I'm a sucker for operations management and logistics, so Netflix is quite studly in my eyes. It's impressive that they have enough control over their stock to have so little of it sitting on the shelf at any one time. I'd love to know what percentage of their discs are in circulation at once.
Compare their well-honed process to someplace like Borders, who I'm currently mad at for a variety of reasons. The following isn't why, but it's a short example of how much less efficient they are than Netflix.
I was trying to use up a Borders gift certificate I got and I found an item I wanted that was out of stock in their warehouses. (Not that they tell you that online really, but I'll get to that.) Several of their local stores were listed as having that item "probably on the shelf." I submitted requests to the stores to check the shelves and hold it for me if it was there. They all reported back that they were sorry, but they didn't have it in stock after all.
A couple of observations:
(1) The email they send you informing you of this doesn't list the store location the notice is coming from, so it's difficult to go down the list of nearby stores, placing requests one at a time until you find a store that has it in stock.
(2) After confirming that their inventory count is out of date, they don't update the back-end to their website, so it's still listed as "probably on the shelf." I understand that there are ins and outs of their inventory system I am not privy to, but it seems like that is a useful feature to implement.
(3) At least according to the people I talked to, they will not allow you to purchase an item online and then pick it up in the store, nor will they transfer it from a local store to the one nearest you. So even if they have tons of what you want in their retail locations, their website is useless to you.
This really becomes a problem when you order something, as I initially did, that is listed as being on back order and ready to ship in "one to two weeks." When, two months later, the item still has not been re-stocked in the warehouse, it should be possible to inform a retail store that does have that item that Customer X has paid for SKU Y, and will be in to pick it up shortly. Instead what follows is an ordeal of cancelations, refunds, adjustments, and eventually starting all over trying to find the item in stores.
There's more to my Borders frustration, but I've not got the patience for it, and I'm sure you couldn't care less. Suffice it to say I'm not shopping there anymore. (Not that I ever did, excepting gift cards.)