“Guaranteed in Stock” Debunked

I swear, I was *just* about to write a really positive post about Blockbuster Video’s New “Total Access” program (which I think is totally great and I will definitely try), but upon visiting a Blockbuster location this evening, I ran into another episode of Blockbuster ridiculousness I had to post about.

You see, Blockbuster has this promotion called “Guaranteed In Stock!”, which leads consumers to believe something along the lines of “If you come to a Blockbuster store for a really popular movie, we’ll have it in stock… guaranteed.” They even back it up by proclaiming that if it *isn’t* in stock, you get to rent it for free as soon as copies become available.

So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the display below at my local store:

What’s that? Two identical shelves, both 6-wide and 6-tall. On the left is Al Gore’s popular new documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. On the right is a movie I’ve never even heard of called “John Tucker Must Die”. There are at least 40 copies of the obscure Tucker thing available and exactly ZERO copies of An Inconvenient Truth. And guess which one is “Guaranteed In Stock!”? Tucker, baby!

Seeing this display made me immediately suspicious of Blockbuster so I approached an employee about the situation:

Me: “I noticed that ‘Josh Tucker Will Die’ is guaranteed In stock and ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ is not… and yet, they both have the same amount of shelf space.”

Blockbuster Employee: “Yes, that is correct.”

Me: “So, you guys didn’t just remove the ‘Guaranteed In Stock’ thingie from ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ because it was inconveniently out of stock?”

Blockbuster Employee: “No. The only movies that are ‘Guaranteed In Stock’ are the ones which we order a certain number of. I think it’s 200.”

Me: “Ok… so the ‘Guaranteedness’ of Blockbuster movies has more to do with how many of them you order than how popular they may be?”

Blockbuster Employee: “Yep.”

Me: “Interesting. I’ll take Crash then.”

So the good news is that there’s nothing nefarious going on here. The bad news, however, is that Blockbuster still seems to be out of touch with its customer base. If you want to instill in me the trust that a popular movie *I want to see* is going to be in stock, then just make sure it’s in stock. Hopefully Total Access helps get this company back on track. It’s probably their last chance to crush Netflix.

40 comments on ““Guaranteed in Stock” Debunked”. Leave your own?
  1. Joshua says:

    Well at least Crash is a decent movie ;)

    On a note about the guaranteed in stock thing though, it’s always bugged me a bit how nonchalant they are when it’s not in stock and it *IS* guaranteed to be there. Sure, they give you the free pass, but it’s like it’s no big deal. “So what, we got you in the store.” I know they can’t do anything else about it, but when it consistently happens to week to week, they really could either drop the promo or order more so it really is there.

  2. PanMan says:

    The good news here, however, is that “An Inconvenient Truth” is at least some success with you Americans! Unless those 6 shelves were filled with 2 copies, I guess many Americans see this movie, and just maybe, buy a smaller SUV next time…

  3. Richard says:

    Seek comfort in the eventuality that Blockbuster in the future either will not exist or will exist as a movie-on-demand-internet-dowload-service.

    …and all titles will be guarenteed “in stock”

  4. Corey Spring says:

    Me and my roommate have been using Blockbuster’s version of Netflix, Total Access, for over a year and really like it. Most of the time I hate going to a Blockbuster store, but the new option they have of returning your online DVDs to the store in exchange for a free rental is great – particularly when you want to see a new release without waiting for it to come in the mail.

  5. Chris Grill says:

    Blockbuster has used up all of their second chances and then some. I don’t care how good their new services are. I won’t support a company that has crapped on me at every opportunity in the past.

  6. Dan Bowling says:

    So, if it is based on the number of copies they own, and they have the same number of shelves, then can’t we assume that they purchased the same number of movies for both of those products? If so, then our favorite climate change movie should always be in stock, right?

  7. Anthony says:

    You mean the Weinstein deal isn’t going to save Blockbuster?

  8. Don says:

    What will be cool is when they figure out a decent way to put a master in the store, and then just rip you a copy when you need it with some type of time block on it or such. Doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult. Then people would get what they want, movie makers would get their royalties, and everybody would be happy.

  9. Waylan says:

    Dan, the employee said he thought the number ordered was 200. There is not anywhere near 200 in either display. I would assume they have more copies of “John Tucker Must Die” in the back and/or rented out. Compare that with the 6×6 shelf space we see in the photo. My guess is there is a significant difference in the number of copies between the two titles.

  10. Jonathan E says:

    I’ve never once been impressed with Blockbuster’s “guaranteed in stock” promo. Most of the time (as you’ve stated) their guaranteed movies are some obscure movie that no one’s ever heard of before (except for the film festival followers).

    I’m hoping that Netflix comes to Canada soon because I’ve heard really good things about them and it seems like a great idea. Zip.ca seems to offer the same service as Netflix, but I haven’t given them a try yet.

  11. Mike Rundle says:

    Mike I think you’d be down for the Tucker movie, from what I’ve read it’s one of those softcore teen dramas with lots of dance-offs.

  12. Josh W says:

    Blockbuster = Best Buy

    Hollywood Video = Circuit City

    nuff said.

  13. Devon Shaw says:

    You’re not missing much on the aforementioned movies. Best off actually going to the theaters right now — Casino Royale, Deja Vu, The Fountain and For Your Consideration are all worth a trip.

    I suspect another concept that you didn’t point out to the clerk: That movies to be guaranteed in stock are the ones they know, in advance, that demand will not exceed supply. John Tucker Must Die was a favorite in the 14-18 female demographic, a range that undoubtedly spends very little money renting movies at Blockbuster. An Inconvenient Truth on the other hand, perfectly nails the profile of a regular renter. Why they would do this is entirely counterintuitive to good business sense, but then again, remember… they box all these up and sell them as used DVDs when the rush is through.

    Who knows.

  14. Two words – On Demand. it’s not 100%, but it works for my family. I’ve said ccrew the local video store … for the most part.

    My digital cable package (though they don’t offer the NFL Network**) does do a good job of offering the On Demand movies, and the all the On Demand movie channels. So, we save the gas and the hassle and just use our remote, and they ususally have a large selection of new and older releases … some even free.

    I say it’s worked for the family b/c we can order movies anytime, and it’s especially been helpful with babysitters. We don’t have to spend the time going out to the local video store (or risk the babysitter taking the kids to the store – that happened to me when I was a wee lad). We just tell her to order a movie from the kids’ section, or even a single episode from Cartoon Network.

    I don’t know if that would work for anyone else, but it’s done us well.

    ** NFL Network – after suffering through the Bryant Gumble edition of play-by-play during the Chiefs/Broncos game, I’m not so worried about not having the NFL Network. Maybe I’ll just mute the TV and turn up the radio broadcast.

    Bryant, football games are not scripted news broadcasts. And, it’s “near-side” and “far-side” NOT “this-side” and “that-side.”

    OK, rant over.

  15. Jason says:

    Sigh. This is always bothered me. Where I come from, “guarantee” means… well, “guarantee”. What they *should* say is “In stock or it’s free next time”. Then it wouldn’t be so misleading. But at the end of the day, I agtree with you – either they switch the sign or they buy 200 copies of movies they don’t think everyone will rent out in the first 7 hours.

  16. grey says:

    Just for the sake of argument, a couple of points:

    1. Blockbuster’s ‘Guaranteed in Stock’ promo, and whether or not a particular title is part of it, has more to do with which studio/distributor said title comes from (and their deal with said studio/distributor) than anything else (beyond a certain threshold of perceived consumer interest). That’s what controls the number of copies they purchase (as it’s what controls the price per copy), which in turn is what puts a movie on the list of guaranteed titles or not.

    2. Shelf space, in the way that everyone here is talking about it, doesn’t have much to do with anything. Depending on the size of the location and such, most stores generally don’t give a title more than one grid worth of room, regardless of the number of copies they have. They just put more copies behind each cover box.

    3. If anyone said to someone at Blockbuster that An Inconvenient Truth isn’t the obscure title and John Tucker Must Die is, they’d laugh right in their face. Tucker is a dumb comedy, and the Al Gore movie is, well, an Al Gore movie—and a documentary, no less. And it’s not entirely irrelevant that Tucker made twice as much at the box office as An Inconvenient Truth.

    John Tucker Must Die was a favorite in the 14-18 female demographic, a range that undoubtedly spends very little money renting movies at Blockbuster. An Inconvenient Truth on the other hand, perfectly nails the profile of a regular renter.

    They really just don’t think like that. Their thinking is much simpler: People are stupid. People will want to rent stupid Tucker movie. People think Al Gore and want to go to sleep. Get lots of copies of Tucker movie.


    movies to be guaranteed in stock are the ones they know, in advance, that demand will not exceed supply.

    From Big Blue’s point of view, that’s just craziness. In their perfect world, supply would never exceed demand. It has much more to do with which titles they know they’re paying very close to zero for, per copy, upfront, which means that they should be able to come very close to meeting demand simply by opening more copies when they run out (without incurring any immediate new cost).

    I should mention, btw, that I don’t agree with any of this really. Personally, I think Blockbuster is, umm, evil. But I thought someone should try to put their point of view out there.

  17. web says:

    /me downloads torrent file.

    Sorry Mike I missed that, I was too busy watching “An Inconvenient Truth”

    Soon this won’t be an issue once someone corners the HT-PC market and we all just download the movies off the vacuumed-tube’d interweb.

  18. Ben Buchanan says:

    They used to do that promotion here in Australia too, not sure if they still do it though (we were treated so badly by Blockbuster we almost never go there).

    I did notice that the guaranteed titles were always a) crap, and b) massively overstocked. They never pick movies that really will be so popular that they go out of stock, they pick the second-string movies that are still plausibly “popular” without actually being good.

    The entire thing is a sham, it’s purely to get you into the store. They know you’ll probably grab a weekly movie as well, or a packet of chips, or something. If by some extraordinary chance they really are out of stock, they know you wanted to watch a movie and won’t leave without renting one – so who cares if you get another one free?

    It’s smart business, but it’s still evil ;)

  19. John says:

    I have long since discontinued any affiliation with any of the movie rental chains, including those online. If I want to see a movie real bad, I’ll do one of two things: 1) Pay-oer-view (rare), or 2) Wait until it hits the shelves and snatch it up at Wal-Mart for $7.00 or so. I’m not a movie collector, so I own only a few titles that I really like. My most recent additions are Nacho Libre, Batman Begins, and Munich.
    Life is too short to drive to a movie rental place. I buy at Wal-Mart when I’m there anywhere buying groceries.

  20. Jeff says:

    I actually work for Blockbuster, so I’ll offer my perspective.

    Blockbuster orders a certain number of copies based on how popular they guess a movie will be. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that they don’t really want to give out a ton of movies for free, so of course they’re going to do what they can to keep the super-popular titles in stock.

    As a few people here have guessed, the store ordered copies of “Tucker” than “Truth” because it has a wider appeal and grossed a hell of a lot more money at the box office. Blockbuster’s rental inventory reflects that perfectly, which shows just how well in touch they are with their customers.

    Sure, it would have been great if they’d ordered more copies, but that’s hardly alarming at a major retail chain. So it’s not because “Truth” is more popular that you couldn’t get a copy; it’s because a hundred people got there before you did – the same hundred who probably also rented “John Tucker”.

    I’d also like to point out that you were visiting the store a full week after the movie had been released. At my store, we typically rent out about a quarter of our big new releases within the first hour we’re open, and often, they don’t even last until close. It really does pay to be first in line.

    And not that it’s a bait-and-switch, but you could always order the movie online. Situations like this are why online rental programs were born in the first place. You are right about the Total Access program; it’s actually an exceptionally good deal (yes, I’m a subscriber).

    It just frustrates me that most people don’t seem to appreciate how much they are getting at Blockbuster. Don’t get me wrong, this company is most certainly evil, but not for its practices regarding customers.

  21. Greg says:

    It just frustrates me that most people don’t seem to appreciate how much they are getting at Blockbuster.

    What does that mean? You make it sound like Blockbuster is feeding the poor, sheltering the homeless, and paying down the national debt. Blockbuster is a retail chain that has made so many bad decisions in it’s past that it should appreciate how much crap consumers are willing to put up with.

  22. Benjy says:

    The “guaranteed in stock” has to do with the price they pay per copy, and thus the number they will buy fo a title. I remember reading an article about how they renegotiated some deals with studios for super low prices of titles in return for a different split of rental fees.

    As for the promo, I live in an densly populated neighborhood fo Chicago, and the two Blockbusters I frequent often are out of “guaranteed” movies on the weekends. Sure, they got me into the door, but I rent some other movie and then get the free copy of the one I wanted when I return the previous one — two for one movies. I just take advantage of the “no late fees” and keep it until the next weekend if need be…

  23. Damian says:

    This is sorta off-topic, but I used to frequent the (only) Hollywood Video in my area. 1 Hollywood Video supported 2 small, neighboring cities here in Texas (Leander & Cedar Park).

    More often than not, they’d get a handful of movies that you’d think would rent out rather quickly. For example, they had (maybe) less than 20 of The Incredibles when it came out. Surprise of all surprises, it was next to impossible to actually get a new, popular movie when it was released to DVD.

    I got sick of it and switched to NetFlix. I usually don’t have to wait very long at all to get a new release.

  24. “John Tucker Must Die” was a very big teen movie. The N runs commercials for it every second it can.

  25. Keith says:

    Blockbuster sucks. Did you know they’ve worked it so that Netflix (or anyone else) can’t rent you Weinstein Brother’s films?

    Read this.

    They obviously don’t get it.

  26. Jeff says:

    Okay, just to clarify this once and for all:

    “Guaranteed In Stock” status is given based on how many copies are left on the shelf (LOS) after a busy weekend. If there are more than a certain amount (and I have no idea what this amount is), they figure they can safely guarantee the title’s availability. But this isn’t nirvana: You still need to make it down to the store before all the copies are gone.


    You’re right, they’ve made terrible decisions in the past. And now, they’re the best rental chain (for consumers) around, which is a result of them listening to their customers. People complained about due dates, so they extended them. People complained about late fees, so they got rid of them.

    You can thank folks like Benjy for movies not being in stock:

    I just take advantage of the “no late fees” and keep it until the next weekend if need be…

    Just because the due dates aren’t strictly enforced doesn’t mean they aren’t there. The “no late fees” promotion was set up to make business more friendly, but the result is that now nobody feels obligated to return their movies on time. Who’s putting up with whose crap now?

    Also, you must understand that I hear this stuff all day long. Customers are always just looking for a reason to complain, no matter how good a service might be, and one could certainly have it worse than Blockbuster. Name one other rental business that will let you keep a movie for a month past the due date and only charge you $1.25. Name one other rental business that lets you trade your online rentals for free movies in-store. Blockbuster provides a great service, and people don’t seem to appreciate it.

    And in the end, they’re just movies, people. If you can’t get the one you want, go home and read a book or something. Yeesh.


    The Weinstein deal is a perfect example of how Blockbuster is most certainly evil. They’ve already stormed through the country putting other rental chains and mom-and-pop video joints out of business, and now they’re trying to get exclusive rental rights with certain studios. They’re the Wal-Mart of movie rentals, I tell you.

    But hey, at least they’re good at it. :-P

  27. Erica says:

    We just started experimenting with the Total Access pass from Blockbuster. All I can say is that it is NOT NETFLIX by a long shot.

    First, they don’t have the same range of movies in stock. And second, I have around 30 movies in my queue…and for some reason they keep sending like #20 on the list.

    Netflix is much more consistent when it comes to delivering the movies in your queue…and they have a much wider selection of foreign films and documentaries (which is what I tend to watch the most).

    I also thought it would be cool to be able to exchange movies in the store…but it turns out that it’s just confusing, aggravating, and time consuming.

    My belief is that Blockbuster is hoping Total Access will succeed so that they can start shutting down store locations. In my opinion, this is a last ditch effort…and it’s clearly too little, too late.

  28. Dan says:

    That sucks! I use the Amazon rental service in the UK; only a tenner a month for 6 movies, plus it makes my mailbox look more popular to the other people in my flats.

  29. Greg says:

    The thing about stores like Blockbuster is that if you don’t rent the movie within the first week or two it comes out, you can almost guarantee the disk will be scratched. I prefer PPV and just saving it on Tivo (DirecTivo) for a little while.

    That new iTV concept from Apple looks promising, however I’ll hold that thought till I see it in action and read the reviews once it comes out.

  30. Mike says:

    When Netflix came around on the scene I became an instant rent-by-mail junkie. In the early days of Netflix, I would rent three movies, watch them in a couple of days, return all three, and in a few days repeat the cycle. (Netflix initially had a high turnover rate). But after about three to four months of renting with Neflix, I noticed a decline in their turn-over-rate (from when I mailed the movie(s) to when i recieved them). Doing a little research I found out that netflix has gone through a class action lawsuit for “Throttling” subscribers. (Does Netflix now state they do this in their ‘Terms of Service’?).

    Nonetheless, I began to look around for alternates from Netflix’ “throttling.” Blockbuster for the longest time merely copied Netflix’s rent-by-mail concept in hope that they could hold onto some of that consumer base. In the long run, Netflix was still a better option because of its broader selections and superior UI/design for selecting movies online (IMO).

    Recently, however, Blockbuster decided to change its rent-by-mail concept to target the consumer, who like me, is tired of being ‘throttled’. With Blockbuster’s new promotion u can actually turn-in your return envelopes for an in store rental (granted you’ll run into some problems this post actually talks about). But here is the kicker (for me atleast), when you return your ‘mailed’ rental in store it is logged as recieved in their database. So while you rent an in store movie, your next movie in queue is in the process of being delivered. Hence, there should be no movie down time and the customer has more control of the turnover-rate. More-or-less it is more bang for your buck. (I just started this program, and it has been great so far).

  31. Chris Carter says:

    I’m actually using both right now: I have a three movie setup on Netflix and a two movie setup on Blockbust, for right about the price I was paying Netflix for a 5 movie setup, except now I can get an additional two movies when I return both my blockbuster on line movies.

    I kept Netflix because even with throttling their faster, but I like the idea of being able to make an “impulse” rental with Blockbuster. Works out great for me.

  32. Chris Carter says:

    Apologies for that last post, it looks like it was written by a drunken sailor, rather than a drugged up programmer…

  33. Ash Haque says:

    I’m just waiting for netflix to become available in Canada, after that, it’s goodbye blockbuster forever

  34. Andy says:

    I have to agree with Grey & Jeff. Frankly, whether we like it or not, John Tucker Must Die grossed way more money than the Al Gore PowerPoint presentation Inconvenient Truth. This is not to say that it is a better movie, it just is what it is and ultimately Blockbuster is going to want to make a profit. So to say Blockbuster is out of touch with its customer base, as Mike has commented, I think it is a little far fetched, and probablly is more in touch with its customer base than we give them credit for. Mike you should take into consideration that certain parts of Seattle aren’t going to be the same as mainstream America and where it sold out at your store, you can fly to Atlanta with me and pick up as many copies as you’d like. ;-)

    P.S. Mike, I love your tips on MySpace, and I love your site. I just disagree with you on this point.

  35. Mike D. says:

    Andy: You may be right, but I’m not sure. I guess the question is “Is Blockbuster in touch with its customer base, at a local level?” I definitely agree that An Inconvenient Truth is undoubtedly much more popular in blue states and especially “greenish” states like Washington State. So, to that point, I’d be interested in knowing if Blockbuster makes its quantity decisions at a national level only or something more granular than that. Maybe they do consider locale… I don’t know.

    It still doesn’t let them off the hook though for essentially implying that big, new releases will always be in stock when they aren’t. As Jeff said above, it’s a much less meaningful way that that deal is actually worked out.

  36. Will says:

    I’m still in shock that you go to Blockbuster. In another year that might be considered retro though ;)

  37. vio says:

    “The “guaranteed in stock” has to do with the price they pay per copy, and thus the number they will buy fo a title. I remember reading an article about how they renegotiated some deals with studios for super low prices of titles in return for a different split of rental fees.”

    You pretty much hit the nail on the head. Blockbuster pretty much always has and always will work off revenue-sharing deals they have set up with the studios. This is the ONLY reason they can afford 200 copies of a popular new release in the first place! I’m sure most of you are well aware of The Weinstein Company “exclusive” deal and as a result, you’ll see just about every Weinstein movie guaranteed in stock at Blockbuster for the next 4 years. Mark my words. The flip-side of this is a studio like Universal who simply DESPISES the rental industry and charges Blockbuster(and all other rentailers) full price for every single DVD, so you’ll seldom ever see a Universal title guaranteed in stock.

    For the record, Blockbuster does often guarantee movies that are in extremely high demand. I was just in my local store today(doing the total access thing, which i fucking love btw) and they had Pirates of the Carribean 2 guaranteed in stock. And yes, they were all out of stock. I’m sure they’re handing out rain-checks for that movie to customers like it’s trick or treat candy and losing out on a ton of potential revenue.

  38. Matt says:

    I know I’m late to this post, but I thought I’d add my two cents. Of all the big chains (uh, that would be two I think ;-) ), Blockbuster has always been the worst as far as I’m concerned. I always felt they had a topnotch training program to make sure all their employess were as rude as possible. Another treat was their misleading return dates to pump up the late fees. Bah! Blockbuster deserves to lose big. I wouldn’t rent from them now for a year of free rentals.

    Netflix, on the other hand, has always been great. I order the movies, they get me the movies, and quickly. They even make good on lost/damaged movies with no hassle. They have my vote!

  39. roni says:

    I wasn’t overly impressed with the idea of watching John Tucker Must Die, but since I had seen everything else of interest… I had rented it. [Hollywood has a nice little monthly plan for viewing] Probably the best thing I’ve done in months. My children (yes, kinda innapropriately) have watched the Tucker movie over and over. We have a copy of it now, and every chance they get they watch it. I enjoyed it the first 2, maybe 3 times. Quite unexpectedly a great movie pick. By the way, Crash was a way better viewing experience. My kids didn’t like it though. This coming from (short) people who think Jackie Chan is the master of martial arts. Go figure.

  40. Tony says:

    The “guaranteed in stock” program at my local BB is a total scam…..

    If I call, the staff never know what titles are guaranteed, and it is impossible to find out online which titles are guaranteed because each store is different. When I go in to the store, the only titles that are guaranteed are the worst movies i.e. “John Tucker Must Die,” which they have plenty in stock of course.

    When I spoke with one of the cashiers, that is friendly with me, she told me that they take down the guaranteed sign the minute that they run out of copies. So essentially the guarantee is only available for that one customer that notices all the copies are missing and claims the free rental coupon. As soon as the staff are aware that they are out of copies, the guarantee is ends. What kind of guarantee is that?


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