Many many years ago I was pitching to win Reel.com's account. Remember that? There used to be a bunch of online shopping sites for CDs and DVDs like Reel, CDnow, Amazon and Buy.com. (I remember Amazon was put in lists very casually just like that--one of many, nothing stood out yet.)
What I recall from that time was, as a planning group, how we came to the conclusion that the web was a great place to buy, but it wasn't a great place to shop. This was probably 1999.
Things have come far, but this is still true for the most part. Shopping for the holidays this month you can see a bunch of stuff. Sites can recommend other things you like. And there are good ways to sort and rank. That's all good.
But it doesn't replace scanning an aisle yet does it? There's just something about looking at a broad swath of stuff and not needing to click or zoom in or try to find the small print to know how big something is.
And yet there are also many ways to shop in-store now that we couldn't do years ago thanks to digital, and that's all good too. (Not to mention the time savings and efficiency.) But still, in general, browsing an aisle of stuff--if one is purely shopping and not evaluating two or three things--is still the best.
Nowhere was this browsing time more true than the video store and a recent post on Vox brought this all rushing back.
Going out to rent a movie is something that many people have never done. For those that have, this thoughtful post is true, isn't it?
If you're actually in a video store, the stakes are different. You're engaged. You're on a mission to find a movie — the right movie. You had to get out of bed, get dressed, and go to a store. You had to think about what you want, why this movie looks good and not that one, perhaps even seeking guidance or advice. Whether it's from nostalgia, advertising, packaging, reputation, recommendation, or sheer whim, a movie chosen from the shelves attaches you to your choice. Before the film even starts playing, you've begun a relationship with it. You're curious. Whether you've chosen well or poorly, you've made a choice, and you're in it for the duration.
With online streaming, we don't decide — we settle. And when we aren't grabbed immediately, we move on. That means folks are less likely to engage with a film on a deep level; worse, it means people stop taking chances on challenging films. Unlike that DVD they paid for and brought home, a movie on Netflix will be watched only so long as it falls within the viewer's comfort zone. As that comfort zone expands, the desire to look outside of it contracts.