Netflix Juices Up the Customer Magnet

Online DVD renter and Stock Advisor pick Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX  ) just gave its customers a very welcome upgrade to the movie-search function, by adding a guesstimate feature in the vein of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Suggest.

The idea is simple: Start typing your search terms, and Netflix tries to guess what you're looking for before you're done typing. It's a real-time thing, very Web 2.0, and it should now be much easier to find tricky titles like Akeelah and the Bee or Plein Soleil.

The new tool is hardly perfect, though. It doesn't work for the names of directors or actors, so you'd better remember how to spell "Kinnear" or "Shyamalan" on your own. And even in film titles, there's still more work to do: The look-ahead function appears to check only against the first couple of words of every title. Start typing "Fellow ..." in the hopes of finding The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, for example, and you end up with only Fellowship of the Dice. The actual results page will still list LOTR as the third choice, but that's hardly intuitive, given the behavior of the search box.

Still, it's an improvement, and anything that makes it easier to find the movies we're looking for should improve the customer experience at Netflix. It should also lead to better word-of-mouth advertising and maybe a lower defection/turnover rate. If the company really wanted to juice up the search tool, though, I'd take a look at Amazon's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Internet Movie Database and the cornucopia of excellent advanced search tools on offer there.

Netflix could still keep its simple and pretty good search as is, and just add an "advanced search" option to the side, the way IMDB and Google already do. As it is, the magic of Firefox add-ins lets me do movie searches at IMDB and add what I find there to my Netflix queue in a couple of clicks. I just feel bad for all the poor Internet Explorer users out there who don't have that luxury.

Then again, you need a Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) browser on a Windows-enabled PC to use what is perhaps Netflix's biggest difference-maker versus rental rival Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI  ) -- the "Watch Instantly" digital movie streamer. Oh, Netflix, why can't you just make everyone happy? Cross-platform movie streaming and advanced search on your own site. That's all I ask. And I can't be the only subscriber with wishes like these.

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