Old rituals die hard

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.


Elliott said...

That's so weird. I HATED going to Blockbuster. HATED! Especially with my current BF. We would always end up getting three movies: one I really wanted to see, one he really wanted to see and one that we both could tolerate together. The result being that we MAYBE got to see two of them before having to rush back to Blockbuster and try and beat the deadline, which we never did. And we usually went home kind of unhappy with our movie choices.

Now we can make a BIG LONG LIST of movies that we want to see and just move them around the queue if we want to see one more than the other. And I don't feel like I have to watch everything WITH him (Cool Hand Luke I will probably watch myself because he's seen it) because there are always movies there to be watched.

I'm sorry. I know you know this and you wanted someone to be like 'Yeah! The movie ritual! So awesome!' and I'm sure someone will. But for me? DIE EVIL BLOCKBUSTER, DIE!!!!!

jason said...

Every time I go into Blockbuster, I forget all the movies I've ever been interested in seeing. I know they're out there. At least a few times a month, movies come out that I think would be interesting but not worth coughing up a $10 ticket price for -- or ones I do think are worth it, but don't get around to seeing anyway. And when I walk into Blockbuster, I always expect that those movies will just be lying around -- jarring my memory, calling out to me, a "missed connection" note written in bright pink highlighter.

And, no. Never. I always look around, and around, and around, and all I see are the movies I totally didn't want to see when they first came out. Where are all those great movies? What happened to the ones I was interested in?

A mystery, this is.

Hillary said...

I've had good and bad movie ritual exeriences. My mom and I have a really particular one:

We go to Blockbuster to pick out a movie we want to watch that night. Neither of us goes into it with negative feelings or conciously knowing it will end the same way it always does. My mom starts out right away saying, "Nothing with subtitles." Then she holds up a bad, generic romantic comedy or suspense/action flick. I say no. She does it again. I say, getting more irritated, "Yeah, hi? Have we met before?" I try to convince her to watch Amelie for the 100th time. She says no. I suggest another one. She wrinkles up her nose. I get angry and say "You're going to fall asleep the instant we get home, anyway!" [which is totally and completely true--no matter what].

We finally find one that we both are okay with. And it's checked out.

This happens EVERY time. And I'm a movie snob, so in general, it's best if I don't have to make a decision with anyone.

This said, I still have not joined Netflix. I, actually, thoroughly enjoy the process of picking out my own movie. Sometimes I'm lazy and wish something were just laying around (but I own movies for that). I like the process of going through the racks, picking random stuff sometimes, seeing what mood I'm in.

I think Blockbuster needs to figure out it's next move. I think maybe more interactivity in the shop (like, customer reviews) or better deals (frequent shopper stuff) might help. Oh, and a better indie selection.

Mario said...

I agree that the shopping experience in Blockbuster can be time-consuming and aggravating if you don't know what you're looking for. Nevertheless, it can be a fun experience too.

But with the combined service of Blockbuster online, it makes the whole process even better. Of course you get all the benefits of a Netflixed service, but now you can bring back your online movies and trade them in at a local store for other ones, free.

Now that convenience, plus free weekly rental coupons, is worth paying for. Especially when you consider that the US Postal Service is closed on Sunday.