BlockBuster: An old-fashioned bait and switch

Armed by language manipulation and consumer not-knowing better, BlockBuster’s latest move crosses the line by adopting a marketing technique called “bait and switch.” Bait and switch, defined by refers to: “A dishonest marketing tactic in which a marketer advertises a very attractive price/rate/term that is really a teaser rate meant to attract customers. Once the customer comes into the store/office to inquire about the advertised price/rate (the bait), the advertiser will attempt to sell the customer a more expensive product (the switch).

Connecting the clearly laid out dots trailing this practice has been typically reserved for the mortgage industry. Oh how times have changed as greed bleeds across unsuspecting lines: Over the years BlockBuster has introduced trusting consumers within the movie/game rental business to the ugly workings of corporate gluttony.

Though today focuses on one avenue inducing deceit, mail-in exchange service, the concept of BlockBuster’s illegal activity is well documented (Goggle: BlockBuster bait and switch to become introduced to a wider view).

Not sure if you’ve fallen prey to commercial deception? Here’s what an Orlando BlockBuster customer is experiencing first hand. To eliminate confusion, we’ll go ahead and name him Zeke. Zeke and his family have been with BlockBuster since the beginning by joining in as mail-in/in store exchange client (three discs at a time). At a monthly price of $21.99 Zeke was sold on the concept of “unlimited rentals, free in-store disc exchanges, and an additional coupon for two free monthly releases.” Not a bad deal and, for close to a year, just long enough to attain a complacent consumer. For all practical purposes, all worked well.

After the first year, BlockBuster decided that two free in-store coupons was too good a deal and, as a result, sliced the deal to one without adjusting Zeke’s monthly bill.

Being content with the ability to watch between 20 and 25 movies a month without interruption, there was no cause for alarm. Within months Zeke noticed mailings began to stall; as opposed to receiving exchanges in a timely manner, movies crept back to his mailbox (on average) two days later than they should.

Consider this: The longer it takes, the fewer movies will be watched. The result, movie watching dipped from between 15 and 20 monthly… without a dip in BlockBusters monthly income.

Months passed while neighborhood BlockBuster stores closed and, before long, Zeke was forced to travel extended lengths to exchange movie rentals. Frustrated by increased travel time and gas, in July of 2012, Zeke made his first call to BlockBuster as the promise of “unlimited monthly movie rentals” was quietly jeopardized.

Issue resolved? Do you really need to ask?

Fast forwarding a few months, while at the Altamonte Springs Blockbuster January 18th, Zeke was informed the store would be closing in two days. Feeling abandoned and tricked by an unsympathetic and uncompromising corporation, Zeke checked his bill and, though not to his surprise, $21.99 remained.

Zeke then called BlockBuster and had the pleasure of speaking to their first line of defense:
Zeke: “There are no stores for movie exchanges, what is going on?”
* “Sorry for the inconvenience but we do have three stores in your area for exchange.
Zeke: “The closest store is 15 miles away, the second closest is over 25 miles, are you telling me I need to spend at least an hour out of my day and a gallon of gas?”
* “Sorry for the inconvenience, if that is too far you still have unlimited movie rentals by simply dropping movies off in the mail box.”
Zeke: “But sometimes it takes over a week for a mailing exchange. I was promised unlimited movies and two free movie coupons when I began with BlockBuster. Now I will be lucky to get 12 movies a month through the mail without a building to exchange and still pay $21.99 each month for less than half the movies I was promised. What will BlockBuster do about the promises?”
* “Again, sorry for the inconvenience but you still have unlimited movies and I can decrease your bill three dollars and take the in-store coupon away.”
Zeke: “So, what you’re telling me I will receive half of what was promised but get only a three dollar reduction? I want unlimited movies as was promised. Let me speak to your supervisor.”

Within 60 seconds a gentleman with a strong accent came to the line:
* “How may I help you?”
Zeke: “I want what was promised, unlimited movies. I would be satisfied if my mailing queue was increased from three to six. This would allow me to have movies without interruption.”
* “But you have unlimited movies. Once a movie is returned, you receive another.”
Zeke: “Unlimited movies mean no interruption. Do you understand what the term ‘unlimited is’ and what I am asking for?”
* “I understand your concern.”
Zeke: “Not asking if you understand my concern, I am asking if you understand what ‘unlimited’ means? What will BlockBuster do to fulfill original promises?”
* “I will send an email to the higher-ups.”
Zeke: “In order to fulfill the unlimited promise, I will need my queue to be increased to minimize mailing delays. Have your ‘higher-ups’ thought about the promises or is this another case of bait and switch?”
* “I cannot answer that. I will send an email to my higher-ups.”
Zeke: “Tell me, why would I pay more than two dollars per movie I might get a week from now as opposed to going to Redbox where the price is half and delivery is instant?”
* “I cannot answer.”
Zeke: “Know what, neither can I. I expect resolution by this Friday, two days from now. This will give your higher-ups time to resolve what must be a countrywide bait and switch complaint.”
* “Thank you.”

Bait and switch is not a reality when two parties agree to terms and, if there are changes, all parties are aware and agree. Unfortunately for most consumers, deceitful corporations change conditions without revising, disclosing, or resolving concerns.

BlockBuster altered conditions, ignored promises, offered no resolve, and allowed no compromise; can you say “bait and switch?”

Zeke has yet to hear from Blockbuster and is still paying $21.99 monthly… for now. There has been no queue increase and no movies supplied for the past four days… maybe Monday will surprise with a disc. Then again, perhaps “unlimited movies” means different things to different people. For example, BlockBuster’s definition of unlimited movies seem to mean the consumer is allowed to watch one movie a week as many times as he or she wants… now that’s well worth $21.99 each month.

If you have fell victim to unethical practices, let WONO know about your experience(s) so we can help others before they too are deceived.

Leaving bait and switch for the unscrupulous, I am

Danny Hufman, MA, CEIP, CPRW, CPCC
Follow Me on Twitter #dannyatecs
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