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Online DVD Rental: Netflix vs Blockbuster

Contributed by mm | February 9, 2005 3:24 PM PST

Have you heard about Netflix? Netflix is a pioneer in online DVD rental. If you are a frequent patron to video rental shops like Blockbuster, Movie Gallery or Hollywood Video, and are tired of late fees, you should consider renting your DVDs online. For a fixed monthly fee at $17.99 a month, you are entitled to unlimited rentals as long as you only borrow three titles at any time.

This is how an online DVD rental shop works. You go to a website and pick from over 25,000 DVD titles. You can add as many titles as you want to your "queue." The rental company will send you the top three titles in mail. Once you receive and watch them, you can ship them back using provided postage prepaid envelope. Once your DVDs are received, the rental company will ship you the next title(s) in your queue. In my experience, the process is easy and streamlined; I also prefer to browse titles over the Internet instead of sweating in brick-and-mortar shops.

Actually, if you want to try this kind of service, Netflix is not your only choice. There are three major players in this field: Netflix, Blockbuster and Walmart. Over the past two years, I have tried all three of them so I feel I can provide some insight as of how to make your choice.

First on the price. At the time of the writing, here is what each shop charges:

Monthly Subscription Price Netflix Blockbuster Walmart
2-out-a-time, 4 max/month  $      11.99    
2-out-a-time, unlimited      $      12.97
3-out-a-time, unlimited  $      17.99  $      14.99  $      17.36
5-out-a-time, unlimited  $      29.99  $      27.49  ?? 
8-out-a-time, unlimited  $      47.99  $      37.49  ?? 
Free trial 2 weeks 2 weeks 30 days
* Applicable taxes apply.      

(Note: Blockbuster is currently the price leader: it just reduced the price and Netflix refused to match it, which brings the question whether the low price is sustainable.)

Let me then my experience with each of them:

Netflix: I used Netflix for about four months during the summer of 2003. Netflix's service is great in terms of turnaround time. Usually, I can watch the DVD on Day 1, ship it back to Netflix in the morning of Day 2, Netflix will receive it on Day 3 and ship me another one immediately, and the next DVD will arrive at my mailbox on Day 4. I remember in one particular month, I watched more than 20 titles. Netflix claims it reaches 85% of subscribers with "generally one-day delivery." (So why I cancelled Netflix after four months? I tried out all titles I love to see in four months.)

Walmart: I tried Walmart for 2 weeks in May 2003 and cancelled my account before the trial was over. What I got: a long shipping delay of up to seven days, and a wrong DVD shipped. Not sure if Walmart has improved over the last two years but I will not try it again.

Blockbuster: I am currently in the third week of a four-week trial with Blockbuster. Its service is a bit unpredictable -- sometimes the turnaround time is as fast as Netflix (three days); other times it can take five days. It appears to me that although Blockbuster has a distribution center in Seattle, not all my requests are fulfilled locally. But on the other hand, Blockbuster subscription includes two free in-store movie rental per month -- in case you are out of new DVDs, you can still grab one or two from your local store. (Actually the turnaround time no longer matters to me. Now that I am so busy, I only have time to watch DVDs during the weekend.)

Here is my recommendation: if you love to see lots of movies, try Netflix, and you can get the most bang for your bucks. If you, like me, only have time during weekend, consider Blockbuster for cheaper price and reasonable service.

Plus, if you are really cost conscious, rent all the movies you love to see in two months, and cancel your account afterwards. (This is what I am going to do next month.) Believe me, while you may be able to manage to watch 20 movies in the first month, your ability to consume will take a nosedive before soon.

This Post Has Received 64 Comments. Share Your Opinions Too.

Jeff Commented on February 18, 2005

I have been using netflix for 6 months, and the service of shipping is great. I return the DVDs on Monday and I usually get another round on Wed or Thu at most. Before I was worry about the shipping, but that is not am issue. so i like netflix more than others.

Anonymous Commented on February 20, 2005

Netflix actually has 35,000 titles.

Sean Neumann Commented on February 24, 2005

I've been using Netflix pretty much since it's been available and I love it. Unfortunately, my wife and I don't have the chance to watch as much as we like. Maybe 4 movies a month on average. Some months we'll watch 2 or 3 times as much. Depends on how busy we get.

So I got a free trial for Blockbuster and so far the experience is equally good. What BB has in addition to it's online rentals are coupons to get 2 in store rentals per month and I believe this include video games as well. We like video games and often rent them from Hollywood Video or BB.

I also tried Walmart and it was absolutely terrible. DON'T USE WALMART'S SERVICE!

So I'm caught between my loyalty to Netflix and the more bang for your buck from Blockbuster.

Is the choice obvious or are there any other factors I should consider?


Igor Commented on March 1, 2005

You can get $10 cash back for signing up to blockbuster and netflix through

damian Commented on May 5, 2005

Sean- your wife likes video games? I find this hard to believe.

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