Commentary

The One Thing Blockbuster Got Right that Modern Ecommerce Marketers are Missing

Blockbuster was a video rental juggernaut raking in $6B per year, until it famously wasn't. Yet there is one part of their experience that modern ecommerce marketers just haven't solved for...until now.
Brittany Rycroft

Come with me on a journey of mixtapes, Blockbuster, and other millennial nostalgia bait. 

Not too long ago, I read a great article in Esquire about how relying on Spotify’s algorithm to serve up new music was a recipe to enter into an echo chamber of your own tastes. Since then, I’ve actively asked friends to craft mixes for me - the 21st century equivalent of a 90s mixtape or 00s mix CD (shoutout Napster - I promised nostalgia). In short I’m building a team of crate diggers to expand my tastes, not reinforce them.  

More and more, we’re relying on algorithms to dictate our preferences, from what we watch (Netflix and co.), to what we should buy (Amazon’s legendary ‘Frequently Bought Together’ that has been endlessly replicated), and even what we should wear (although to be fair, Stitch Fix’s AI hasn’t exactly proved itself to be a winning formula). 

That’s not even scratching the surface of how Google is shaping our worldviews as increasingly sophisticated tools and strategies are keeping up with their ever-evolving search algorithms. Or social media, which adapts your feeds to what you’re interested in, with the aim of keeping you hooked and scrolling (or tapping) for as long as humanly possible. 

I’m not knocking algorithms, for the record. 

When I visit my friend’s place and see how her Netflix’s home page is shaped by her husband’s preferences for shows about hunting or big trucks, I realize that while I had no idea these shows existed on Netflix, I’m kind of okay with that too. 

Perhaps that’s why word of mouth still proves to be the most compelling source of truth for me. Even as I recognize that some of those recommendations are going to be rooted in AI surfacing content to friends and family, if it passes the sniff test of someone I know, or someone I consider to be a real expert, I’m that much more likely to buy in.

Enter Blockbuster. 

Many a millennial meme has popped up highlighting how generation Z and beyond will never know how lit Blockbuster was on a Friday night and I am here to be super basic and say ‘amen’. 

Everyone had ‘their Blockbuster’. They knew the layout, and maybe even knew the staff. And it would seem, every Blockbuster - or whatever video store you frequented - had at least one diehard movie buff among the high school and college students that appreciated the free rentals on top of not having to wear a dorky visor to serve customers, as they would in the fast food industry. 

My friends recommended movies to me, yes. But I also regularly tapped into my local Blockbuster movie guru’s expertise as well. I didn’t know him personally, but you saw the gleam in this guy’s eyes when he waxed nostalgic about Kubrick’s use of symbolism or some underrated foreign masterpiece.

And you know what? Guy knew what he was talking about. 

To be clear, product experts exist in many retailers and sales roles to this day. Smart retailers still hire retail associates that want to know, love, and share their enthusiasm for a product or brand. 

But if my Blockbuster guy was busy, or not there, the store had a failsafe. A ‘Staff Picks’ section that spotlighted some of the best new releases, hidden gems, and classic throwbacks. 

The idea of spotlighting individual tastes in a mass retail setting has all but disappeared. The closest example in modern times I can think of is visiting an Indigo bookstore and seeing a shelf of books with hand-labeled stickers promoting Staff Picks. A shelf that I naturally gravitate to, and have seen countless others do the same.

The authenticity of these Staff Picks is unconfirmed, at least on the retail level - I have no doubt the ecommerce equivalent are carefully curated by Indigo’s marketing team. 

Regardless, there is something magical about interweaving the human experience and tastes with shopping. And it’s something we’ve moved away from at an alarming rate, particularly with the mass commoditization of retail and decline of independent stores. 

There are some things humans are better at than machines. Having a two-way conversation about your specific needs or preferences, I would suggest, is one of them. 

There’s a reason why we still primarily buy cars from dealers, after all. Almost no one will take the time to comb through or understand every feature a manufacturer puts into their brochures. It’s about the drive and feel and look and brand, yes, but a car salesperson’s job is to also drop knowledge bombs about the sizzle features of a vehicle; the points that stick in the mind after test driving a half-dozen rides. 

That’s the beauty of GhostRetail for live shopping and the reason why I immediately understood the value of implementing a solution like ours for ecommerce.

Online shopping has been an unmanned channel since the dawn of its existence, the idea being we can serve ourselves just fine. And in many cases, that’s true. 

But ecommerce has an abysmal conversion rate (just 2.8%) and a notoriously high return rate (almost 21%). 

One has to wonder then, how these metrics might be improved by giving customers the option to connect with a product expert - a Blockbuster guy or gal for the 21st century. 

The beauty of these interactions isn’t just that you get your questions answered (“Is this movie any good?”) but that you can discover more about a product or brand from someone that truly loves and knows it, than you ever would have on your own (“If you like that movie, you have to check out this one.”) 

The best part of GhostRetail is that we’re hanging our hat on our customers’ success. If your customer base doesn’t jump for joy at the fact they have the option to connect with a real live human to do their online shopping, we don’t get paid - period. It’s a low-risk way to test out a pretty enticing value proposition for your customer base.

But I think you’ll find that simply presenting the option will change the way people see your ecommerce experience. One where there is a helpful specter in a proverbial blue golf shirt, waiting in the wings, just in case they want that perfect recommendation or guidance on their journey. 

Interested in learning more about GhostRetail? Launch your live shopping experience in weeks, not months, with our zero-integration platform. Book a demo with us today

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