Improving the customer experience of film rental expiration

The online rental market for time sensitive content is dominated by players such as iTunes and Amazon Instant. Whilst we are not focussing on the subscription model services such as Netflix in this article, which make up a significant amount of online subscriptions, we take a closer look at where the customer experience of film rental expiration is broken.

Introduction

As a child of the 80’s I used to enjoy heading down to the local independent video rental shop to marvel at the latest releases and video games. Video shops were fun to be in, and I used to enjoy picking up and reading the VHS boxes and browsing the curiosities in the bargain bins. After pondering which film to spend my hard earned pocket money on, I would get out the laminated membership card and pay for the transaction in cash.

Film rental store

The rules were pretty clear, you paid a price per night e.g. £2, or a combined weekend price of £3.75. If you were late you paid late fees that added up each day. The fees were based on what the shop would have made from renting out the film or game to someone else and also factoring in the price to purchase films from the limited range of suppliers they had to buy from (this was before Amazon, Netflix, Play.com etc.).

Blockbuster membership card

This was a concept I understood e.g. if you were late you needed to pay up. Whilst no-one likes paying fines, for paying for an item that you had held onto, that no-one else could rent out as a result made sense.

Where is it currently going wrong?

I recently enjoyed a rare lazy weekend and rented several films through iTunes including the 2013 film ‘Her’ by Spike Jonze, which I highly recommend.

iTunes - 'Her' film page

I managed to watch most of ‘Her’ but had to pause it and didn’t pick it up again until almost two days later. For those not familiar with how renting films on iTunes works, you have 30 days to start watching a film after you rent it. When you start watching the film you have 24 hours (in the US) or 48 hours (elsewhere) to finish it. You can watch the film as much as you want until it expires. I did not see that I only had 30 minutes left of the rental period to watch the film before it expired, yet I had 50 minutes of the actual film left to watch.

In what can only be described as an abrupt halt, the rental of the film expired and the screen of iTunes (and momentarily my laptop) went completely black. The film had expired and I was left having no idea what happened towards the end of the film.

Her iTunes - Expired

How can this be improved?

As a UX professional I am often looking for ways to improve a process or flow for the benefit of the customer. In this instance it feels like there are opportunities for improvement that could suit both the customer and also the business.

Some suggestions include:

  • Offer an option to rent for a further day at a reduced cost
  • Offer an option to rent for the amount of time left in the film at a reduced cost
  • Allow an extended grace period for first time renters
  • Offer a subscription insurance model for frequent renters to cover them when this happens

A software company we have seen recently with a one time grace period when the trial expires is Techsmith, who make a screenshot capturing tool called SnagIT. When you reach the 30 day trial period you have a bonus 7 days to carry on working, which massively helped out one of our consultants who was working whilst travelling recently.

Summary

There is a real opportunity to delight customers when content approaches expiration. With the digital download of ‘Her’ I am fairly sure no-one suffered as a result of me downloading the file as they may have done in a traditional video rental shop model, had I held onto it for longer than the rental period. Companies need to work harder to improve the experience on time sensitive content. This may be at the cost of short term revenue gain, but thinking longer term will present more opportunities to create revenue and delight customers!

If anyone wants to let me know how the film ‘Her’ ends I would be very grateful!

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