We've been hearing predictions of the death of retail for years now. The internet certainly brought that scenario one step closer with the advent of major shopping sites and web-based services. One area I'd like to call particular attention to is the Blockbuster/Netflix debate.
I know, Netflix is more convenient. I know, it has no late fees. I know, it makes sure you always have a movie or two lying around. I know it has a cheaper, bigger selection and a cool, easy-to-use website. And plus, Netflix is a culture unto itself with accounts, recommendations, and queues. Fine, Netflix wins.
But I still think Blockbuster retains something that Netflix could never have, and that is the group ritual of choosing a movie. It's a tiny thing to claim as an advantage, and many would call it a disadvantage, but I want to give it a shout out nonetheless.
Have you ever been to Blockbuster? You probably weren't alone. You and your wife, or your boyfriend, or your friends, or your roomate, went down to the store, walked around the racetrack, and considered your choices.
Along the way, you guys might have had some fun. I can't think of any experience that comes close in terms of social shopping. The "what are we going to watch?" dilemma is accompanied by frustration (I really want to get this but everyone else has already seen it) and differences of opinion (sorry honey, I don't like horror films). It's also full of personal recommendations (this movie is AWESOME, you guys should all see it) and storytelling (I saw that on my first date!) In high school we always had one movie that we would pick up, and with our most straight face, announce "You guys, I really think we should get this." It was a documentary called "Jesus" and we laughed our heads off every time we pretended to suggest it.
This type of group shopping so rarely happens. You wouldn't go with your whole family to buy a new dress. You wouldn't take five friends to get groceries. Group shopping really only works when it's entertaining enough for the whole group.
And Blockbuster is a facilitator of these kinds of social interactions. Compare the "Let's go down to the video store and pick out our movie," versus "A week ago I clicked on a website and two days ago I got the mail and yesterday I called some friends and tonight we watched it." They're just not the same.
I know that Netflix will continue to gain market share, and maybe one day we'll just think "I'd like to watch a movie" and ten movies will magically materialize in our hands. But for now, I'm still enjoying the ritual of the Blockbuster night.