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What Dealerships Can Learn From Blockbuster

The year was 1997. Blockbuster looked down from its throne to scorn the new court jester. The jester danced with enthusiasm and grit, smiling warmly at the King of Video Rental. Blockbuster rolled its eyes and signed off on a late fee for Good Will Hunting. There are a few details to spare, but the King later died a tragic death. The jester took the throne and quadrupled the kingdom. The jester is Netflix, and his legend is clear: don’t get too comfortable or the joke is on you.

Blockbuster enjoyed total dominance for years after explosive growth in the late 1980s. A decade or so later, Netflix came on the scene poised to adapt to the times. DVD subscription services with no late fees were cutting edge and Netflix was here for it. In 2000, Netflix approached Blockbuster about forging a new path together. Blockbuster gave a hard pass. By 2010, Blockbuster was filing for bankruptcy and Netflix was knee-deep in streaming service and original series.

If the rubble from a bulldozed Blockbuster could talk, it would issue a stern warning to your dealership….adapt or die!

What Dealerships Can Do​

Know Where Your Customers Are​

Urban Science and The Harris Poll report that “61% of consumers agree the entire vehicle purchase process will change forever due to COVID-19, especially the online experience.” Simon Bradley of Urban Science concludes, “It’s important to note that one-third of consumers (36%) agree that there is no reason ever to visit a car dealership again.” Bradley recognizes the statistics could change on the other side of the pandemic, though none of us know when or what that looks like. When the pandemic hit in the spring, RM Sotheby moved their classic car auction online. The result was $13.7 million in sight unseen car sales. If you think online classic car auctions don’t mean anything to your dealership, think again. Hear the warning of the ghost of video rental’s past. Please take note of this beginning stage, and realize its trajectory.

Cox Automotive did a pre-COVID study of how consumers buy cars. According to an article by Penta, the 2019 car buyer survey revealed, “61% of car shoppers’ time is spent in front of a computer.” That’s well over half of your everyday car buyers, before the greatest e-commerce surge any of us have ever seen. Can you imagine what that number might be now?

Blockbuster ignored the dawn of streaming services, despite their customers changing interests. Today, kids don’t even know what a Blockbuster store is. Could there be a generation unfamiliar with buying a car the way we know it today? No one can say for sure, but we can work with what we know now. Your customers are spending much of the shopping experience online. Make sure you are easily available in that market space, too.


Mark LaNeve, head of sales, service, and marketing for Ford, gave The Detroit Bureau a sobering perspective. As we begin to see how the pandemic has changed society, LaNeve says, “the shift to online car buying is at least three years ahead”, of where he expected it to be. Dealerships can adapt to the current state of affairs by focusing on exceptional online sales experience.

Dealerships can adapt by focusing on exceptional online sales experience. Remove online forms and replace them with your salesperson in the form of live chat. Try to recreate the in-person sale online when it comes to attentiveness. With customers spending so much time clicking around, delayed response time is sure to impact sales. Parts eCommerce platforms like RevolutionParts even make it possible to replace dealership Parts Inquiry forms with an interactive part buying Storefront Plugin. Customers can shop for the parts and accessories they need and send the order directly to your parts department to fulfill.

Aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly websites are the priority. Make your first impression online; the way you would in the store. The ability to see your inventory and verify fitment based on make and model or VIN is key to creating the optimal user experience, thus, encouraging repeat customers. Well-integrated third-party platforms like RevolutionParts and Insignia Group use these approaches to move your customer smoothly through the purchase process. Offering inventory on popular online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay is also an essential way to ensure your customers can find you whenever, wherever.

No matter the channel, vehicle personalization and payment should be accessible to all, regardless of technological expertise. This means there should be big buttons on each inventory page showing where they can find accessories, parts, and their online shopping cart for that specific vehicle and how they can add the entire purchase to an online cart.

Today, accessory sales are better positioned for success as customers research their options. The ability to add an accessory to the car digitally and view it from multiple angles is more attractive than ever. Customers can toy with accessory packages without pressure from a salesperson. Presented correctly, accessory sales will skyrocket along with online car purchases. Adaptability in 2021 will mean renovating your online presence to spotlight digital retailing.

Market Your Ability To Do Online Sales​

Stabilize your store by marketing your ability to make a complete online car sale with ease. Or if you don’t have the ability to do the complete online sale, get them as far along the sales process (vehicle selected, accessories ordered, etc.) as you can and then be upfront about them needing to come into the dealership to sign the paperwork to make it all official.

At least half of the world’s population is on social media. These are the actions you can take to be active in the digital space and attract online sales leads:

  • The average person spends over two hours every day on social media platforms, so the best social media presence is an active and responsive one
  • Make your website link super easy

    to find
  • Frequently and clearly express your willingness, enthusiasm, and ability to sell cars online

The different ways you can cater to customers in 2021 should be a mission statement of sorts. Blast your updated digital retailing option via email, social media, and web banner. The customers who want to come in will do it. The others will appreciate how well you cater to their interests and needs.

Use Reviews. Appreciative customers leave glowing reviews if you ask for them. Reviews boost SEO results and provide an opportunity for more engagement on Facebook. It all comes down to taking the positive shopping experience you’ve worked to create in your store and moving it online.

A word to the wise from Blockbuster’s demise: hold your brick and mortar loosely. Embrace change and thrive.