Blockbuster is so lackluster

April 2nd, 2008 • Posted by SpaBoom Staff • Permalink

Last year, I wrote an article entitled, "So, you think I'm stupid?" which addressed some of the practices of other businesses that assume their customers are stupid.

I just had an experience with Blockbuster Video yesterday that still has me steaming. Even though they credited my account completely, the damage is already done. I will no longer go to Blockbuster. I think it's a story worth retelling, so we as business owners don't forget how important it is to treat our customers with respect … and to not assume our customers are stupid.

The background: I rented four movies two weekends ago. Two were "standard 5 evening rentals," and two were "3 evening rentals," or so I thought. I returned the "3 evening rentals" on the second day, because "3 evening rentals" aren't "3 day" rentals (I'll get to that in a minute) and I returned the "standard 5 evening rentals" a day late – my fault. A week later, I received a postcard in the mail from Blockbuster claiming I owe them nearly $10 for one of the movies, which they claimed was a "3 evening rental," not a "5 day rental." (By the way, the movie in question was Dan in Real Life – it's a fun movie, worth watching).

I walked into that Blockbuster store yesterday, and walked to where "Dan in Real Life" was located. The DVD cover didn't contain the standard blue on yellow print indicating a "3 evening rental," and the actual DVD you rent (enclosed within the white DVD case) didn't contain the standard blue on yellow print "3 evening rental" notice either. However, another movie nearby did have the blue on yellow "3 evening rental" notice on both the DVD cover and DVD case.

I took both movies, "Dan in Real Life" as well as the second movie to the front counter, and talked with the manager. There were two problems with the postcard claiming I owed nearly $10: That it claimed "Dan in Real Life" was a "3 evening rental" when it clearly did not contain the customary blue on yellow notice to that effect, and the implication on the postcard was that I never returned the movie (which, of course, I know I did).

The manager, as politely as she could, explained they periodically run out of the blue on yellow "3 evening rental" notices, and therefore didn't have such a notice for "Dan in Real Life," despite the fact that they have such a notice on other DVD's. She politely asked if I received a receipt, implying that — obviously — this would be on the receipt and I'm stupid for not keeping a $12 receipt around my house for the 5 or so days I'd have the movies.

The manager was also able to look up the actual movie in question, and found that it was rented to someone else, therefore I must have returned it, they just made a mistake in scanning it when I originally returned it. Unfortunately for me, because they don't have a record of when it was returned, I was obliged to to pay the fee up and to when it was rented again.

[awkward pause]

I morphed into a 6 foot, 210 pound, pissed-off attorney. I really, really hate to throw my weight around or state that I'm an attorney. I avoid it like the plague, except when I get into incidents like this. So, with my head hanging down in shame, I admit now that I turned into a frothing-at-the-mouth nightmare lawyer everyone hates to have in their store. In my defense, it lasted only a minute. The manager backed down, and "graciously" offered to credit my account entirely, even though I was willing to pay what I legitimately owed: A late fee for one night, for two "5 evening rentals."

The problem is, the manager's tone and language (i.e. "I'll let this go this one time, hopefully it won't happen again") misses the point that we were both wrong. They mislabeled their product. They didn't scan in the DVD's properly, when I returned them. To then imply they are 100% in the right, and they are doing me a favor by crediting my account completely misses the point and frankly made me even angrier.

I think my experience at Blockbuster is educational on a number of fronts, from a business owner perspective:

  • When we make a mistake as a business owner, we need to suck it up, admit the mistake (even if the customer is also to blame) and make the situation whole;
  • If there's an obvious flaw or mistake in a business process, we should never require the customer to pay for it;
  • The words that come out of our mouths, when resolving a conflict or problem, are pivotal – we need to choose our words very carefully; and
  • Blockbuster's "3 evening rental" is a scam, pure and simple. It's designed to confuse customers so they return the videos they rent a day late. The lesson is: Customers may make a mistake once, but learn quickly from their mistakes – never, ever cheat them with fancy language or cheap curtains that fail to fully hide the facade that lies within.

6 Responses...

  1. Christine says:

    I don't get it. Please explain how the "3 evening rental" is a scam.

  2. Anne says:

    It isn't a scam — at my Blockbuster you get to keep it for three nights — the first night is the day you rent it, even if you rent it at 10:45 PM — that is still your first night. Maybe that is what she felt was a rip off — but it isn't since you could also rent it at 10 AM.

  3. Cathryn says:

    I think the point is, don't ever make it so your customer feels like you haven't at least attempted to make the problem whole — even when one of our service providers did wrong — we as business owners need to suck it up — and make it right. Not only for the guest, but the business as a whole. It's all about customer service.

  4. Let me be clear what I mean by the word "scam:" I believe the "3 evening rental" is a clever device perpetuated by Blockbuster, with the sole aim to deceitfully extract more dollars from their customers.

    I believe the "3 evening rental" is a scam, because it's a clever mechanism that takes advantage of human psychology in two important ways, both of which are disadvantageous to the consumer. First, it's easy to interpret the phrase "3 evening rental" as "3 day rental," and even when you get that it's really about "evenings," many folks interpret that as "get it to the store by morning." In a nutshell, the phrase "3 evening rental" implies more than what it actually delivers, and it creates some level of ambiguity that places an advantage on Blockbuster.

    Second, most people watch movies at night. Usually after dinner, and perhaps after they put the kids to bed (if they have kids). This means, a large percentage of consumers finish their movies later at night, 7-8pm at the earliest. How many of us, after cozying up to a movie, perhaps under a warm blanket and after eating a snack, relish the thought of getting in the car and trudging over to Blockbuster to return a movie or two? It is my belief that a good percentage of Blockbuster customers actually make an important decision when the movie is over: "Do I really want to return this thing now, or am I willing to pay a late fee??!?"

    Aside from the psychology, I believe there are practical aspects of this "3 evening rental" that help prove my point that it's a scam. Of the top of my head, I can immediately come up with three:

    1. Why does Blockbuster make everyone return the movies at midnight, when the doors are closed and no one is in the store? It would be just as easy (and practical) to make the deadline 10am the following morning, when Blockbuster first opens.
    2. At the store near me, perhaps 60% of the "3 evening rentals" are marked as such (i.e. on the video box or case). This means roughly 40% are not marked properly, which creates confusion and ambiguity, especially if you lose or misplace the receipt. It would help consumers immensely if Blockbuster adopted a clear, conspicuous and unambiguous means to mark each and every video so consumers know (at time of purchase) as well as in their home, without reference to the receipt, which videos are 3-evening versus 5-day.
    3. Why is it "3 evening rental" and "5 day rental?" This difference again causes confusion with their customers.

    These three issues are easily and cost-effectively resolvable, but favor Blockbuster in a revenue stream entitled "late fees."

    Disclaimer: I understand Blockbuster is a franchise, and as such, many independently owned Blockbusters will operate slightly differently.

  5. Wanda says:

    Wasn't it Blockbuster who said, "No more late fees?"

  6. Charlie says:

    SCAM? You're a lawyer? You know the policy AND due dates were both on your receipt, AND not to mention the cashier more than likely SAID to you "Blah Blah is DUE BACK ON Blahday." Odds are you probably didn't care at all about what the little low life cashier had to say then; you only cared about what the manager, who is supposed to cater to your every need, had to say later when you wanted an issue resolved. The manager told you she could only "do it one time" because once you know rental policies, she shouldn't ever have to do it again. If you yelled at her like you admit you did, do you really expect her to willingly be apologetic for not checking the movie in correctly? Not to mention, she's not the "business owner" so that's really her job to apologize for the entire company's "business process." There is a good chance there was miscommunication on both ends of this late fee fiasco, so get over it; I'm sure you've already been back to rent a movie since then anyway. At least have a valid point if you're going to write some kind of blog that pops up when I google "Blockbuster 3 day rentals."

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