Then Tim asked what they could have done that would have helped them survive. We speculated a bit:
-- Have game systems available for customers to try out games they might want to rent.
-- Instead of the overhead monitors running the movies that the staff felt like watching, have VCRs and DVD players available for customers to sample movies.
-- Pick one kind of movie (in addition to the latest releases) and build a great/complete collection, so, regardless of how small the store might be physically, it has the very best selection anywhere around of that particular kind of movie.
-- Put their inventory on the Web, so people could check which movies the store stocks and which ones are available now before leaving home.
-- Give in-store customers ready/handy access to that same Web resource.
-- Allow regular customers ("members") to reserve the movies they want (held for them for 6 hours, 12 hours, maybe even a day).
-- Allow "members" to request email alerts and even automatic reservations for when a movie they want is returned and available.
-- Allow "members" to custom-order movies that the store does not currently stock, for purchase and/or for rental.
-- Give "members" a first shot at the latest releases that they have reserved in advance.
-- Set up movie and game "clubs," like the reading clubs run by libraries; everyone watches the same movie or plays the same game and gets together to talk about it, either physically at the store or online or both (with the folks in the store seeing/hearing the online input, and the folks online seeing/hearing the face-to-face input).
-- Have guest speakers (like some bookstore chains do): game designers and people connected with movies (not necessarily "stars"; this could include behind the scenes and business people, such as the key grip and the publicist and the makeup person), both face-to-face and live over the Internet.
In general, give customers many reasons to come back, to want to be "members," to build loyalty and a sense of community.
While the particulars would differ from one kind of business to another, all retail businesses, both online and physical, and especially those that sell/rent mass-produced brand merchandise, need to come up with features and activities like these, designed to empower customers to make better choices, to serve them better, to give them ways to interact with other customers who have similar interests, to give them new kinds of value in ways that they may have never expected.
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