Why Blockbuster Online Sucks (and What to Do About It)

Earlier this month, B-don was kind enough to point me to a free trial to Blockbuster Online, the rental giant’s Netflix competitor. I was a Netflix subscriber wayyy back in the day (when the logo looked like this) so I figured what the hell, I’d give it a whirl, see how the modern stuff compares.

And the answer is: so far, not so hot.

I’ve only been a member for 8 days, so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on shipping time and other availability questions, but there’s still plenty that could be improved. For example:

  1. The links aren’t links. For some idiotic reason, they’re using JavaScript (specifically an onClick event) when you click the title. In addition to being generally dumb, this hampers people who prefer to open pages in new tabs. I know I’d love to take the “Award Winners” list and scroll-click the titles of interest, allowing Firefox to load them all in different tabs in the background. But no, I have to click, wait, read, back, click, wait, read…
  2. ‘Remember Me’ doesn’t. Even when I’m actively using the site, I get the sign-in prompt far too often. It’s not clear how long a session lasts, but it’s too short. Either dump all pretense of “remember me” or give some specific message such as “Your session has timed out after 5 minutes of inactivity.”
  3. I get weird errors. At the time of this writing, I’m actually locked out. I’ve gotten SSL certificate mismatch warnings, “Server returned an error” dialog boxes, and truncated responses. Growing pains, perhaps?
  4. Descriptions are inconsistent. Consider Bent on Blockbuster vs. on Netflix. BbO has no information at all. No summary, rating, year, photo, related titles… Nothing. For shit’s sake, fellas, you’re the world’s largest video store operators. Run a query, and send some interns to look this stuff up. It’s embarassing.
  5. The ‘most rented’ list is too broad. I’m (mildly) interested in the most popular movies, but not in a big list of the top 100 discs site-wide. Why not break down the lists by category, as Amazon does? Then I can find the top 10 rentals in, say, Anarchic Comedy.
  6. The recommendations are…odd. Perhaps I’m a particularly challenging case, but whatever algorithms they’re using to suggest additional titles seem weird to me. How is “Band of Brothers” related to Y Tu Mama Tambien? A little refinement wouldn’t hurt.
  7. I have no idea how returns work. I’m not going to comment about shipping in general, but I do note that I dropped off 3 discs around 8pm Monday night, bound for MSP, two mailing days away. The next morning (at 11:50), Blockbuster announced they had shipped a new title to me. Wednesday, at 4:39pm, I got a message that they shipped the second. The third was checked in today.
  8. You can’t search your local store. Before the launch of BbO, it was a pain in the ass to search your local store’s inventory (you had to search for title, then enter a ZIP, then click your store) but you could do it. Now BbO has shunted all the physical store stuff to a low-profile position, and they require registration for access. I can’t figure out how to search inventory anymore. That’s dumb enough, but what’s really weak is how they don’t even integrate it into the BbO experience. If I’m viewing a title, why not add a little banner: ‘Carried at your local Blockbuster store’? I get the additional information with no extra effort, and who knows, it might just inspire me to go plunk down four bucks to rent the disc instead of wait for it to show up in my queue.
  9. You must maintain separate memberships. Sign up for BbO, and you’re providing contact information and a major credit card. You’d think they would add a checkbox such as ‘Also enroll me at my nearest Blockbuster (at [blah address]).’ Then they could just stick the card in with your first shipment.
  10. You have to print coupons. I get two free store rentals a month — provided I print out the barcoded coupons in the ‘My Account’ section. There’s no way to print multiple coupons on a single sheet, and more importantly they can’t seem to manage having them show up on the computer at the store itself: “Sir, you have two free rentals with your online account remaining, would you like to use one?”
  11. Your store rental history doesn’t transfer. Once they get #6 sorted, I wouldn’t mind if they brought my store rental history over. I was a Blockbuster customer (by default) for many years, in their high-volume Rewards Gold category. If their recommendation system could analyze the hundreds of titles I’ve rented before and then make suggestions based on those, I’d be interested to see them.
  12. They call their mailing list an “E-Newsletter.” That’s like two cliches in one.

As you can tell, it surprises me how poorly Blockbuster has integrated their online and retail arms.

4 Responses to “Why Blockbuster Online Sucks (and What to Do About It)”

  1. b Says:

    There actually is a button next to all the titles labeled “Check my stores”, but when you click it all you get is a page with “We’re sorry, but this feature is temporarily unavailable.”

    And yes, the site fucking sucks, but the most important thing is how many dvds you can get. After having a netflix account for 3 years and both blockbuster and netflix for 5 months, blockbuster was beating netflix by so much that I canceled my netflix account. (on the 3-out plan – blockbuster: 27 dvds/month at $14.99; netflix: 23 dvds/month at $17.99)

    My biggest problem with blockbuster is that they have the R-rated versions of most NC-17-rated movies (which is why I’m glad my parents have a netflix account).

  2. Z Says:

    I had blockbuster for a while and I have never had netflix but I agree with all the above listed points. I would like to add another.

    I rate a service depending on the type of interaction I can get when I have a problem. From what I’ve seen Blockbuster Online has very dissapointing customer service. Probably worse than Cricket, but that’s another story. The only way to talk to a person is to write an email with your issue and wait for someone to call you.

    When someone deliberatly attempts to avoid customer interaction, it tells me something. One being that the company doesn’t value its customers. If I pay for a service, I want full service. I don’t want to read through a collection of FAQ to see if my problem relates to any of them, because most of the time it probably doesn’t. That is a waste of my time. Sure it saves the company time and money but is that what I’m paying for. No. I want my issues to be resolved quickly, not when it is convenient for someone else to call me back.


  3. CZ Says:

    Blockbuster online sucks.
    I called to report a fraud in which my credit card was used to order from blockbuster online.

    The waiting on phone was very long. half an hour. And when finally someone answered, he was extremely rude, showed no desire to help.

    There are other merchants involved in this fraud. When I called, all were at least courtious and many got back to me very soon.

  4. Katy Says:

    Aloha, great post. The really pathetic thing is that two years later they have not fixed any of the problems you mentioned. The JavaScript is still in place, the “remember me” box still does not function, the descriptions suck, and they still give the most bizarre recommendations. If all of that was not bad enough, they started jacking up their prices so now you only can exchange a couple of DVDs per month for the in-store rentals instead of all your rentals.

    Bad service. Bad prices. Bad Blockbuster.

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