Computer marketing of videos is becoming a touchy subject.
Touch screens, the latest accessory for video store computer systems, allow customers to poke rectangles on a computer screen, instead of rummaging through shelves, to check whether a desired video has already been rented. The screens also give movie synopses and can list a store's inventory by actor, director or genre.
"They can find out whether its available in the store, (so) it takes a lot of pressure off you," said Dean Magill, owner of Video Out-takes in Redondo Beach. Magill is installing a $1,300 touch-screen system sold by Santa Monica-based Unique Business Systems, one of more than four dozen companies selling hardware and software computer systems designed to manage video rentals and sales.
Video stores across Southern California are installing and upgrading computer systems. At least 40% of the nation's video stores operated computer systems by last December, and an additional 27% plan to do so by the end of this year, according to a study by Santa Ana-based Video Store magazine. "In the next couple years I would say all of them will be (computerized)," Managing Editor Jack Schember said.
"My computers make it faster for my customers," said Robin Ocheltree, co-owner of Leader Video in Bloomington, near San Bernardino. The store has plastered its videotapes with zebra-striped stickers and installed bar code readers at the cash registers.
The new technologies can also make shopping for entertainment more entertaining. For example, video store software can keep track of which films a customer has checked out--and suggest similar films. Hardware and software packages sold by Seattle-based Microfast cross-reference films in five or six categories. For instance, a customer could ask a clerk to call up all the store's films starring Jessica Lange.
Other software can control the usage of family video cards, limiting access by minors to horror shows and sexually explicit material. "It will flash on the screen and say John is not allowed to get any R- or X-rated films," said Earl Sedlik, Microfast's marketing director.
The next innovation should be systems which show segments of videos on request to customers. "We have a product that plays, I believe, 22 excerpts of Disney films," said Sedlik, adding that Microfast hopes to have the product for sale by spring. The main buying season for computer systems extends from spring to late summer.
Computer programs can also help a video store owner make the highly intuitive decision of what films to buy. "The computer lets him know, hey, 20% of your movies are comedies and 25% of your rentals are comedies, you should be buying more," said Kevin Carmony, chief executive of Ogden, Utah-based Streamlined Information Systems. The company has sold software packages to about 1500 video stores, he said.