In November 2006 Blockbuster Online launched their Total Access DVD rental service which allows customers to rent movies online and bring the DVD’s back to any Blockbuster Store location in exchange for a new rental without having to wait for the next titles to ship (Blockbuster has over 5,000 store locations througout the United States). Blockbuster’s new slogan is “Never be without a movie”. Total Access has proved to be a huge success: by the end of 2006, they had a total of 2.2 million subscribers – many of whom switched from Netflix since this new program launched.
How does Blockbuster Total Access work?
Signing up is quick and straightforward. (Currently they are offering a free trial. Click here to view the special offer.) You fill out your name, address, and credit card details, after which you can login and start adding movies to your que.
Several years ago Blockbuster Online was far behind Netflix in terms of how well the website was designed. The interface was not as user-friendly and their selection of titles was far inferior. Since then, however, their user interface went through a number of changes and is now as good or better than that of Netflix.
Blockbuster encourages adding at least 5 movies to your queue (they will send email reminders anytime your queue runs below 5). Each movie has a one to five star rating as well as reviews from other Blockbuster users, which makes it easy to decide whether which movies are to your liking.
As soon as you have a few movies in your que, Blockbuster will start shipping your DVD’s. The most popular plan is the $17.99 3 dvd’s at a time plan. Assuming you signed up for this plan, you will receive 3 dvd’s from your que in the mail within 1-2 days, depending on what time of day you signed up and where your closest shipping center is located. So if you sign up on Monday, you will usually have your DVD’s by Wednesday.
The DVD’s come via first class US mail in prepaid envelopes. You tear off the top of the envelope to get to the DVD sleeve.
After watching your movie, you need to place the DVD back into its sleeve and place it back in the original envelope, tear off the bottom, and seal the return envelope. At this point you have two options:
1. Returning DVD’s to Blockbuster Online by Mail
It’s as simple as putting the sealed envelope back in your mailbox. As mentioned previously, the postage is prepaid so this does not cost you anything. The DVD takes about the same amount of time to ship back as it did to ship to your house or apartment. Once the shipping center receives the DVD, they will scan it, email you a receipt confirmation, and ship another available DVD from your queue.
2. Returning the DVD to a nearby Blockbuster store.
Instead of mailing the DVD you can bring it to a nearby Blockbuster store. In this case the DVD acts as a free-rental coupon. You have to have a membership to that particular store, which is separate from your Blockbuster online account. If you don’t have a membership you will have to sign up in-store, which usually takes a few minutes. Also, to be able to rent movies, even when exchanging, your account also has to be in good standing at the store (no previous balances or unreturned DVD’s).
One of the nice things about returning the DVD to the store is that your movie is scanned and another movie from your Blockbuster Online account is shipped, same as if the shipping center had received it. This means that you will get your next movies faster than if you had shipped them by mail.
Warning: The movie that you rent at the store will not be removed from your online queue, which could mean that you will receive that movie again from your online account. You either have to manually remove it from your account once you get home (or at the store if they have a computer available). Alternatively you can rent a movie that you know is not in your online que, that way you don’t have to take any additional steps.
We tested the service ourselves at the beginning of 2007 and were pretty satisfied with the entire experience.
Update: On June 12th Blockbuster launched Blockbuster by Mail, which is $1 cheaper than all its plans but does not allow you to return movies to the store, only by mail.