At the beginning of this month, Blockbuster Video quietly reinstated late fees, with a whole lot less fanfare than when they did away with them five years ago. As a result, several consumers report being taken by surprise.
"Nobody in Blockbuster told me or my fiance of any new policy," Kelli, of Union City, Calif., told ConsumerAffairs.com. "It wasn't posted anywhere in the store prior to the policy change and we didn't receive any sort of notice by mail, email, or recorded message. Nothing at all."
Kelli is upset because the late fee on videos she returned was charged to her debit card, which the company had on file. The charge, she said, put her in an overdraft position, costing an additional $35 from her bank.
When they complain, consumers say they are told by Blockbuster that they should have received a letter explaining the change, and that a notice is printed on the receipt.
For its part, Blockbuster said it is simply changing its policy to align it with its competitors. Since March 1, the company has begun adding a $1 a day late fee on videos and games up to 10 days.
If the customer still hasn't returned the item after 15 days, they're charged for the purchase of it, which can be as little as $4.99 or as much as $29.99. If the consumer returns the DVD within the next 30 days, they get a store credit for the purchase, minus $10 in late fees.
"We think this is very forgiving. You have 45 days to bring it back. It's similar to what Redbox does," Michelle Metzger, Blockbuster spokeswoman, told the Dallas Morning News.
Blockbuster competitor Redbox charges customers $1 a day. If the customer hasn't returned it in 25 days, they're charged a maximum of $25 and given ownership of the DVD.
Netflix doesn't charge a late fee, per se, but customers who don't return a video are assessed an $8.99 monthly fee until the DVD is returned. If the consumer reports the video as lost, they are charged a $14 fee.
Blockbuster, which has struggled financially in recent years, views the move as way to promote stability.