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The Weekly Cinema Debacle & Group Buying

A lot of group buying sites like Groupon have been popping up all over the place. You have Groupon [3], LivingSocial [4], BuyWithMe [5], and a litany of others. You also have secondary markets for these vouchers too, a topic tackled by NYTimes Bucks blog [6]. They’re all very similar in how they operate, basically leveraging group buying to get great deals, but I recently had an experience that changed how I perceived them.

Weekly Cinema was a service that let you buy discount movie ticket vouchers. The vouchers turned into coupon codes which you could use as at Fandango. The real gem of it all was that you could get movie tickets extremely cheaply relative to their box office price, basically $5 a ticket eligible for almost every movie (IMAX included). I first saw them on a group buying site called BuyWithMe and then I saw it on Groupon a few weeks later. I purchased the voucher on BuyWithMe, good for four tickets, and we used two of them before seeing it again on Groupon, where we purchased a pack of six. Since you could use the movie tickets anytime over the next six months, I figured it was a good purchase since we’d probably see four movies in six months especially with the upcoming cold weather.

Before we could use any of them, Weekly Cinema shut its doors. The vouchers were now worthless. Here’s where the group buying experience diverged.

Groupon immediately emailed me on November 12th, which I assume was basically as soon as they could. I learned of the closing through Groupon. They said that I’d be refunded the full purchase price regardless of how many vouchers I had used (none yet).

BuyWithMe emailed me on November 17th, five days later, and offered up a choice. In that time I’d emailed them twice about it, with absolutely no response. Refund of the unused vouchers (they could keep track) as credit plus 10% or refund of the unused vouchers to my credit card. I chose refund to my credit card. Five days doesn’t seem like a long time but they should’ve notified people as soon as they found it. I’ll probably use BuyWithMe if they have a compelling offer but this knocks them down a peg or two in my book.

I still think group buying sites are a dime a dozen but some of those dimes are better than others.