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The End of Late Fees ... The Start of What?

22 Feb, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

First there was the “extended viewing fee.” Some consumers find the idea distasteful, but it's no secret that some folks need a little extra motivation to return their rentals on time.

So they call it what it is, a “late fee.” Sounds more onerous, but most of us learned the concept at an early age, the first time we had to hang our heads in shame and return an overdue library book.

Now Blockbuster announces “the end of late fees,” but some attorneys general aren't so sure. Corporate stores charge a $1.25 “restocking fee,” while in New Jersey, the state's attorney general says, franchisees may charge as much as $4.50. That seems to be less troubling than the disparity of explanations, a matter upon which Blockbuster spokesfolk tell us the chain trained extensively.

I put that to the test Friday night at a store in Southern California. I went in to see what was still available at 5:15 p.m. (reports of consumer hoarding and depleted stock are trickling in) and to get the “no late fees” speech. I watched the associate tell a couple of customers about the campaign. She touted the benefits and told them there was a catch, but she didn't explain any further. Instead she handed them a printed sheet that had lots of information crammed onto it and said they could read about “the catches.”

I asked her and she gave me the same speech, sans handout. I asked about renting two popular movies — Ray and Saw — shelves were picked clean of both. But never fear, the store associate told me. If the title I wanted was checked out, I should go to the counter and ask about one of the titles on the ‘coming soon' board. Although they have “set-out dates,” she said, she could rent me Exorcist: The Beginning (streeting March 1) the night of Feb. 18, because it was already in the back room and in the POS system.

Breaking street date is one way of keeping customers happy. I wonder how many other stores are doing it?

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