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Object Link Inc. Plans to Offer Indie Retailers Online Reservation Service

18 Oct, 2001 By: Joan Villa

A Dallas software company wants to give independent retailers a jump on Blockbuster by giving them an online reservation system for their customers.

Blockbuster has been developing software since mid-2000 that ties into individual stores' point-of-sale systems, allowing consumers to reserve and pay for rentals for quick pick-up at the location of their choice. The system is now available in four test cities, but a nationwide rollout planned for this year has yet to be announced.

Now Object Link Inc., which usually develops software for a mix of telecommunications, airlines and financial services firms, has taken on the challenge of getting movies quickly and conveniently into consumers' hands over the Web. And project manager Chris Lopeman thinks they've got the problem licked with RentMoviesNow.com, which will test online reservations and an added option of home delivery, if stores choose to offer it.

The system works on one $1,400 computer terminal installed in the video store that connects to the RentMoviesNow.com Web site. When a customer browses the site and chooses a participating video location and movie rentals, a voice announces the order on the store's terminal within four seconds. The counter clerk then checks availability on the store's own point-of-sale system, presses the “yes” key, and the customer gets an immediate response, Lopeman says. If the store staff is busy, the Object Link agreement will ask that they take no more than 10 minutes to answer the request, he adds.

Stores will pay a $40 monthly fee and a 25 cent transaction charge for each order, even if several movies are reserved. Consumers can specify whether they want “all or none” of their order or will accept partial availability. They also pick payment terms, such as cash, check or charge, to be paid upon pick-up or delivery. The site will also keep track of customers' movie lists so they can quickly return to them and place an order by pressing a few buttons.

The system suffered a setback, however, when the Dallas store chosen to test the software went out of business before the test could begin, Lopeman says. Now he is about to select among three others that have volunteered to help Object Link work out any software bugs. “We're hoping we've done our job correctly,” he admits, so that only a month of actual trials will be needed before a full rollout to any other interested independents.

Lopeman says company surveys of consumers in the Dallas area reveal that they have a myriad of reasons to use the system: “They don't want to stand in line, they don't want to drag the kids out of the house, they don't want to make a wasted trip.” Further, some complained that when they wanted to watch pay-per-view, “there was nothing I wanted to see,” he added.There were also reasons the developers at Object Link didn't consider, such as workers staying home sick who don't want to sleep all day but also don't want to leave the house to go to the video store.

Wade Holden, associate analyst for motion pictures and home video for Paul Kagan Associates, agrees that the service could give independents an edge in the competitive market against large chains.

“Certainly if the ‘mom-and-pop' lets you order online and the Blockbuster doesn't, that puts them in the forefront of technology -- they're offering something that the big guys aren't,” he notes. “It's something the smaller rental outlets can use to keep their names in the minds of the renters in the market.”

However, Holden warns that to be successful, the service must be properly advertised and function perfectly, or it could generate bad word-of-mouth among customers.

Object Link will help stores promote their service with a point-of-purchase package that will include flyers, a 3-foot-by-5 foot exterior banner, and magnetic car panels for delivery vehicles, Lopeman says.

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