Thursday, November 13, 2008

posted by Jeff at
People of the internet! Just moments ago, I had my balls squeezed.

This wasn't performed by a woman... nor by a man. At this point, a particularly twisted soul might deduce that I enjoyed the company of my first transgendered sex partner tonight... but no. Get your mind out of the gutter.

It was a corporation that seized my testicles this evening, and their name is Blockbuster Video.

A brief history of Blockbuster Video: They rose to prominence in the late 1980s when the VHS format exploded in home theaters across the United States. Video rental stores raked in a fortune as they were licensed to rent out the same film hundreds of times while only paying a flat fee. Once DVDs came around (and were less wallet-friendly) it became ever more lucrative. And while "mom n'pop" video rental stores would carry only one copy of a popular new release, BBV would stock anywhere from 5 to 50 copies so that everybody could rent it. Blockbuster quickly climbed to the top of the rack, decimating most of its corporate competitors and driving 99% of small-time entrepreneurs out of business.

However, recently the Mighty Ticket has been facing some hard times. Alternative forms of video rental such as the ominous and rewarding Netflix service, affordable on-demand cable subscriptions, as well as the significant price-drop of DVDs in the past decade... have pushed Blockbuster slowly but surely towards bankruptcy! While they've embraced online rentals, they're still dropped from consumer consciousness. And with big-timers such as Sony moving away from optical media formats and pushing for digital distribution in the future, the ol' "video rental chain" is going the way of the Dodo. This is common knowledge of course... I just felt like delivering some exposition!

So what's my beef with Blockbuster?

First the technicalities, then we'll move into my specific qualms. Let's start with video game rentals: it now costs $9.44 to rent an Xbox 360, Wii, or PS3 title for 5 days. For a shorter game and a dedicated player, this is still a relative value. I concede. But hear hear! Their game rentals were only half that price 5 years ago. Probably even less 10-15 years ago. Do you remember how much a brand-new video game cost to purchase in 1993? Anywhere from $60-80! How much do they cost now? $50-60. Blockbuster is fighting its way up-river against inflation, and the buyer's market.

What the flippity fuck?

Then you have the New Release section. "The Wall" as they put it. However, this section is not just New Releases! Most independent films, regardless of release date, seem to stay on the more expensive Wall for a much longer time than their major-studio brethren. Sometimes a film will be placed on the Wall solely because it has a sequel debuting in theaters. I've often found films 2-3 years old sitting up there, requiring a dollar more to rent and offering a fraction of the rental time. It's inconsistent, which brings me to the particular issues that I have with Blockbuster Video.

Inconsistency in store policy. One manager offers me this, another manager offers me that. Some days I can stack offers, other days I can't. Although, let's be fair. There is one consistent rule to Blockbuster's behavior, and that is to serve itself whenever possible. Even when it's being "charitable." I'm referring to their Rewards program. Here we have a benefits package specifically designed to give the antiquated Blockbuster Video an edge in regards to their cheaper contemporaries, namely Netflix. "Giving back" to the customer by offering them rent-1-get-1-catalog-free discounts on low-traffic days of the week, 1 free monthly catalog rental, and my favorite: rent five movies/games, earn a free movie/game of any kind. This is their technique for combatting On-Demand movies and subscription mailers.

Does it work? It did when they weren't juicing my family jewels for every last drop. Somehow I don't think this is what Jack Lalanne was talking about when he said "Juice For Life!" It's a tender area down there, you can't just yank it. Especially not when it belongs to your customer! So at long last, we've come to my problem.

A Blockbuster manager argued with me regarding my benefits. I had rented maybe 15-18 movies in the past 2 months, and I knew that I had several freebies saved up that were good until (and I quote) midnight on November 30th. I also had my one free rental coupon that they send out via e-mail that I wanted to use (as it's only valid in the month it was issued) ... and of course, you can't stack offers. Well, some. It's incredibly idiosyncratic, and not the behavior I'd hope for from a corporate behemoth...

Weeeeeeell... maybe one's that going extinct. Anyway, the manager said that there's no proof that I had earned anything. Bull-shit. Nevermind that the customer is always right, but the proof is in the pudding: just look at my rental history you mongoloid! This is why they should stop cutting special needs funding. So he gave me my properly earned free movies, my rewards. But one of them was cracked! No big deal, I just returned it and asked for another copy of the same film. They didn't have it. So I figured, considering that the film was purchased via my "rent anything free" offer, I could once again choose whatever I wanted. Here's "Lesson 1" in why it's good to be pragmatic: they wouldn't let me rent a game or a New Release unless I paid the difference. They renegged on their own offer, because their DVD was unreadable. Their DVD, that after a solid 7-8 years of availability, has undoubtably earned them a grand profit.

By now you're inevitably thinking, "That's a whole lot of leading up for such a small slight." Right?

They've done this before and they'll do it again. Thousands of times a day across the globe. Millions. And by "them" I don't mean a washed up video rental chain, I mean corporations. Tightening the belt just after they've eaten a 7-course meal. Looking out for their own interests, and taking a fuck-all approach to customer relations; to employee benefits. What I've experienced at BBV is just a microcosm of everything that's wrong with commerce today.

We the people need to... ah, oop. Anal Crazed site-rip downloaded. Talk later.

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