Because of the power of negative word-of-mouth, and the ability for Netflix to leverage the “bad profits” that Blockbuster had been collecting from its customers for late fees, round one of Netflix vs. Blockbuster was a total knockout. I wrote about this in February (and first referenced the concept of bad profits for this blog) and then revisited the battle in June and in my most recent post on bad profits a few weeks ago.
Round two is getting a little more interesting, as Blockbuster finally starts to leverage their stores to create a potentially more positive word-of-mouth offering. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Blockbuster announced that they are letting subscribers of Netflix rent movies for free through Dec. 21 by simply walking into one of their stores and redeeming the tear-off address flap from the signature red Netflix envelope for the free rental. This is a promotion for Blockbuster’s new “Total Access” feature, which lets customers return DVDs rented through its online service, which competes directly with Netflix, in their stores. Blockbuster announced Total Access in the November 1 edition of the Wall Street Journal with the following quote from their CEO:
“Customers shouldn’t have to choose between renting online versus in-store, and they should never have to be without a movie,” said Blockbuster Chairman and Chief Executive John Antioco in a statement.
This is a smart strategy as it enables Blockbuster to leverage something Netflix doesn’t have – 8,500 stores located across 29 countries. It will ultimately lead to some positive word-of-mouth for Blockbuster, and a new competitive differentiator against Netflix. I, for one, plan to try this out over the holidays as the only downside to my Netflix subscription is sometimes I don’t plan far enough ahead to have the movie I want when I want it.
However, it is hard to imagine that this will lead to a long-term competitive advantage for Blockbuster. The next wave that will hit is movie downloading, which will solve the only real challenge Netflix has (the wait time). And Netflix is planning to lead in that wave. Check out Reed Hastings’ recent interview on 60 Minutes. And don’t get me started on how great of a job Netflix does in creating high switching costs (or “community stickiness”) with all of its great ratings and social networking features. Even though I will try Blockbuster again as a result of this promotion, it is unlikely I will dump Netflix.
What is the lesson learned here? Leverage your multichannel assets, like Blockbuster is finally doing, to earn “good profits”, especially in the face of a competitor acting on your source of bad profits. This will help offset the negative word-of-mouth that your bad profits have generated with positive word-of-mouth. Also, reducing your sources of bad profits now will help prevent disruptive upstarts in the future. This is much harder to do than it sounds, and the book The Innovator’s Dilemma does the best job of any I have read in explaining why.
Update: I just saw that Reed Hastings won the “Innovator of the Year Award” from the NRF (National Retail Federation), the parent of Shop.org.