A Litany of Netflix Screw-ups

Posted by Thoughts and Ramblings on Tuesday, March 10, 2020

For those unaware, Netflix still does their DVD by mail service. Both my dad and I have subscribed to this in the past. Occasionally when I would visit my parents (200 miles away), I would change the shipping address on my account to his place so my DVDs would be sent there and change it back when I would leave (relevant later in this post). We both hit the point where every movie in our queue had a wait on it so we both cancelled the service. We’ve done this twice before. Now, several months later, we both decided that we should renew the service because enough movies have been released in the mean time that we should go several months until this occurs again.

Starting the DVD Plan Online

We both went to our respective accounts and tried to start the DVD Plan online. We both got to the third page of this setup which asks for payment details and that’s where we both encountered issues. In my case the credit card had expired since I last used the service so I needed to update the information. In my dad’s case it asked for the CCV number for the card already on file. We each were met with an error message asking to call in to their support center. Being a Sunday, we had to wait until the next day. My dad tried a few other credit card numbers and they each yielded the same results. In both of our cases looking at the browsers’ dev tools we could see the request the browser made was met with a 500 HTTP reply (here it is explained by a cat) which means the server screwed up.

Calling in

We both called in on Monday to phone number provided to us in the error message on the web page. When calling into Netflix, it’s best if you get the service code so they can more easily lookup your account. I went to my account page and obtained this code and provided it when calling in. The problem is this service code is for the streaming side of Netflix and doesn’t work for the DVD side. It turns out a user CANNOT get a service code anywhere for the DVD side without an active DVD Plan. So I had to give my email address for the account and then the service person hung up on me. No explanation or comment, just *click*.

So I called in again, and talked to Wendy (not the same person). I gave my email address on the account, explained my circumstances, and stated that I wanted to start up my DVD plan again. She saw on my account the expired credit card, asked for the details on the new card, entered it in, and then told me that their system rejected it. She asked about another card or if there was something wrong with the card. I assured here there was absolutely nothing wrong with this card, mentioned my dad’s experiences, mentioned the 500 error, and told her the natural conclusion is the problem is entirely on their side. Then she tells me that the credit card on my account just updated. She doesn’t know what caused it to update but it did.

While I was still on the phone with her, I tried to activate my DVD plan online and on that third page it didn’t prompt me for any information but just asked if the credit card on file (now the updated one) was the one to be used. I continued and it activated the DVD Plan. Wendy suggested that the problem may be that they cannot update payment details on an expired account even if the account is currently in the process of being resumed.

My Dad’s Calls

My dad called in and his experiences were far worse than mine. I explained to him what I did and the results I got which he relayed to the ones he talked to. First he encountered problems with them looking up his account. In spite of giving them the correct email address, the support person insisted that there is another email address. Additionally he was asked a series of odd questions which had no bearing on the situation. Regardless, in talking to them over the course of days, he was told that my action of changing the address on my account to his address when I would visit is the cause of the problem. Additionally that the same problem would result if two people had separate accounts who happened to be roommates.

When my dad told me this, I called in and asked if that was the case and what I need to do to prevent this problem in the future. I was assured that this was not a problem in the least. Despite being asked several times, the person I was talking to absolutely refused to tell me that the person my dad was talking to was wrong despite directly contradicting his statements. So one of them is providing customers with misinformation.

In subsequent calls, my dad was informed that his credit cards (he had tried several) were not being declined but in fact were being rejected by their internal system before going to the payment processor. He was told that he could try a gift card but there didn’t seem to be a way to start the DVD Plan without providing a credit card even if the payment was going to be via gift cards. They did admit that if the gift card didn’t work he would be out the cost of the gift card and could not get that money back. He was also told that there could be an issue with their internal systems with too many attempts being made on it and he should wait 24 hours before trying again.

He waited two days and in the mean time he received two emails from Netflix one of which was a marketing email suggesting he sign up for their DVD Plan. So, after waiting, he tried the website again with no change in results, and called in again and again no change in results. Fighting with their support people who were entirely incapable of solving the problem and additionally incapable of talking to anyone who could, he gave up on them.

So, he instead tried to reactivate the streaming side. It’s no secret that Netflix cares far less for the DVD side of their service so maybe the problem is long since solved on the streaming side or at least maybe their support are given a better ability to fix it. Using the website first, he was successful in confirming the payment details for the card they already had on file and starting the streaming plan. He then tried to add a DVD plan to this account and was successful there as well.

Summary of Netflix’s Problems

In this process, we uncovered several problems Netflix has in their DVD by mail service. Not only have they significantly cut back on their warehouse locations and thus decreased the quality of their service without decreasing the price, but they also seem to not want people to actually sign up for their service. I have to wonder how much of the decline in their number of customers is due to others running into the same problems but not being as persistant as we were. Netflix, when people want to give you money, you shouldn’t make it difficult for them to do so. So, a summary of the problems we noticed is:

  • Internal Server Errors on the server are apparently not monitored or at least not fixed quickly or this problem would have been resolved on its own when we attempted again later.
  • A user cannot get a service code to the DVD side without having an active DVD account. This calls into question why they are different in the first place.
  • Misinformation provided by call support staff.
  • Cancelled accounts cannot be updated as necessary to resume the account (this may be misinformation but it is the best explanation that fits the evidence)
  • Netflix DVD has a problem if an account is being resumed with an address previously used by a different account (this may be misinformation). If this is true, sounds like this can be exploited in a Denial of Service attack.
  • Suggesting users buy a gift card when it doesn’t provide a solution to the problem (cannot bypass whatever is rejecting the credit card details we were providing)

Legacy Comments:

Michael S. Moody - May 2, 2020

I know this probably isn’t the same for you, but we stopped using the Netflix DVD delivery service for similar reasons. It’s just no longer compelling for the price. Instead, we found that our local library allows you to borrow state-wide, so if it’s anywhere in the state, you can pick it up at the local branch after placing a hold. We found it takes about the same amount of time as Netflix to arrive, and while it’s not as convenient as the mailbox, the selection is actually far better, and free. (And we’re planning on cancelling our Netflix streaming service as well, since almost all that’s left is Netflix originals, of questionable quality). Give the library a try if it’s a reasonable option for you, especially if they have state-wide borrowing through the catalog website.

Graham Booker - May 3, 2020

Netflix significantly reduces their DVD service last year by closing down several facilities. For my dad and I, in Texas, they shut down both of the facilities that could deliver a DVD to use in a single day. Now it appears there is a single facility for the whole state and it takes 2 days for a disk to arrive. All while charging the same price. So, we both increased the number of disks at a time from 1 to 2 because it’s cheaper per disk. With the increased delay in disk arrival, this works out to $1/disk which is the price per disk we used to pay before Netflix cut their service. Then, when we burn through our queue (which now happens faster), cancel. Wait until next year when more movies come out, and repeat. We do the same with the streaming service but cancel it sooner as there’s far less worth watching there.