Thursday, November 3, 2011
I've been a Netflix subscriber for years, and never had any complaints about my service, until they upped the prices a few months ago. I wasn't happy about that, but I understood it, and even at double the price, it's still a good deal considering how ridiculously cheap it was for years until this recent price hike. Then they made online streaming an additional price, which was annoying. I opted to keep the discs and ditch the streaming since my internet isn't very reliable or fast and the selection of movies on disc just blows away the instant streaming options. Everything the instant people can watch, I can get on disc, but everything I can get on disc they can't get on instant. Then they announced they were going to split off into two different websites, one for instant streaming and another for discs, so I figured this was a good time to look at my other options. They have since recanted on the move to split to two different websites, but by then I had already started my month long free trial of Blockbuster Online.
Long story short... I'm not leaving Netflix anytime soon... at least, not for Blockbuster Online. It totally sucks.
In order to understand why I'm staying with Netflix over Blockbuster, let me walk you through my month-long trial by comparing and contrasting the two services:
Pricing: I currently pay too much money for Netflix, no doubt about it: $14.99 a month, which includes 2 unlimited rentals including Blu Ray. There are lots of plans that range from not that expensive to too damn expensive, but none that are really all that cheap. I have to pay around $2.00 extra each month for Blu Ray, and I don't have access to the instant viewing. That would be an additional $8.00 a month. Ouch.
Blockbuster was free for the entire first month, but I was on the 2 disc plan that would normally be... $14.99, the same as Netflix. Blockbuster's plans all include Blu Ray and Games at no additional charge, but the base price is higher than Netflix so it amounts to the same thing.
Website: Pul-leeze. Netflix's website is attractive, user-friendly, and easy to navigate. Blockbuster's website is pathetic, ugly, looks cheap, and makes everything difficult to find. Something as simple as updating your queue in Netflix is easy, while on Blockbuster it's a chore. The disparity between these two scenes was shocking to me. It wasn't just that one was better than the other, but that the Netflix site is great while Blockbuster's is truly terrible.
Selection: I had always been interested in trying out Blockbuster for a long time, and I choose the month of October because I was starting a month-long zombie movie marathon and knew I'd need to go through a lot of DVDs as quickly as possible. So over the course of the month, I watched well over 30 movies. I'm not going to cross-index that list with both services, but you'll have to trust me in that Netflix had every film I wanted to watch while Blockbuster had less than half. Blockbuster is fine for new releases or anything in the past couple decades, but if you want something that's black and white or a foreign film, you're out of luck. Personally, I like old movies and often watch things that lots of people have never heard of, including Blockbuster, apparently. Basically, if a movie is on DVD, Netflix has it. Blockbuster didn't even come close.
Speed: Yes, both websites had that movie Speed. Ha ha ha. Just kidding. But seriously, speed of service is tough to rank since the mail can be fickle, but 9 times out of 10, Netflix was faster. In fact, Netflix is so fast and so convenient, I can pretty much know when a film will arrive even without checking the estimate on their website. If I send back a film on Monday, for example, I know I will get the next film on Wednesday. That's fast. I can't promise the same speed for you, since I think there is a processing center near where I live in Minneapolis, but the wait time has usually been about two to three days.
Blockbuster wasn't so great. The wait time tended to be closer to four or five days. Often I would send something back and not have it show up as returned until three or four days later, and then it would often take another day before they sent something else out. So right there, Netflix should win.
HOWEVER Blockbuster has the option to return a disc at a store, so the wait time is theoretically as soon as you can get to the nearest location. I happen to just six blocks from one, but I don't think most people are so lucky. In fact, when I've told people about this option, most people scratch their heads and try to remember the last time they saw an actual Blockbuster. In Minneapolis, I can think of one: The Blockbuster on 22nd and Hennepin. Offhand I can't think of another one, but there must be more.
So, yes, you can return a disc at a store (if you can find one), but this isn't all that great. First of all, the selection on the website is poor, so the selection in the stores is even worse. If you want a new release, they've got 'em, but anything else (like, say, a zombie movie from the 70s) is almost impossible to find. Also, the stores are just dirty and depressing, and entering one immediately made me remember when I stopped using Blockbuster in the first place.
And if you do get something at the store, you have to return it back to the store, and that's it. You can't get another one that day. You'll get the next film your queue as soon as they send their disc back, which wasn't always the same day I returned. So even though Netflix is only though the mail, their speed was so much better and more consistent that I was able to get more movies from them then I did from blockbuster.
Games: This one seems like a shoe-in for Blockbuster, since they rent games as a part of their mail service while Netflix does not. However, after a month, I never managed to get any games. The first game I rented was Fallout: New Vegas, which came cracked and unplayable. I went online to report that the game arrived broken, and chose the option to have a new one sent. Netflix also occasionally ships a disc that doesn't work, so this isn't a huge deal. However, Netflix sends out a replacement immediately whereas Blockbuster didn't sent out a replacement until the one I sent back in arrived. That's lame, but it gets worse: The relpacement came cracked and unplayable. For all I know, it was the same disc.
And then I tried to get a game at a store when I brought in a disc to trade in, but the computer wouldn't allow it. The manager said the new games aren't available for in-store trade in. So I went to get an older game, but the cashier had already checked in the movie I brought back, so I couldn't get anything else. So while Netflix doesn't offer games, I'm not sure if Blockbuster even does since I never managed to get one that worked.
Service: This is a tough one to rate, and I'm pretty much only including it so I can talk about how Blockbuster's service sucks. I already mentioned how Netflix responds quickly when a disc arrives in poor condition, sending out a replacement immediately at no charge (unless you abuse this system, but I wouldn't no since I did it so rarely). Blockbuster took too long and didn't send a replacement until the broken disc was returned, which prolonged the wait and made me feel as though they thought I was lying, even though it was their fault I wasn't enjoying the service I signed up for. So Netlix seems to have fine customer service, even though that was the full extent of my involvement with them. However, the fact that I've never had to contact their customer service department says a lot about how well done and easy to use their website is.
Blockbuster, on the other hand... I had heard about how you could return a disc in the store and get a new one, but I never managed to find any info about it on their website. Maybe it's there, but I never found it. So I just brought a disc into the store to ask, which turned out to be another headache.
First I had to search the store for an employee, since nobody was at the counter. When I asked him about how I can return a disc and get a movie, our conversation went something like this:
ME: So I'm on Blockbuster online and I wanted to return a movie and get another one today... How do I do that?
HIM: (Giving me a suspicious look, and in a very stern voice): Are you sure you can? What plan are you on?
ME: Um... one that lets me do it.
HIM: Because the one at a time plan doesn't allow you to return movies in the store.
ME: I'm on the two at a time plan.
HIM: Oh. Then you can do it.
ME: I know. I just want to know how I do that. Do I give you the disc first, or when I want to check out?
HIM: Find a movie, then bring your old disc up.
ME: Thank you! (ten minutes later)
Then after I brought me discs to the counter, the guy asked for my blockbuster card. I haven't been to a blockbuster in probably five years. Why would I have a blockbuster card? Why wasn't I told that I need one? I asked if I could just give my phone number or email address, and he said no. You can only search by a card. Luckily I DID manage to find a card in my wallet, since I guess I haven't cleaned it out since before I stopped going to Blockbuster. He said that it was a good thing I found it, since the paper work to get a new card takes forever. Great.
And here's the funny part: When I returned a few days later to get another disc, I pulled out my card to give to give to a different employee, he said -- in an oddly mean tone -- that I didn't need a card. He just entered in my name. So... that was great too.
So there's always been some issue when I've gone in, or they've just generally been unfriendly, actively rude, depressing, or just weird. Throw into that the fact that they want to upsell candy, soda, and other membership offers, and it's just annoying. One time I actually went in and the cashier was either retarded, deaf, or mute... and it was the only time I got good service, by virtue of the fact that he only communicated by pointing and grunting. And I'm not making this up!
Overall Winner: Netflix. Blockbuster wasn't able to win a single category, not even the games category, which is pretty pathetic considering how Netflix doesn't even have the option.
Then again, these were my experiences. Your mileage may vary. However, after a month of poor service, a bad selection of movies, long wait times, and general inconvenience, I'm sticking with Netflix. It may be the most hated company in the world right now, but at least they're better than Blockbuster.