Back inside a Blockbuster


I hadn’t been inside a Blockbuster store in years, until this weekend.

I’ve been a loyal NetFlix fan since 2003, but recently signed up for Blockbuster’s Total Access program to see which was better.

The inside of a Blockbuster store hasn’t changed much in four-plus years. Plenty of stained carpets, stacks of used DVDs for sale, and oversized boxes of candy next to the check-out register.

I was there to get my retail Blockbuster membership (to take advantage of the “instant return” portion of Total Access) and was surpised at the clerk’s ambivalence to my request for a membership application.

Looking around the front of the store, part of Blockbuster’s “return your online video in person” strategy became clearer. Just like Walgreen’s, they appear to be cramming the point-of-sale with tons of impulse purchase opportunities – not just candy but also gift cards, new release purchase opportunities, and bargain-priced $3.99 used DVD movies. Those low-priced used movies are very high-margin for Blockbuster, not to mention a great opportunity to move excess inventory quickly.

While I waited for my application to be processed (on what appeared to be a Commodore 64 computer behind the counter), I watched four other Blockbuster customers check out with their rentals. All four were given the Total Access upsell pitch, and all four declined. The script and passion behind the pitch on each count was unimpressive.

It made me wonder where Blockbuster’s online rental business growth strategy lies. Are they primarily hoping to convert people away from NetFlix, as their current television strategy implies? Or are they hoping to upsell their offline customers? My assumption is the former, at least for now.

But despite my concerns with ambivalent sales clerks and stained carpets, there was one thing about Blockbuster stores that I had forgetten about – the treasure hunt.

Searching for movies to rent online requires a level of self-direction. I have to start my search somewhere – in a particular genre, via a favorite actor, etc. Wandering through a Blockbuster store provides the ultimate opportunity to discover, and re-discover, movies that I really want to watch, but probably wouldn’t have thought about unless they were staring me in the face.