Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Top Ten Lies Blockbuster Video Tells Their Customers

I worked for Blockbuster Video for the better part of six months. I was used at several different stores as a shift manager, and had to deal with many, many different kinds of customers. While the job was criminally easy at times, I came to despise the job, the corporation, and the customers who gave it money.

As a way of exorcising the demons in my video rental past, I now present my completely unbiased and totally honest list of the ten biggest lies Blockbuster Video tells their customers.

10. “Sorry, I can’t do that”

If you tell a Blockbuster employee to credit something off your account, or change your payment method after he’s already confirmed it, or one of any number of irritating special requests one could possibly make to an employee, he will more than likely tell you that he is sorry, but the computer system will not allow him to do that.

This is untrue.

While Blockbuster still uses a Point of Sale computer system that is literally more than twenty years old (abbreviated, appropriately enough, to “P.O.S.”), it still allows the average BB clerk to do pretty much anything that could conceivably need to be done. The reason for his refusal to comply with your request is relatively simple: he is personally angry at your stupidity or dishonesty (keeping a videogame out for six days, then coming back and demanding a refund because it didn’t have an instruction manual) and feels it should not be positively reinforced.

No matter what your problem is, the average BB clerk can, technically, solve it – but the more complicated it is, the less he or she will actually want to. Hypothetically, refusing a customer any sort of service would be a no-no in the world of customer service, but given that an average BB computer looks like some sort of hacker workstation to the average citizen (blue screens, no mice, keys that make a satisfyingly loud noise when they are punched) , the Blockbuster employee is easily able to blame everything he can’t or won’t do on the computer system. Hopefully, the average consumer will not realize the full extend of what the POS system can do, and will have no choice but to accept the employee’s assertion that it is the computer, and not the employee, that is being unhelpful – which leads us straight into number 9.

9. “The computers lock down five minutes before closing time – we can’t do anything about it”

I heard this lie from the coolest manager I ever worked with – a guy with a vanity license plate reading “WOOKIEE” and a son with the middle name “Vader.” He hated customers even more than I did, and he used the above lie as a foolproof way of ending the night early. It is, of course, total bullshit, but it’s a damned good lie.

Promising that the computers will automatically lock down sounds absurd enough to be true, and technical enough to dissuade the unwashed masses from questioning it further. Also, the customers are forced to action: if you don’t hurry the fuck up and find a movie that will fit whatever mood you’re in at 1:00 in the morning, the system will shut down and you won’t get anything. The customers leave faster, the store closes earlier (thus preventing possible last-minute robberies), and the staff get to go home sooner. This lie, all things considered, contributes to a win-win-win situation.

8. “Sorry, the restroom is broken”

Seriously, it’s not. The restroom is unhygienic, disused, and probably caked in several layers of bodily fluids, but it is still technically functional. The reason BB staff lock their restrooms and tell customers the plumbing is broken is because the restroom is the one place in the entire store where the staff cannot see you.

As a result of this fact, restrooms are the perfect place to steal shit: during my time at Blockbuster, thieves often grabbed DVDs or videogame hardware, stuffed them into their pants, and entered the bathroom. Inside, they literally had all the time they wanted to remove the numerous security strips and magnetic locks affixed to every piece of merchandise.

One female customer in particular took her baby into the restroom with her and removed the packaging for an Xbox 360 controller, a new DVD copy of Gridiron Gang, and a copy of InStyle before stuffing all three items into her purse. Everyone working the shift that night obviously knew what the woman had done, but we were powerless to stop her thanks to lie number seven:

7. “Theft is bad”

Like many other corporate chains (Target and Wal-mart come to mind), Blockbuster must appear to despise shoplifting in all its shapes and forms, whilst doing pretty much nothing to stop it.

If you stuff eighteen DVDs, a Grand Theft Auto strategy guide, and a box of Red Vines into a backpack and walk out, congratulations – you’ve just committed the perfect crime. Even if the metal detector by the door goes off on your way out, you’re fine. Even if the security camera catches your face, you’re fine. Even if DVDs are literally poking out of your dungarees at the feet and waist, and even if every step you make is punctuated by the loud, repeated clapping of plastic case against plastic case, and even if an employee personally comes up to you and asks to see all the items you are carrying, once you leave the store you’ll still spend the rest of your arrest-free night watching your stolen copy of Red Dawn.

Blockbuster employees are trained not to stop, accuse, or pursue criminals, no matter what. This is partially for legal reasons (if a Blockbuster employee accuses a thief of stealing as per company policy and the thief shoots him, Blockbuster can be held accountable), but partially because Blockbuster doesn’t want to waste its time getting in battles with every two-bit pickpocket in the US. In the same way that videogame companies tend not to crack down on pirates, so too does Blockbuster ignore theft. Literally the only situation in which a Blockbuster employee can take any action against a thief is if the thief confesses to attempting to steal something. The BB theft response system quite literally punishes honesty – if someone admits to having stolen something, the employee is to immediately call the police and wait with the thief until their arrival, at which point said thief will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Yeah, that’ll fucking teach him to fess up and apologize.

6. “Sorry, we don’t have that movie – I’ll call the other store and check if they have it”

There’s nobody on the other line, dude. Yeah, you saw me look up the phone number for another store, and you probably watched me dial some numbers, but I actually just called my cell phone. You might think I’m talking to another Blockbuster employee over at 19th Avenue and Union Hills, but I’m just speaking over the sound of my voicemail message, making occasional pauses to heighten the realism before disappointedly sighing, hanging up, and pronouncing, “Nah, I guess they don’t have it. Sorry.”

If you'd asked for a better movie I probably would have really checked, but you didn't, so I didn't.

5. “Yeah, we’re big movie buffs”

While under the employ of the Blockbuster Corporation, I worked at no less than six different stores in the greater Phoenix area. And in all my time, I did not run into a single store manager who had seen any of the following movies:

-City of God

-Fight Club

-The Wild Bunch

-Gone with the Wind

-Citizen Kane



On my first day, my store manager asked me what my favorite movie was. After responding, “Blade Runner” and watching her nod in faux-understanding, I asked her what her favorite movie was. She replied, “Rumor Has It.”

In retrospect, I should have quit right there.

When I later asked her why she hadn’t seen any movies of historical or artistic significance, she used these exact words:

“Gas station attendants don’t need to know how to work an oilrig, do they?”

No, but they do need to know the goddamned difference between unleaded and diesel. Jesus.

4. “No, I won’t write down stuff you say to me and then repost it on the Internet”

"Did you like Terminator 3?" –An employee
"Uh, maybe if I'd never seen Terminator 1 or 2." -Me
"What? You didn't–"
"You're talking about comparing a decent action movie to two of the best action movies ever made."
"What's my favorite action movie? That's a good question, I've never thought about that."
"…I didn't ask–"
"Probably Blade 2.”

"Is it possible to understand Road House 2 even if I haven't seen the original?" –A customer

"–Are you from Pakistan?"- 50 year old, balding customer with glasses and a pedo-smile
"I–what?" -Me
"Your ethnicity, are you from Pakistan?"
"Uh, sort of.”
"Oh, I thought so. You ever thought about modelling?"
"You've got a real face for it."
"–Yeah, my son in law does it. Makes a pretty good living off it. You've got a face for it, I can tell you."
"Uh, if you need anything else, let me–"
"–And you don't have to be gay to do it, either."

"Is this Final Fantasy Seven? The one with the V, and the two lines?" –An employee

3. “There are no late fees”

Perhaps the biggest marketing move in Blockbuster’s history has been the so-called abolishment of late fees. While, technically, there is no longer a service charge referred to as a “late fee” at any Blockbuster store on the planet, there are plenty of other small fees and price changes to make up for it.

Firstly, rentals themselves are now more expensive than ever: in Arizona, a movie rental costs 5 bucks, and a game rental costs 9. In states like California or New York, I assume some sort of first-born bartering system is used.

Secondly, there is a late fee if you keep a movie a week past its suggested due date: the $1.25 charge is referred to as a “restocking fee,” but trust me – it’s a late fee. There is nothing in the process of returning a movie from the night drop to the store shelves that costs even the smallest amount of money; if the $1.25 is truly financing “restocking,” I have to wonder where that money is going. I sure as hell didn’t see any of it.

Thirdly, the tradeoff with late fees if that if you keep a movie for a month past its suggested due date, you have to buy it. This is probably the most reasonable aspect of the no late fees policy, and is therefore the one frequently argued against by deadbeats who refuse to return copies of Fast and the Furious 2 within a reasonable period of time.

2. “Blockbuster Online is better than Netflix”

Every Blockbuster Online mailer counts as a coupon for a free instore rental. It’s a pretty good deal, admittedly, but the problem is that it’s a wholly temporary one: while Blockbuster Online’s current monthly fee is pretty much on par with Netflix’s, it won’t stay like that for long.

Blockbuster Online was created solely to steal Netflix’s online rental idea and drive them out of business: as such, if/when Netflix is bankrupted by Blockbuster Online’s Bauman-esque ripoff artistry, Blockbuster Online will raise its prices significantly, and probably get rid of the whole “free instore rental” thing. Thanks to the combination of No Late Fees and the Blockbuster Online free rentals, the BB Corporation is losing money – once their main source of competition is gone, they’ll do whatever necessary to get that cash back.

1. “Yeah, that’s a really good movie”

If there is only one thing you need to know about Blockbuster, it is this: the movie you are renting, or the movie that was suggested to you by an overweight female clerk who has had two husbands, one child, and half a dozen miscarriages, will not be good.

The fault for this does not completely lie on either employee or customer, but weighs equally on both parties.

As mentioned earlier, Blockbuster employees, for the most part, know next to nothing about movies. As such, their recommendations will be at best useless and at worst harmful: whichever new release has the prettiest cover will likely be the one immediately recommended by the manager on duty.

On the other hand, the vast majority of those who frequent the shelves of Blockbuster Video are slobbering, slack-jawed idiots who harbor no true love for cinema, no desire to probe deep questions about life, and no ability to enjoy something that might require the slightest bit of effort. In one respect, I can understand this: these people have worked hard during their day jobs – why shouldn’t be allowed to relax and escape with some harmless Hollywood entertainment?

The problem arises in what they watch. Relax and escape, yeah, but at the very least adopt some goddamned standards. If you’re looking for a comedy, don’t rent Phat Girlz. If you want a drama, don’t get anything with Ben Affleck. And for the love of God, do not rent something just because it is new.

I literally cannot tell you how many people come to Blockbuster on a daily basis, just so they can rent the new releases. Not because they’re interested in them. Not because they look good. Simply because they are new.

And while they spend their time and money on dreck like Behind Enemy Lines II and The Break-Up, these people literally refuse to anything that:

-Was made before 1995

-Comes from a different country, even an English-speaking one

-Might be mentally or emotionally disturbing

-Has subtitles

-Has voice-over narration (I literally talked to a customer who didn’t like any movie that had voice-over narration: that’s like fucking saying you don’t like movies with a number in the title)

Of course, there are always those precious few customers who actually want something different, but they are extremely rare. And by the time they show up, most Blockbuster employees are already burned out: my first few months on the job, I tried to expand people’s movie vocabulary by exposing them to unusual fare like Oldboy, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Brick, and so on, but my efforts were all for naught. The things I recommended to customers were either immediately returned to the shelf once I left their field of vision, or watched on a whim and then endlessly complained about (“the pedophilia stuff in Hard Candy was so gross that I had to turn it off after ten minutes”). It literally gets to the point where, as an employee, you don’t want to share good films with customers because, in the words of one of my old co-workers, “they don’t deserve them.”

This attitude snowballs into a general loathing of all Blockbuster customers, and then all consumers, and then all of humanity in general.

Long story short, I was fired from Blockbuster for calling a female customer a “cunt.”

She was totally acting like one, though.