Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, January 22, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Despite the looming presence of displays like this at
Blockbuster stores, many customers are unaware of new
benefits -- including the possibility of free rentals
-- available to them.

No plans
No worry

Blockbuster adds
perks for members

By Stephanie Kendrick
Assistant Features Editor


Blockbuster Video is doing its best to make sure you don't have any plans tonight. Or any Friday night for that matter.

No, its store managers are not spreading nasty rumors about you to your friends, but they are trying to tempt you to come and see them instead of anyone else.

Late last year, Blockbuster started a program that guarantees select newly released videos will be in stock for each customer who wants to rent them. If the tape a customer wants is not available, that customer gets a rain check good for a free rental of that video anytime within the next 30 days.

According to Jeff Martin, regional director of operations for Blockbuster in Hawaii, rain checks are being given out at a rate of about 10 to 15 per store per week. That's a small price to pay for happier customers.

Not all new releases are guaranteed in stock, only those that have been judged to have the greatest appeal are considered worthy of the Blockbuster program. For example, a movie that was a big hit with teens, but didn't generate much interest among older viewers may not be guaranteed, according to Martin. But any movie that grosses $100 million or more at the box office is sure to be on the list.

The trick is figuring out how many copies of any given movie each store needs to meet demand. With a movie like "Titanic," for example, each store might need 200 copies, said Martin. Whereas demand for "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" may call for only 60 tapes per store.

The numbers are crunched by a corporate computer system. But even over-stocking is a no-lose situation for the company. As rental demand falls off, tapes are sold as "previously viewed." And while Blockbuster has more tapes to sell as a result of the program, "We continue to have more demand than we do product," said Martin.

Another program started late last year guarantees "library" rentals, or movies that have moved off the new-release wall. Under this policy, customers dissatisfied with such a rental get a coupon for a free library tape.

According to Martin, there is no downside to the new policies.

Customers are coming in more frequently and new release rental volume is up, said Martin. People had stopped coming in on the weekends because they assumed the tapes they were looking for would be out. That has changed.

Rental volume is up 12 to 15 percent per store since their inception, and membership has climbed about 10 percent over the last six months. In the six months prior to the adoption of the new policies, membership climbed 2 to 3 percent per store.

While the numbers are impressive, an unscientific survey of 10 customers at Blockbuster on Piikoi recently found none of them knew about the program. And almost all had active video membership elsewhere as well.

At Makiki Video, manager Penny Vegas said she was aware of Blockbuster's new release guarantee, but she did not see it as cause for concern. "As long as we do our job they can't hurt us," she said.

Vegas added that many of her members had expressed frustration with service at the video rental giant.

Blockbuster is aware of the disaffection felt by some of its members and is responding with increased service, Martin said.

It's all about wanting to, like their ads say, make the customer happy. That, and wanting to be the answer to the question "What are you doing Friday night?"

February promises

Next month, Blockbuster plans to intensify its seduction of Hawaii movie fans.

For $9.95 per year, members will be able to join the Blockbuster rewards program. Its benefits include one free library rental per month; a free rental of a new release or video game for every five such rentals in a calendar month; and 2-for-1 rental rates Monday through Friday on library tapes.

And for those of you who are truly addicted, Blockbuster wants to say thanks. The top 150-200 renters at each store will gain automatic (and free) membership in the gold rewards program. It includes all the benefits of the regular rewards program, but the 2-for-1 deal is good Sunday through Thursday and gold members will be able to reserve tapes.

Makiki Video has a long-standing policy of reserving videos for all its members.

Manager Penny Vegas said Blockbuster is discriminating against its own customers by instituting the gold rewards program. "That's going to be great for us," she said.

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