1. Entertainment
O Netflix, Where Art Thou?
Part 1: Can the online DVD rental service keep its promises?
When it sounds too good to be true, it usually is

When I came home from the electronics store with my brand new DVD player and ripped open the box, there it was: a coupon to join a wonderful new service that lets you rent movies right through the mail. It wasn't the first time I'd heard of Netflix.com -- you can hardly click anywhere these days without finding an ad, coupon, or rave review -- but, unpacking my sleek new DVD player, it was the first time that a DVD online rental service made sense.

The premise is simple: you join for a monthly fee of $19.95, and you get to watch as many movies as you want. That's right: take out as many DVDs as you please, as long as you don't keep more than 3 at a time. No late fees, no limits: you can keep the same 3 films for the whole month, or (and this is what I was interested in) watch them right away, mail them back in the provided prepaid envelope, and get new movies a few days later. Wow!

 
 More of this Feature
• Part 2: A Useless Response
• Part 3: A Slap in the Face

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• DVD/Video Stores

 

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What seemed especially tempting about Netflix was their selection. They boast virtually any DVD released to date, a total of about 10,000 movies -- especially interesting for an odd-movie freak like myself whose strange desires usually can't be satisfied at the corner video store. No, thanks, I don't want one of your 20 copies of Gladiator; I prefer to get my battle fix from Eisenstein's 1938 Alexander Nevsky. Netflix, it seemed, could feed the most twisted movie hunger.

At first, everything was rosy: movies arrived within 3 days, I'd watch and return dutifully, I had my three rentals spaced out so I was hardly ever without a fix from Netflix. I kept my rental queue, from which new movies are sent, always stocked with rarities and oddities: hooray!

Then, sometime around Christmas, it all went straight to hell. First I got a broken disc for which I was never reimbursed (and I still haven't seen the film, Mifune). More and more movies on my queue were out of stock. Delivery times slowed down, and my returns didn't seem to get to Netflix for 5 or 6 days -- making for a 10-12 day turnaround!

When things got bad enough, it was time to complain to customer support:

I am writing to let you know that I am considering discontinuing my Netflix membership. I like your concept and selection very much, but apparently you cannot keep what you promise. Shipment of discs is much too slow, and most of your selection seems to be permanently out of stock. Out of 40 movies in my queue, less than a quarter is available at any one time -- some haven't been in since I joined. Do you only have a single copy of these movies?

Shipping is another serious issue. Movies seem to take at least 4 days either way, meaning that each film takes up 8 days even if I return it the day after I received it. In addition, one disc arrived broken, and despite your reassurances, I never got any compensation for the lost time -- and I haven't seen the film yet because it's been out of stock ever since.

I am currently also a member at a local DVD store to supplement Netflix. I find myself renting many more movies there than I receive from you. Please let me know what steps you intend to take to improve your service and make the price match its value.

Best regards,
Jurgen Fauth


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