7/25/06 - Blockbuster upsets me

I've got a problem with Blockbuster online. If they didn't offer two free in-store rentals a month (or one every week depending on the option you choose) I would switch to Netflix in a heartbeat. Basically, my beef with them is that the queue they have available is COMPLETELY innacurate. I'm writing this because I need to blow off some steam and more importantly, I think the consumer should be informed about this. The following is my roller coaster ride my relationship with Blockbuster has taken. For those that don't enjoy reading or find the lives of others boring, here is a brief synopsis.

You can not trust Blockbuster's online status. "Available Now", based on information received from a CSR (who was very informative), means that there is only a 99% chance of getting that movie. I believe based on my own experiences that it is MUCH lower than that. After reading their Terms and Conditions I found some things that rubbed me the wrong way. I've heard that netflix will limit the speed at which you get your movies based on the number of movies you rent, but I really didn't expect Blockbuster to do the same. I was correct...almost. Under the "Selection and Allocation of Product" section, they explain that you get lower priority if you consitently get the highest movie in your queue or if you have been a customer for a while, among other things. The last line also troubled me: BLOCKBUSTER Online reserves the right to change these allocation metrics at any time, and to consider additional allocation metrics in the future, including, without limitation, a subscriber's historical rental volume, all with or without notice. It looks like they might, in the future, unless they've already done it, lower your priority level if you actually watch the movies you get in a timely fashion.

To start with a bit of background, I believe I signed up for Blockbuster in October of 2005. We got the free month for signing up and we immediately filled out our queue. Our first three movies were Fever Pitch, In Good Company, and Coach Carter. We got all of them within a couple days, watched and returned them and began getting the movies at the top of our list from there on out. Well, at least until about a month ago.

Before I jump into the main issue, I should just mention how much trouble we had with some of the movies we got. When we got National Treasure we had to skip an entire scene because the dvd was scratched so bad. Another movie, I don't remember which one it was, was cracked right down the middle (obviously unplayable). A couple of the other movies we received were also heavily scratched and only caused minor skips while watching, enough to get frustrated about, but alas, we could still watch the movie. The worst was during my attempt to watch Goodfellas. I had never seen the movie and was about to crawl in bed to watch this Gangster movie classic. I put the DVD in and started going through the menu options only to find out that they had sent me friggin' Fiddler on the Roof. How they got those confused I don't know. The only thing we could do in those situations was send the movies back and wait for another copy.

Back to the main point of this article: I had the same movie at the top of my queue for several weeks: Brain Twisters. This made sense to me because it's a very rare movie (my local Blockbuster didn't even have it in there system) and therefore, I assumed that they had 2 maybe 3 copies of the dvd. It consistently showed up as "Long Wait" on my queue. At one point, it stayed at "Available" for a few days and I got excited. I sent back one of the other movies after we watched it and waited for the confirmation email that Blockbuster had received it. The minute I got that email I checked my queue again and sure enough, Brain Twisters was "Available". A couple hours went by and finally I got the email stating which movie they had shipped next and I was horrified to find out that they had shipped movie #2 on my queue.

This required a call from me to customer support. After searching through the horribly organized FAQ section on the site (which oddly enough is where the "Contact Us" link takes you, I got the number and was able to speak with a customer service rep (no automated system, I was pleased with that). I was told that "Available Now" doesn't really mean "Available Now". It means that it might be ready to ship out, but maybe not. This made no sense to me, but considering the rarity of the movie, I accepted it as a timing issue between the website being updated and the movie getting shipped, I let it slide.

Fast forward several weeks where I have no set my queue up to have the following movies, in this order: Brain Twisters, Cry Wolf, Boiler Room (excellent movie by the way), Super Troopers, and The Godfather. Twice, I sent back a movie that we had watched, at a time where ALL 5 of those movies were listed as "Available Now", only to receive the SIXTH movie on my queue. This too required a call to Customer Support. This time I was told again that the "Available Now" status used on the website only means a 99% likelihood of getting that movie. To this I quickly responded that that percentage just doesn't seem right considering I didn't get any of the five I had at the top of my queue. She said she woudl see what she could do, but in the mean time offered to send me some e-coupons for free in store rentals. That's all well and good, but I got the online subscription so I didn't have to drive clear across town just to rent a movie. Ironically, after that call, the next two movies I received were: Brain Twisters (Number 1 at the time of sending) and Boiler Room (Number 2 at the time of sending). I thought things had cleared themselves up only to find out that the movie they sent me today was not numbers 1-3 as I would suspect (still all "Available Now"), but instead they sent me movie number 4: Jersey Girl (my wife wants to see it).

I'm not sure exactly what to do, but if they pull this a couple more times, I'll be moving over to Netflix very soon. Although they don't have free in-store rentals, maybe the use their online status they way they should.

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