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5/26/2009

How to Investigate Artificial Blockbuster Store Check-In Delays

During the last several days, the Blockbuster Underground test account has revealed a peculiar new trend that might negatively affect some Blockbuster Online subscribers. The possible delay tactic limits the DVDs a subscriber can receive each month by allowing or intentionally creating a lengthy delay between the time a Blockbuster subscriber returns a store DVD and the time the Blockbuster Online system updates to reflect the return. The issue could easily add a day or two to the turnaround time for each DVD.

The most troubling thing about these delays is that they have the appearance of being artificial and intentional. Past system update patterns and current system update patterns show some inconsistencies that seem to have no reasonable explanation.

Under this new possible throttling tactic, store DVDs returned at the same time and at the same store may not clear the Blockbuster online system at the same time. This inconsistency strongly suggests the delays are not due to a legitimate system update schedule issue. For example, if the Blockbuster system were updating only once every twenty-four hours, generally all store DVDs returned at the same time should be clearing the system at about the same time. If two DVDs are returned at exactly the same time and they are clearing the Blockbuster Online system at very different times, that suggests the delays are artificial and, therefore, intentional.

Certainly, a Blockbuster employee might scan in one DVD and then not scan in another DVD for hours. This might account for discrepancies of a few hours, but this would not account for delays sometimes far exceeding twenty-four hours, especially since a couple of weeks ago, DVDs returned to the same store were normally clearing the Blockbuster Online system at nearly the same time and in less than a few hours. Often, returned store DVDs would clear in less than an hour.

Another reason the system delays seem artificial is that in-store exchanges (i.e., online DVDs exchanged for store DVDs) still show up in the system rapidly. This feature of the system seems to be mysteriously unaffected by the new delays. In-store exchanges commonly show up in the Blockbuster system within an hour of the transaction. How could the system so quickly update to show when store DVDs go out but then take a full day longer to reflect when those same DVDs came back?

You can test all of this for yourself and see if you are being throttled by Blockbuster in this manner. Here is how to conduct your own investigation.

  1. The next time you exchange your Blockbuster Online DVDs for store rentals at a Blockbuster store, make a note of the time, go straight home, and check your Blockbuster Online queue.
  2. Your in-store exchanges will probably already be reflected by your queue, indicating the Blockbuster Online system has updated.
  3. If the new store rentals do not appear in your queue, check your queue every hour or so until the new store rentals appear in the At Home section of your queue.
  4. Make a note of the time.
  5. When you later return those store rentals, take them into the store to a Blockbuster counter clerk, and ask the counter clerk to scan the DVDs in front of you. Ask the clerk to verify the DVDs are showing up in the system as being checked in. (The store's system update should be almost instantaneous.) You may even want to ask for a receipt or other form of proof for the return. Regardless, make a note of the time the DVDs were scanned at the store.
  6. When you get home, check your Blockbuster Online queue periodically until the store rental DVDs clear the At Home section of your queue.
  7. Make a note of the approximate time you notice each DVD clearing your queue.
  8. If your returned store DVDs clear at significantly different times, or if the DVDs remain in your queue beyond 6:00AM (Eastern) the following morning, there is a problem, and you are probably being throttled by Blockbuster.
  9. Contact Blockbuster, ask them why you are experiencing such long delays on your account, and request a refund. If these delays are the result of a legitimate system delay, Blockbuster needs to offer you a full explanation, a detailed plan for how they are fixing the problem, and a refund for the time you were unfairly deprived of the subscription benefits for which your are paying.

1 comment:

Trevor said...

That is some good advice and I am going to give it go just to have some proof. I know for a fact that I am being throttled. Checked 2 in-store movies in last Tuesday which they scanned. Showed up as checked in on Thurs. My online queue did not say it was processing any movies at that time and to add movies to rent eventhough I had 25 titles in there and all were available. Called support and they said to please allow a full business day for my movies to "clear" which I told them it took 2. They said that I should have 15 movies in there to there wouldn't be delays to which I replied I had 25 which were available. They didn't offer me a couple or real apology but I asked and received a coupon for in-store rental. It's Monday so it's been nearly a week since I returned my movies and I have yet to see any processing or shipped.

I will document my times and such and keep calling them and requesting writtin reasons is a great idea that I will pursue. Hopefully, they won't drop me. I imagine that if they start to take that approach they will open themselves up to a class action :)

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