DALLAS-- Blockbuster Inc., the nation's biggest movie rental company, says it will eliminate late fees on games and movies as of Jan. 1-- but if you keep them too long, you buy them.
Blockbuster announced Tuesday it will continue to set due dates, with one week for games and two days or one week for movies, but will give customers a one-week grace period at no additional charge, beginning New Year's Day.
"Doing away with late fees is the biggest and most important customer benefit we've ever offered in our company's history," John Antioco, Blockbuster Inc. chairman and chief executive, said in a prepared statement. "So as of the first of the year, if our customers need an extra day or two with their movies and games, they can take it."
However, renters who keep the movies or games past the grace period will automatically be charged for purchasing the DVD or tape, minus the rental fee, Blockbuster said.
Customers will still be allowed to return the movie or game over the next 30 days for a refund of the purchase price, but will be charged a "minimal" restocking fee, the company said.
If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck...
Sounds to me like a longer rental window, not an elimination of late fees. After all, what is a "'minimal' restocking fee" but a late charge under a different name?
Blockbuster executives must know that they're fighting for their company's survival at this point. The first major hit they took was DVDs being priced for sell-through rather than rental. I can't imagine that this so-called elimination of late fees is going to fool anybody. For example, I've had HEAVEN'S GATE from Netflix for about two months. (I've made abortive attempts to watch it but start getting drowsy early into its epic running time.) Under this new Blockbuster policy, I'd have already purchased it. If I did return it, I'd still end up paying an additional fee. This is better for the consumer how?
There is a way to beat Netflix at its own game, or at least improve upon it. Offering a "like it, buy it" program is one area where a theoretical Amazon.com DVD rental business could get a leg up on the competition. Netflix isn't set up for sales whereas Amazon already stocks DVDs for purchase. It wouldn't be hard for them to offer subscribers a discount on the purchase of a DVD they've rented. I want to say that Netflix offered something like this back in their early days--when you rented on a title-by-title basis rather than subscribing to a monthly plan--but maybe it was an idea that was floated to their customers instead of a reality.