It was poorly received by its users as seen by the comments on their blog and Facebook page. Website redesigns are often met with derision, as Digg, Gawker and TechCrunch have learned, and it’s hard for a company to know whether people are just averse to change or if their design truly is poor. Regardless of public sentiment, they soon after changed their iPad app to a similar design.

This week, they created an even worse design for the PS3. The information is laid out in rows which only show 5 titles at a time. To find a specific movie that is in my queue, I needed to log into the website, see where it was in the queue and then go to that number. If a user cannot see the content, then it is not a useful user experience design. It feels like Netflix does all their design based off a concept, then doesn’t do any UX testing to see if it’s actually usable.

To add to Netflix’s poor customer views, they announced they would be separating their streaming and disc based rentals, which would also carry over to the pricing. Instead of the joint DVD and instant streaming joint price of $9.99, a person now has to get a streaming account for 7.99 and a disc based account for 7.99 (plus an additional $2 to include Blu-Ray as well). And additional $6 a month that has its users up in arms, spamming their blog and Facebook page with comments about how much they hate the price hike.

Netflix is being aggressive in its acquisition of movies and television for streaming, but their library has about 150,000 titles, which is hardly comprehensive. The disc services are good for catching the latest films, but they are hamstrung by the studios who don’t want movies available for 28 days and don’t really want their movies available to stream at a perceived loss of revenue.

For all of the complaints about Netflix recently, what is the alternative? The biggest competitors would be iTunes and Amazon, which allow a person to rent or buy individual films to watch, but that gets very expensive very quickly to someone who watches a lot of tv and movies. Hulu Plus is available, but is predominantly tv and Criterion films, many of which are web only, a detriment to all who prefer to stream their video to the tv. For disc rentals, Netflix destroyed the Blockbuster type video store business, so it mainly leaves the Redbox machines, but a person is limited to whatever is in the local machines and is not as comprehensive as Netflix’s library.

With 23.6 million users and growing at last count, it’s hard to imagine that all their users will suddenly leave over the price hike. Although many claim to on Twitter and Facebook, the proof will be in the numbers that Netflix announces in the fall to see if they are just idle words or if people are really quitting. Otherwise, perhaps what people who don’t like the new interface need is a third party site that will allow them to control their Netflix with a different interface.

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