Blockbuster: The End

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Once upon a time, Blockbuster was as big as Starbucks in the US. Strong brand, great customer service, unrivaled market ownership... Blockbuster was virtually untouchable.

Admit it: You had a card too. You rented stuff there. Yeah. We all did.

But then, something happened. The world changed... and Blockbuster found itself completely unable to deal with those changes. VOD (video on demand) and Netflix, more than anything else, shanked Blockbuster silly while it was looking the other way.

Sure, it tried to hold on to its fleeing customers by abolishing late fees... kinduv... but it was too little, too late. Driving to a Blockbuster was still a pain. Rental fees had doubled since we'd all first become members there, and we weren't happy about it. Somehow, we all got the sense that Blockbuster could have - should have - done a whole lot more.

Personally, I think that Blockbuster should have come up with something smarter and more engaging than its half-hearted capitulation. (I don't care how excited the people in the ads acted. It was a weak program and you all know it.) I never cared about late fees anyway. Yeah, they were a hassle, but not a deal-breaker. Abolishing them... kinduv... wasn't enough to convince me or you or anyone to rent videos there anymore. We needed a real reason to shop there again. Blockbuster failed to give us one.

The issue was mainly one of convenience. Why should I drive to a store twice (rent and return) and spend thirty minutes picking out a movie, when I could just order one right from my living room? Cable and broadband internet access have made movie rentals a commodity. Blockbuster failed to anticipate the change... and respond to it. It got left behind.

Sure, adding video game rentals to the mix was a good idea, but poorly executed. Blockbuster stores became a weird hybrid. The brand lost some of its relevance. The smell of desperation was in the air, and we all caught a whiff.

But here's what sealed Blockbuster's fate: It never reached out to us, the old core of once loyal customers. It never made us feel at home there. It never worked on making the Blockbuster experience a great one... or even a half-way decent one, at that. Actually, for the most part, it wasn't all that pleasant at all.

No, instead, what Blockbuster did was try to sell us an additional membership. (Give us more money... and we'll give you free rentals.) Bribes aren't enough. Especially the kind we have to pay for. (Woohoo! A free rental each month!) Please.

The whole thing made me seriously consider the possibility that Blockbuster was actually run and operated by Uncle Scrooge (which I haven't yet completely ruled out, by the way).

Now, I want you to look at the photo of my neighborhood Blockbuster (top of post). What do you see?

1) One car in the parking lot.

2) What happened to the movie posters in the windows, and the promos on the door, and all of the things that made the store inviting? They're gone!!! Why?

3) Not only that, but the windows are covered by ugly rack butts and the backsides of posters. Beautiful and enticing, huh?

4) You can't actually see it in this photo, but the "gaming" section of the store has its windows completely obscured from the inside by... wallpaper or something. From the outside, it looks like someone duct-taped giant rolls of dollar-store giftwrap paper over every inch of glass on that side of the store. Just beautiful.

Okay... Here's a tip: It's pretty basic, but I guess the marketing folks at Blockbuster must have been sick when we covered this in class - The outside appearance of your retail outlet is as important as the inside. Maybe more so. If your store looks like a crack house, nobody is going to want to come inside. (Go figure.)

Blockbuster used to do a great job of promoting to the outside world what was inside the store. Now, it just looks like a cross between a project in antisocial behavior and a foreclosure.

Something else you can't see in this photo: The obnoxious staff.

My last trip to Blockbuster basically involved the following experiences:

- Three clerks playing pencil-tag (yes, it's fun to throw pencils at each other when you're bored). Even more so when customers are waiting in line and opening a second register might not be a bad idea. Extra-credit for hitting a customer in the head, and then just laughing at the fact that you did.

- Seventeen minutes in the checkout line. (Hey, at least there were customers there.)

- Oh wait... the couple ahead of me finally got tired of waiting and left without renting anything. Never mind.

- So did the family in line behind me. Tsssk.

- The sales pitch for Blockbuster's special rebate club deal thingie:

The clerk: "Let me tell you about a super sweet offer blablabla..."
Me: "Um... no thanks, man."
The clerk: "But you haven't even heard what it is."
Me: "Yeah I did. It's a cool program, but not today."
The clerk: "Pffft. Whatever. Your loss. Pay full price for your rentals then."


- Sticker shock. Although... maybe if I had spent the extra nine bucks for the rewards program, the $5 rental fee and the entire hour I wasted driving there, picking a movie and waiting in line might have been easier to swallow. I don't know. Maybe.

- Having to drive the movie back to the store a few days later was just the cherry on top. You have no idea.

*Sigh* And now, Blockbuster has finally decided to become a clone of Netflix. Better late than never? I don't know.

It isn't every day that you get to witness the death of a superbrand. It's kind of sad in a way, because Blockbuster could have avoided all of this... and to be fair, it might bounce back. I guess anything's possible... But... You know... I wouldn't hold my breath or anything.

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