Sunday, July 02, 2006

Beating Netflix

I absolutely hate Netflix. Netflix is an evil company spawned by Lucifer. Netflix employees all have sex with their siblings and they eat their own excrement.

In case you don't know, Netflix is a DVD rental service where you queue up movies online and receive/return them via USPS mail. You pay a fixed amount per month and you can have 2 to 5 DVDs (based on your plan) "checked out" at a time. When you return a DVD, the next available one in your queue is sent to you. Netflix is even courteous enough to pay for your return postage.

In theory, this service is great. If you rent a lot of movies, it can be a very good service. Just pay $18 and you can conceptually rent 20+ DVDs per month. That's less than $1 per DVD with no late fees!

I signed up with them in 2000 when I bought my first DVD player. They started out great. I was getting tons of movies and I was cranking through them three at a time. I probabaly churned 15-20 DVDs a month for the first 4 months of my subscription.

After my 5th month I noticed things started to change. The number of days between returning a viewed DVD and receiving a new one started to increase. In some cases, I never received the DVD at all and I had to fill out a form on their website (and wait several weeks) to resolve this issue. On other occasions, I would receive a damaged DVD and would waste 4+ days returning it and waiting for a replacement. Another big headache was that the "New Releases" would never show up. They would show up in the queue with the text "Long Wait" next to the title.

I suspected that a couple of things a couple of things were in effect (keep in mind that these are just theories):
  • Netflix wants to provide maximum customer satisfaction to new customers. They want the new customers to become satisfied with their decision to use their service. The day the customer decides that online DVD rental is the way to go, Netflix changes gears and lowers the customer's priority in the rental queue. If 100 customers all have the same movie at the top of their queue and there is only one DVD in stock, then the newest customer will have first dibs.
  • Netflix purposely delays shipment of DVDs by one or more days on a somewhat random basis.
  • Netflix purposely delays reporting returned DVDs by one or more days on a somewhat random basis.
  • I believe that Netflix does not necessarily throw away damaged DVDs. If they have a scratched or broken DVD, they would ship it to an unprofitable/low-profit customer with high turnover. I believe it is in Netflix's best interest to provide low customer satisfaction to these customers to encourage them to abandon their service.
  • Netflix may randomly not send out the DVD at all or report the DVD as never received. It will take a few days for the customer to report the DVD as lost in the mail and will result in a slower turnaround rate.
I have seen this pattern happen each of the 3 times that I have subscribed to Netflix. At one point, I was getting the number 12 DVD in my queue. Each time I subscribe, I end up cursing the company and all the bastards that work there. I have read several web postings of other disgruntled Netflix customers with similar experiences.

The most valued asset in Netflix is the New Release DVD. If you are an established customer, it is very difficult to have these DVDs sent to you. Most of the time, you will just see the "Long Wait" message next to your pick. Below is a list of tips you can follow to get these coveted DVDs before the newer members:


  • Subscribe to an feed of new DVD releases. You can use some of the ones listed on http://movies.yahoo.com/rss Make sure you use an RSS reader on a regular basis (I prefer my.yahoo.com). You must know what new releases you want to see BEFORE the DVD is released. DVD releases usually happen on Tuesdays.

  • Figure out how long it takes for your returned DVDs to get to Netflix. Netflix sends you an email the day after they receive your returned DVD.

  • Count backwards from Tuesday (not counting Sunday) and make sure you return your DVDs on that day. If it takes two days, then mail at least one DVD back on Saturday. If it takes three days, try to mail your DVDs back on Friday.



This method has worked very well for me. I now get new releases on a regular basis. This is because Netflix doesn't usually promote new releases until they are available. They will only show up in search results when smart customers like you and me seek them out.

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