Sympathy for the Devil
On completing my stint as a villainous retail lackey for the oft maligned Electronics Boutique, I was not so long ago enthusiastic to share my adventures in management with tell all literature that was as frankly self-indulgent as Maureen McCormick describing her 1970s' teenage peccadillos. There was very little dirt to be shoveled, per se, and I’m no more a whistleblower than an apathetic referee, but I was able to confirm over the course of several articles what you had already suspected about Gamestop and EB policies: they aren’t always customer friendly.
Now three years gone and calmed by time spent far from retail sales, I find my thoughts on the nature of evils visited upon us in the capitalistic spaces of suburban malls have mellowed. It’s been a long time since I jockeyed a counter, riding it unapologetically bareback with a riding crop clinched awkwardly between my teeth, and even though I dished gossip like Rachel Ray dishes pasta, the truth is I still shop there to this day.
Despite being hassled about preorders, used games, crappy magazines and product replacement programs, I still find the specialty retailer my best opportunity to cut an easy deal. After all my bluster and consternation, the truth is that as long as you are an informed customer with the understanding that you have retail options, it’s not that hard to ignore and avoid the subtle and indirect malfeasances of the specialty retailer.
And now, finally, I’ve come something like full circle. After reading a fresh slew of familiar complaints about initiatives set in stone back in the Clinton administration, I grow convinced that maybe we gamers need to get over our tightly focused rage and cut specialty retailers some slack.
I make no apology for the policies that continue to frustrate and annoy to this day, and I frankly applaud those who make the choice not to patronize these stores with a silent protest. Well done, sirs and madams, in exercising your panoply of retail options. After all, going to Gamestop when you hate them and then complaining about it is like holding an ice cold glass of pure water and complaining about how thirsty you are. But, expecting Gamestop to change is like expecting a leopard to change its spots. In a wasteland of retail sales, they are turning a tidy and impressive profit following the path of the successful initiatives they alone created.
Preorders – Ah, historical whipping boy, how bloody your back. It’s been, oh let’s say ten years since the foundation of the preorder programs were lain, and even as consumers grumbled about the ramification it has been a policy adopted by virtually every retailer. I hate to break it to ya, the battle is lost on this one. This is an entrenched initiative that has proven very effective particularly for specialty retailers where inventory management is as crucial as remember to breathe in and out all day.
Much as I too might like to be able to wander into the Gamestop of my choosing and expect them to have Obscure Niche RPG X2 right there in stock, as if pining for my arrival like a faithful pooch, if I fail to show and complete an uncertain transaction then that game becomes part of the equation that would quickly become Bloated Inventory + 1. That’s to say nothing of the other five to ten thousand stores that are also expected to hold inventory on a game they may never sell.
Setting aside inventory control, the dynamics of gaming retail have shifted to look a lot like cinema — the first ten days are crucial for maximizing sales. Preorders are the sales built before product is released, the initiative that drives sales when product is at its most profitable.
Preorders are the double whammy, a method of inventory management that drives sales. Corporations can spend decades searching for initiatives that serve these two masters, and with a decade of proven success Gamestop would sooner close its doors than abandon preorders.
Open Product Sold As New – Imagine walking into your local Gamestop to bare walls, reminiscent of a freshly built model home. Given the choice between putting $10,000 of live product on the shelves for you to casually peruse in pristine condition at your leisure — you with you deep pocketed coats, heavy lidded eyes and suspicious backpacks! — or having bare walls would be a painful choice.
Gamestop’s policies, while frustrating to some, represent a necessary attention to real issues of theft. Having managed a store that in one day was taken for nearly $1000 of theft, which was neither uncommon nor particularly exorbitant compared to other local shops, the option of putting live product at risk is untenable.
With the exception of a few places like Best Buy, almost all retailers have found solutions that involve keeping live product out of shoppers’ hands, and of course Best Buy is large enough to hire extra personnel to just stand at the door and monitor customers. The solution for Gamestop is imperfect, but hardly some kind of nefarious malfeasance.
We Have That Used – Raise your hand if you don’t know that Gamestop relies heavily on the profit margins on used product.
If you haven’t raised your hand, yet are stymied and frustrated by employees pushing used product at you in specialty retail shops, I must ask again: why do you shop there? While I agree that the cost difference between new and used product could be more appealing, and that the condition of used product is often questionable, I can’t really get on board with the mindset of continuing to be outraged by what are now well known and established policies.
Often, I’m perfectly satisfied to save myself five dollars for enjoying the same experience. My responsibility is to my pocketbook, and I’m not interested in sweating over the distribution of wealth along the used retail chain or getting my dander up because publishers and developers feel left out of secondary transactions. Capitalism is cut throat, and no one seems to be watching out for my budget, so I will cut costs where I can. If the industry wants to get a better cut, then they need to offer me a better deal. Until then, I’m fine saving myself five bucks.
As an informed consumer I know to always check the condition of any used product I buy before ringing it up, but even if I despised the concept and practices of used games walking into a Gamestop and being annoyed by the offer would be like walking into a Krispy Kreme and shouting, “what’s with all the damn doughnuts?!”
Ignorant Sales Staff – Part of the problem here is that I think many of us remember fondly a day when Gamestop and EB were places where we could go and enjoy a retail experience facilitated by like minded gamers. Those days have been dragged behind the woodshed, shot in the head and dumped into a shallow grave where even now carrion eaters suckle on the last morsels of desiccated flesh and bone.
Gamestop largely hires uninformed, untrained salespeople willing to work for poor hourly wages.
Don’t expect Gamestop staff to have any kind of clue about the product they sell. The onus is on consumers to be self-informed, just as you would be expected in Wal-Mart where I suspect many of the employees are a shade up the evolutionary scale from primitive lichens. Yes, you will stand there and here employees impart entirely inaccurate information to other customers. Casual deception and artificial expertise are not new methods of sales.
The responsibilities of the buyer have been understood since time immemorial. If prostitution is the oldest profession, then that means so is sales, and the best in the world are as flexible with the truth as whores or political action committees.
Proven Success – You can likely count on one hand the number of retailers who continue to perform in a depressed spending climate, and when you do, you’ll have to add Gamestop to that list. We can complain until we are blue in the face about the policies of the company, but the continued performance of the company is a far more compelling argument. Preorders work. Used product works. Theft prevention works. Non-specialized staffing works.
In the end, trying to convince Gamestop that it should stop being so successful at making money is an experiment in extraordinary futility. It’s so easy to just not shop there; to finally accept that the experience is not what it was once upon a time when you were treated at the local game store like you were Norm from Cheers.
For those that can’t at least have understanding or sympathy for the devil, at least you can stop trying to cut deals with him.