Tuesday, February 15, 2005

NETFLIX FESSES UP Turns out that the faster you return movies, the slower the service you're likely to receive.

Hacking NetFlix reprints a customer service e-mail that admits as much:

In certain instances, your next available DVD will not ship until the next business day following our receipt of your returned movie. This can occur, for example, when...the number of shipments to be processed by the distribution center on that day has been exceeded...

In determining priority for shipping and inventory allocation, we give priority to those members who receive the fewest DVDs through our service. As a result, those members who receive the most movies may experience next-day shipping and receive movies lower in their Queue more often than our other members.

By prioritizing in this way, we help assure a balanced experience for all our members. Those that rent a lot of movies get a great value and those with lighter viewing habits are able to count on our service to meet their limited needs. (Emphasis added.)
A "balanced experience?" Hmm...

NetFlix advertises itself as an "all-the-DVDs-you-want" subscription service: I'd be surprised if many customers understood that discs are often delayed strategically by the company--because of arbitrary daily quotas imposed by NetFlix on its own distribution centers.

The upshot of such a policy, of course, is that the service's most loyal patrons--and probably its biggest fans and popularizers--get second-class service.

That may make business sense, but I'm skeptical: It's hard to believe that the money being saved by reducing an active user's monthly rental total by a DVD or two is really worth the cost in lost enthusiasm.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.