Saturday, March 17, 2007


Why I quit Blockbuster Total Access

I gave Blockbuster's Total Access program a shot. Despite early problems, I continued to give it the benefit of the doubt. But now I'm done. This afternoon, I cancelled my Blockbuster Total Access subscription.

If I had never tried an online DVD rental service before, this divorce might not have happened. But because of my mostly positive, long-term relationship with Netflix, I was able to compare two services against each other.

The comparison to Netflix is where Blockbuster has largely failed, a notion that should particularly concern Blockbuster marketing executives. The lion's share of their current advertising campaign is clearly aimed at current Netflix users, encouraging them to switch. They may be driving a lot of trials, but my guess is that most long-time Netflix users will ultimately stay put.

Why? Here are my five reasons:

Slow Turnaround Time
With Netflix, your next selection is chosen and typically in the mail within hours of its confirmed receipt at the distribution center. Blockbuster promises turnaround within 24 hours on a business day, and they typically take ALL of that time. For example, Blockbuster confirmed receipt of one movie for me yesterday (Friday) morning, but by the end of the day hadn't shipped out a new movie. I'll now have to wait until Monday for that movie to ship, meaning it won't arrive until Tuesday or Wednesday. The Netflix movie would have shipped yesterday, and arrived today.

Low Inventory at Distribution Centers
Too many movies I want from Blockbuster aren't available at the Seattle distribution center, and therefore need to be shipped from more remote distribution centers (lengthening the turnaround time even further). What's worse, it appears that even the local distribution centers have fewer copies of many catalog movies than similar Netflix distribution centers, meaning the movies you want are stretched across more inquiring subscribers.

Worst Inventory at Retail Locations
Blockbuster retail locations are heavy on new releases, and very light on catalog movies. Blockbuster's "in-store return" policy counts on the fact that the returning customer will want new release movies. If your interests go beyond the mainstream, good luck.

Aggressive Retail Upsell
I realize Blockbuster's "in-store return" policy relies heavily on point-of-sale upsell. It's a good strategy. Problem is, it's also annoying. The poor guy at the check-out counter typically walks through 3-4 different offers before he lets me take home my new movie. It's not hard to say "no" 3-4 times, but it gets annoying visit after visit.

Not Enough Differentiated Value to Switch
At the end of the day, Netflix is still a superior product. They have fast turnaround, ample inventory at most of their well-located distribution centers, and typically plenty of new release inventory to ensure that those movies get out to customers quickly. In my mind, these benefits outweigh the incremental reasons to switch to Blockbuster. More movies, available faster, and at far greater convenience to me.

Are these reasons why Blockbuster's Total Access program will ultimately fail? Absolutely not. It's a good rental program, and a good value for families and other more casual movie watchers. But I question the current focus on switching Netflix users. That strategy, in my opinion, will ultimately prove unsuccessful.


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