In this week’s (6th January 2012) MCV, there’s a solid editorial piece by James Batchelor about the Government-commissioned Portas Review, which was designed to find out why our High Streets are failing, why stores are left empty and – simply – why people don’t want to head out shopping on a Saturday when they can be doing something else with their time.
Game retail is stuck somewhere back in the 1980s, where mainstream people (and by that, I mean folks who aren’t experts in their field) didn’t have anything like as much choice as they do now. If they wanted to buy the latest Bananarama album, they had to go to somewhere like HMV, Our Price, Woolworth’s, or WH Smith. When they arrived at the store, they’d buy the LP and pay the required price, knowing that nobody else was going to give them all that much of a better deal. There were indie stores sure, but you could never be guaranteed that any of the five or six copies of an album they’d ordered were still in stock.
Now, there are a million reasons why the “take it or leave it” model that used to be used by the big boys simply doesn’t work anymore, and nowhere is that more obvious than at GAME, the UK’s largest chain of specialist videogame stores. Let’s look at a few things they can fix, while I wait for my PS3 to run through another 2-hour system update, shall we?
The Price Is Wrong, Bitch
They aren’t going to like it up at GAME head office, but their prices aren’t exactly conducive to brisk trade. If you can find anything new at less than the RRP in a branch of GAME, then you’re incredibly lucky. Not only that, but the likes of GAME (and the other chain they own, GameStation) seem to think that it’s the norm to charge one price on their website, and an entirely different price in-store. My local GAME is charging £24.99 for L.A. Noire on Xbox 360. I can buy it from them online (and have it shipped to my house for free) for £21.99. It’s about now that everyone and their dog will chime in with quotes about how retail stores have more in the way of overheads. I know this, really, I do. I also know that if I buy online, it may take a few days for me to actually receive the product.
However, if I go to PC World’s site, I can pick up L.A. Noire on Xbox 360 for £14.97 – which is more realistic, given I only paid £25.99 for it on launch day and its now six months old – and have it shipped to me for free. If I don’t want to wait, I can pay for it online and go and pick it up from their store for the same price. I can choose either for MY convenience, not the convenience of the company.
The fact is that some companies – such as PC World – seem to have realised that their website is actually an extension of their physical business, and therefore a consistent pricing policy across the board can enable them to shift more product. If the customer is in your store, you have the opportunity to upsell their order. If the website gets me to COME to your store, half that battle is already won. People will use your website as a catalogue, to check prices and meander through your product lines at their leisure, before popping in and completing the transaction when they’re out shopping on a Saturday. Failing that, they’ll see the price online, and then rush to your store to buy a game on a Friday evening so they can play it at the weekend, rather than wait for five days for the Post Office to deliver it.
I would have gone to my local GAME and GameStation – where they were flogging preowned copies of L.A. Noire for £4.98 during their sale. I didn’t bother, because both websites quoted me a tenner a pop for the same damned thing. Whilst I was there, I might have picked up a bunch of other things that caught my eye, too, since I’m quite well known for my ridiculous impulse buys.
Any above-cost/above-overheads sale adds to the profits pot. You need to consider the overheads for the business as a WHOLE though, rather than just short-sightedly thinking that “I’m selling this in one of our shops and they cost more to run, so the product has to cost more than it does on our website.”
The GAME Group don’t seem to understand this at all.
Case in point: GAME were charging £42.99 for FIFA 12 on Xbox 360 in-store on the day this was written. Yeah, £42.99. With a “SALE!” sticker on it. Or I can buy it for £30 with free delivery, and get a free Blu-ray of The Karate Kid bundled in from Shopto. (And no, I’m not kidding.)
Service with a Frown
When I walk into my local GAME, I’m immediately pounced upon by some 16-year-old lad who – only doing what he has been told to do by his company’s employee training documents (I believe the one I had to read consisted of Americanised bullshit such as “a retail team is like an F1 racing team, every member needs to do their job to get the car on the fast track to sales excellence” when I worked there) – asks me if I need any help today. He doesn’t know that I have a lot of knowledge of the products that he’s selling, so I flash him a smile and politely say “no thank you, I’m just browsing.”
And at this point, they generally ignore my response and try to push the matter, leaning on me with some stylish patter such as:-
“Browsing for anything in particular? Or…JUST browsing?”
Hang on a second. Why are you taking that tone with me? You know the one, where you sound as if I’m just wasting your time like every other Tom, Dick or Harry that’s walked in today? I didn’t ask for your help. In fact, I actually REJECTED your offer of assistance, you spotty little emo-wannabe.
Today, though, I actually did need something. “I was thinking that I need a new Xbox 360 controller actually. How much are your bog-standard official wireless controllers?”
“We ain’t got any black wireless controllers in at the moment dude, but we do have the new SILVER ones. They’re pretty nice, and they’ve got a D-Pad that switches around for MORE BETTER control.”
At this point, I look over at the controller bay that he’s gesturing towards, and see around 15 brand new black official Microsoft wireless Xbox 360 controllers, hanging up right next to a couple of the new shiny silver ones of which he speaks. Why is he trying to upsell me here? It’s like making a bad bet, and whichever deity you think exists knows, I’ve made enough of those to know what I’m talking about. He could be ringing up a £30 sale right now, but he’s tried to parlay that sale into a £38 spend. He tries to turn me to his way of thinking (by lying about the stock level of the item I actually want, in this case) and ends up losing the sale entirely.
I’ve since bought a new controller online, from one of GAME’s competitors. And I upsold myself to the shiny silver model, because I’m that bloody-minded.
At what point did it become customary for your staff to address me as “dude”, GAME? I’m dyed and pierced and most people can spare the airs and graces with me, but your staff cannot. When I was behind the counter I wouldn’t have DREAMT of addressing my customer as anything other than “sir” or “madam” when speaking directly to them, or “the lady” or “the gentleman” when I was speaking to a colleague about the customer whilst they were in earshot. It may make me sound a tad old-fashioned but surely, the customer deserves a little bit of respect? “This dude needs a loyalty card” doesn’t really float my boat, brother. The main reason for that, is that I DON’T FUCKING KNOW YOU, SO STOP ACTING AS IF WE’RE BEST MATES.
Have some damned professionalism. And whilst you’re at it, learn something about the products you’re selling, will you? The “no, you can’t sign up for Call of Duty Elite online, you have to do it here” that I overheard one member of staff telling his customer today was either a straight out lie or the result of an embarrassing lack of knowledge. I’m charitable enough to believe it was the latter. This time.
And to the fine ladies and gentlemen who work at my local GameStation and who know me, I don’t mean you. You can say “OI OI, HERE COMES THAT DODGY LOOKING BASTARD” out loud when I walk in for all I care, since you all rock.
The Customer Is Always Wrong
One way retailers can win my business – and no doubt the business of the friends that I wax lyrical about them to – is by being fair, and listening to me when I have a problem with their service.
As an example, some tracks I imported into Rock Band 3 from Rock Band 1 suddenly stopped working on Tuesday. I emailed Harmonix at 8:12pm, and at 8:34pm they emailed me back apologising for the problem, and provided a voucher code so that I could re-download the faulty tracks. I instantly went online and told everybody what great service they had provided.
But GAME seem to go out of their way to cause problems for the customer, then try to make the customer feel like they’re somehow in the wrong.
I was given a GAME Gift Card for Christmas, and thought I’d pick up a few things online in their sale with it. Nope! Can’t use a GAME Gift Card online. I email them to find out why, they respond with a stock email telling me that its company policy and that the website is different to their shops, and that I can only use the card in-store, where the previously-discussed inflated prices make it technically worth less to me. Super!
I ordered a couple of things online from GAME just before Christmas anyway, which 9 working days after being shipped, have not arrived. I’d say the items have been lost in the post, given that I’ve ordered stuff since Christmas from various places, and they’ve all turned up without issue. I have to wait 15 working days (until Friday 13th January, in fact) in order to submit a claim. Then, rather than telling them about the problem and letting them sort it, I have to download a Royal Mail lost parcel claim form from the GAME site, print it, fill it in, and then post it back to them. Then – and only then – will they consider replacing my games. Given how long it takes to get an email response from GAME, I’m estimating that a shade over an entire calendar month will have passed before I get to play the games I’ve ordered. Play.com has a lot of faults but to give them their due, if I say an item is missing in the post, they get another one sent to me right away. So do Amazon. So do HMV. You see where I’m going here, GAME? Oh, and none of those stores make me fill out the Royal Mail claim form. They seem to be able to do it themselves.
There’s been an about-turn with regards to the company’s friendly 10-day returns policy in-store, too. I’m not surprised, given the abuse that the system got from the less-honest customers in the world, but we’re talking an absolute 100% about-turn. Now, products (even pre-owned ones) are stored as empty boxes on the shelves (as they always were) then the disc and manual are put in the box at the counter as you go to make your purchase, and a seal is put on the case with a lovely label that says that if the label is broken or removed, you can’t return the game. They might as well be rubber-stamping the phrase “DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, PIKEY!” on the front of the box.
The Sum of All Things
The simple fact is that no matter what Mary Portas says, she can’t save the unbelievably faceless and soulless GAME. They can save themselves – of this there is no doubt – but given the amount of chances they’ve had to make common-sense decisions that would make their customers happy and (in turn) boost their profits, I don’t think they’ll manage it. It sounds harsh and it would be a shame to see them disappear from our High Streets, but you can almost hear the profits warning alarm starting to wind up. Maybe they should concentrate on downsizing a little. Nobody wants to hear of job losses, but I’m told that Glasgow has four or five branches within a square mile. Exeter has a GAME and a GameStation within 5 minutes’ walk of each other, and the same goes for many other cities in the UK. That’s no way to try to make money.
Just look at the quote they’ve contributed to James’ article this week as a great example. Bear in mind that this is in an article from a friendly industry outlet, and that contains a fair few friendly, knowledgable soundbites from the relevant folks at several large companies:-
“High Street stores play a crucial role for a multichannel retailer. We look forward to continuing this important debate about how best to support them.”
Well done, GAME. You had a an absolute doozie of a chance – people were coming to YOU for your opinion – to make yourself look like less of a faceless corporation to folks in your own industry, and you’ve even fucked THAT up the wall. Best of luck for the future, though.
Just for fun, I thought I’d keep track of my missing orders. I’m aware that we’re talking about low value items here. REAL low value in one case. But that isn’t the point. Here’s a brief timeline of how things are going…
23rd December – Placed an order for £7.98 at 11:21am. Found something else I wanted that was ludicrously cheap, so placed another for a whole £0.98 at 11:31am. Did it again (damned sale prices) and placed a third for £7.98 at midday. All items have free shipping. At 2:10pm, I get two emails stating that the two orders for £7.98 have been shipped.
28th December – GAME charges my card for £7.98, and £1.73. Using my reward points to make up the balance, as I asked.
29th December – GAME emails to tell me that the £0.98 order has been cancelled, due to lack of stock. I call GAME and am told that they’ll sort it out. They don’t take any of my order numbers, or account number.
3rd January – I call GAME and ask them if they’re sure the items have been shipped, as they haven’t been billed correctly. Again, nobody takes my order number or account number, and I’m told that they had problems with their payment processor over Christmas – I can just HEAR that he’s lying to get me off the phone – that it’ll all be sorted out, and that I have to wait until January 16th to make a claim for a lost item and that do to so, I have to download a form from their website, fill it in, and post it to them.
6th January – I write this blog post.
11th January – I write a passive-aggressive tweet about not being able to play Rise of Nightmares – one of the games I ordered. GAME Digital respond at 9:07am, asking me for order numbers. I reply, giving them the details. Then, they ask me to give them the order numbers I’ve just given them, only this time via direct message, along with my phone number. Which I do.
12th January – Not heard anything, so I tweeted and asked for an update. “Wine should be in touch today”, apparently. I’ve no idea what that means.
13th January – Still nothing, so I tweet them again. No reply, this time.
14th January – On Monday, it will have been 15 working days since my order was placed, so I’ll be able to submit a lost item claim form. Still no reply from GAME, mind.
16th January – Work scanner isn’t working, so at 1:30pm, I FAXED my “Lost Item Claim Form” to GAME for their perusal. Sent a follow up email too. No reply of any sort by the close of business.
17th January – Two automated emails arrive from GAME, saying that they’ve processed my two refunds. I still haven’t been contacted by customer services, or been offered an apology of any sort. Just stock emails. But, at least I’ve got my money back. Unbelievable lack of customer service on their part.
Summary: Ordered 3 items for a total of £16.94. One item was never billed and then cancelled, two items were billed fine and then lost in the post. They ain’t doing all that well, to be honest. “But sales are down, sales are DOWN! We’re in TROUBLE!” they sing. Yeah, this sort of thing doesn’t help me care, GAME.