Competitively priced, huge range of discs, rapid support
Damaged discs, lost discs, dodgy postal service
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An unforeseen casualty of the Internet, the traditional DVD/video rental shop has all but disappeared off the face of the UK high street, save for the mighty presence of Blockbuster video. I don't think we ever really used to see video or DVD rental as a particularly expensive thing until the likes of Love Film came along and made us all realise just how much money we were paying for the occasional film rental.
Membership of LoveFilm
Love Film is probably the market leader for online DVD rental in the UK. Heavily marketed, there are always offers on introductory memberships, and if you don't get your first month free and/or earn some cash back somewhere, you're either clueless or lazy. More and more of my friends and family seem to be joining Love Film, each with their own variation on membership, which amply demonstrates just how flexible the whole thing can be.
There are a number of membership options at Love Film. You can choose to receive either films or games or a combination of the two. You can go for an unlimited membership (that is, you can have either 1 2 or 3 titles on loan at any one time, with no limit to the amount you receive in a month provided you send them back) or a fixed membership where you have, say, up to 4 titles per calendar month. The prices reflect this, but the very best value comes from the most expensive options. 3 unlimited, for example, currently costs £15.65 per month, but if you're a committed film viewer and you don't fall foul of other circumstances, you can easily clear 20 films in a month. I'll let you work out how much per movie that actually means that you pay.
You have to sign up to Love Film but there's no contract period so if you join, do it for two months and change your mind, there's no obligation. You can either pay as a monthly subscription (debited by credit or debit card) or as an annual subscription, with a fair discount if you pre-pay for the year via the latter option. You can change your subscription at any time (increasing or decreasing your commitment) but beware that if you do this mid-month, you might lose out when downgrading, as they will assume the new, cheaper term commences from the time you request the change. If the account goes unpaid for whatever reason, they'll put a stop on it and send you a reminder, but they're not particularly snotty about such things, generally assuming it's a genuine mistake.
Selecting Your Films
Once you've signed up, you'll need to build a rental list of films that you want to see. This isn't a rapid task and it's likely that it will take you a little while to think of all the films you want to see. Once you've selected and viewed some films, they'll try and make it easier for you by making recommendations whenever you log in, but these are very hit and miss. If you rate a particular horror film highly, surprise surprise, you'll get another horror film, and then it'll all shift over when you watch and like a romantic comedy. If you watch a lot of films, this feature is almost next to useless, partly because you'll have a good idea of what you like and partly because they'll keep
Pictures of Lovefilm.com(film)
suggesting films that you've already seen. To avoid this, you can click each one to tell them not to recommend it again, but it starts to become a bit of a chore after a while. They also like it if you rate films once you've watched them (1 to 5) partly to help with further recommendations but partly also to help others decide if the film is for them. It's an entirely unreliable system, rather like anything else. The overall score tends to be broadly in line with other databases such as www.imdb.co.uk although generally everything seems more popular.The web site is fairly well laid out, but would benefit from some sharper categorisation. The easiest way to find films is simply to search the library. If you browse by a genre, for example, there are just too many titles to wade through and without further sub-categorisation (e.g. Asian horror, slasher, monster movies) it's again hard to find things. Films are now listed in multiple formats (Blu-Ray and DVD) and you can maintain more than one list if there's one than one of you in the house, the selection rotating between each of the lists associated with the account. This seems like an almost pointless exercise to me. If two people are maintaining a list, they have little more control with their own except to ensure that wildly conflicting tastes are equally considered. But if that were the case, you'd probably each have your own membership anyway. As a fairly prolific film viewer, the New Releases section is quite useful to me, helping me to keep up with new films that I may have forgotten about or that I read reviews of elsewhere. Films are listed before they are released, so you can add them in advance to make sure you don't forget about them. This can be a bit unreliable though. Sin City 2, for example, is currently listed with no release date - and hasn't actually been made yet - but you can still reserve it.
Getting What You Want
The problem with this is that for pre-releases you can't select the priority. This is another feature to the rental list that enables you to prioritise your titles within three groups (high, medium, low), with the intention that the company will send your high priority titles first, where possible. This means that when those new releases are finally released, they default into your list at medium priority, meaning you have to go back in and upgrade them to high, if you remember or can be bothered. My advice is always to maintain as large a list as possible, to maximise the chances of you getting new films quickly. My sister maintains a similar account but only includes new releases and regularly goes without any discs for a week at a time. Realistically, if you only want new releases, this probably isn't the best system for you as they need to try and flatten the supply against the demand.
Indeed, I seldom seem to get new releases very quickly (although I did once receive two new films on the first day they were released.) I tend to use Love Film either to watch older films I never got round to seeing, watching things again that I haven't seen for a while, or catching up on newer releases that I wouldn't buy or download at full price. Love Film boasts 1 million active members, which demonstrates the scale of the problem if they all want the new James Bond film. This does undermine the overall value of membership however, as quite often there are new releases that I really want to see that I relent and rent off iTunes or even buy because I can't be bothered to wait any longer for Love Film to catch up. I think it would be useful to have the function to set one title as your 'must see' that they get to you as soon as practicable and prioritise over everything else.
That aside, the selection of DVDs is outstanding, with a guarantee that they'll stock any disc offered for rental by anyone else. They offer all the TV series DVD sets (they despatch each disc as one of your list, so a 5-disc set would take place over five separate mailings). The TV sets can be irritating as although they dispatch the discs in order, they may not do this over consecutive mailings. So just as you're getting into 24 season 3, for example, they'll send you a disc from Lost Season 2 because that's in your list too. My advice is to restrict the multi-DVD sets in your list to just one at a time, to prevent this kind of thing happening.
I would say that 10% of discs sent out are faulty. That's a fairly well-calculated figure from 2 years of membership. When a disc is faulty, you can report it straight away online and they'll send you another one as soon as possible, without waiting for the duff one back. Alternatively, you can just tick the faulty box on the return envelope but this is sometimes missed. I can't fault Love Film's responsiveness to the problem but I do wish they'd sort out their quality control. Some of the discs are ridiculously faulty though (like the disc is completely cracked) and I've little tolerance to this whether they replace it quickly or not.
You never pay for any postage on the discs and they are all despatched in quite cunning envelopes that have a tear off sleeve that reveals the return address, so there's very little wastage too. The discs are sent out in little plastic sleeves for protection, but you don't get any of the original sleeve or cover for obvious reasons. Everything is sent first class so, normally seeking, it takes a day to receive new discs or for them to receive returns. You can get up to three discs in one envelope, but they don't usually dispatch more than two in one sleeve. The return envelope is postage paid, but you can simply use the address and write out an envelope of your own. Experience has shown that this nearly always leads to a delay in the postage system, probably because the freepost address is a ridiculously long combination of letters that causes problems if hand written. But that's not your only problem.
The system is, of course, entirely dependant on the postal service combined with the efficiency of the Love Film back office. Both range from being excellent to being dismal, meaning that you'll get wildly different experiences. Normally a disc received on day one, watched on day one, can be returned on day two, received on day three, with a replacement despatched the same day meaning the new film arrives on day four, allowing the cycle to start over. If you have three films on the go, you can see how this would mean a good turnover in discs. The worst case scenario increases that three day turnover to fourteen for a number of reasons. Discs that don't arrive cannot be replaced until four working days have elapsed since the disc was sent. Discs that they don't show as being returned suffer from a similar delay. Even once received, a new despatch is only guaranteed within 48 hours. Discs despatched on a Saturday miss the last post, meaning they don't actually go out until Monday. Then you have postal strikes and bank holidays to contend with.
In truth, this means that the idea of watching a film when it suits you starts to go out the window, because you have to plan when the disc needs to go back so that it doesn't get sucked into the weekend/bank holiday void. I would say that 5-10% of my discs get lost en route to me or on the way back and, given that we all know how useless the postal system is, further delays occur frequently. I can't really fault Love Film's response to any issues - replies to emails or online reports usually come back within an hour - but the reliance on the postal service is a major consideration that members need to make. I'd like to see a reduction in the waiting period from 4 to 2 working days as, in all fairness, if the disc then still turns up the vast majority of people would still send it back anyway.
I Just Want To Leave
Cancelling your membership at LoveFilm is like pulling hen's teeth. So, for starters, there's a link on the website. When you click it, you go through various screens and are eventually presented with a message to call their call centre. When you do this, you will be persuaded to stay. When/if you decline, they will then calculate how many days of membership you have left and will tell you that they can't/won't cancel the membership until the current period is over - so you have, say, 10 days left to enjoy films. If on the 10th day you happen to still have a film (or there is one in the postal system) they take this as meaning that the account is still open and take another month's membership. At my 10-day mark, I was promised that a link on the website would appear at day nine and allow me to cancel. It didn't. When I phoned up, they had just despatched new discs and therefore couldn't yet cancel the account. This could have gone on forever - so I just cancelled my bank card so they couldn't take any further payments. I've emailed them countless times when they chase payment, advising that I wanted to cancel my membership and duly returned the last three discs that they sent. To date, my account has not been cancelled.
Having been a member of Love Film, Tesco DVD rental and Blockbuster, I'd say they were all pretty equal in terms of price, range and the speed with which you get new releases (Blockbuster probably has the edge on the new releases). They all suffer equally from the archaic postal service in the UK. Love Film almost certainly has the best turnaround and quality of customer services and I like the Love Film web site too. But the company loses marks for the prevalence of faulty discs, which seem to be arriving at an increasing rate. But with the terrible difficult in cancelling my account, I'd now have to say that LoveFilm is one to avoid.