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Blockbuster Online Rental Beta Site Sets Three-Out Plan at $19.99

20 Jul, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

Blockbuster seems to be planning to price its closely watched online rental service midway between Netflix and Walmart.com, at $19.99 for a three-out plan — but with a few extras designed to drive customers to the physical stores.

The beta Web site for Blockbuster's online rental program also offers a five-out plan for $29.99 a month and an eight-out plan for $39.99. All of the services promise electronic coupons for free in-store rentals each month, but not without a catch: the in-store rentals require a separate store membership and are subject to late fees and other a la carte rental terms.

Walmart.com offers three out for $18.86, four out for $21.94 and a two-out budget plan for $15.54; Netflix's three-out plan is $21.99, five out is $33.99, eight out is $49.99 and the site's budget offering is two out and limited to four per month for $14.99.

The site is set up to offer games for sale as well as movies for sale or rent. Current titles carry a “buy now” button, while the site information discloses that it will not sell out-of-print titles.

Blockbuster executives have said they will roll out the online rental plans late this year and have the online and brick-and-mortar rental businesses integrated some time next year. The chain rolled out its in-store Movie Pass subscriptions in late May. But those subscriptions still have limitations: the fine print discloses that “due to the complex nature of tracking Movie Pass rentals in our system, the Blockbuster Movie Pass is currently only valid at the store in which it was purchased.”

Meanwhile, there are several attempts to link the online and brick-and-mortar businesses, including the free rental coupons with online subscriptions and letting users set a list of their nearby stores and check online to see if titles are available there.

Otherwise the site is similar to other offerings in the market. Renters may request upcoming titles and receive them after street date; the site is set up to accommodate customer reviews, ratings and personalized recommendations — services Netflix also offers.

The site promises delivery within two to three days. Netflix promises next-day delivery in most markets it serves. Wal-Mart does not specify on its site.

Wal-Mart charges $17.88 per disc for unreturned discs if the member cancels; Blockbuster will charge $19.99. If the disc comes back at a later time, the customer may request a refund, but up to $4.20 will be deducted as a restocking charge. Netflix advises that a charge would result, but does not specify the amount.

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