The manager at my local branch of the brick-and-mortar retail store GameStop went so over-the-top with his “customer service” delivery today that I left the store feeling suspicious and uneasy. What I found out about the motives behind the manager’s overzealous push will keep me from returning to GameStop.
My newly six-year-old son received a GameStop gift card as a birthday present. GameStop gift cards are popular in this area, as many of the children have gaming platforms (e.g. Wii, Xbox) as well as personal systems (e.g. Nintendo DS). My son couldn’t wait to spend his card, so we went today after school.
He browsed a bit and settled on a Mario Bros. game for the DS. I took the new box up to the counter (all the games inside all the boxes in the store have been removed to avert theft. I don’t like this idea, because I prefer untampered products, but I understand). I put the box down on the counter and took a picture of the game cover to text to my husband; I wanted to make sure we didn’t already own the game.
The manager, or, the man I know as the manager (generally a nice guy) was the only employee in the store. I didn’t hear back from my husband, but I felt pretty sure the game wasn’t one we owned. I presented the box to the manager.
Without being asked, he said, “I think I have this used” and proceeds to look up the game in his “used game” file.
I paused. I have a general aversion to used games.
The manager said, “Yup, I have it,” and puts the used game cartidge only (no box) on the counter and rings it up before I could say anything. He answers the phone during the transaction (understandable, as he was the only one in the store, but honestly? What kind of policy is that?).
I handed him the gift card for $25.00 and an extra dollar for the .75 cents left on the bill.
When the transaction was completed, I stood in wait; I expected a case and a cover as well as a book. I’ve bought used games once or twice before and they’ve come with these packaging materials. I had no idea GameStop sold only the cartridges mostly, that I must’ve had rare “full box” experiences with my used game purchases in the past.
I said, “Where’s the box?”
The manager said, “This is how it comes.”
“That’s how most people trade them in. I can give you a case, if I have one. You can get all the other stuff online.”
I thought, I have to print out the cover? Then he hands me a case with a big rip in the plastic.
I said, “I’d rather have the new game. Take this all back.” I gave him the lonely little game cartridge back and the receipt.
“You’ll pay 9 dollars just for the case?” he asked. At this point, he should have just apologized for the misunderstanding and taken the return. Instead, (I think) he went to answer the phone again. (He was the only one in the store, so this is kind of OK).
I paused again and looked at the new game price. When he was present again, I said, “This isn’t 9 dollars more.”
“You just paid 25 and for that with taxes you’d pay 31.” he said. (I paid $25.75 and the new game would be $31 and some odd cents. It wasn’t more than 6 dollars difference).
“Yes, but I hate looking at this,” I said, as I held up the crappy black cover.
“Who looks at the stuff anyway? All the instructions are in the game. All the information in the book is online. It’s not worth 9 dollars.” (again with the fuzzy math).
“I’d rather just have the new game.”
Then he answers the phone or otherwise goes away. I was left standing there, mumbling about the cover missing and how I hated looking at black covers (not white) without an insert (no official cover), the manager said, “Well, have him try the used game and if he doesn’t like it, you can exchange it and you haven’t bought the new one.”
This last point is a good point. I get it. But my son is 6, and he doesn’t like much for long. He does revisit games as he grows, though. He also has our 11-year-old daughter with whom to share games. I’d rather have a new game that I can put on my shelf along with the others, lined up like books so I can read their spines. I’m an organized person who likes to keep things neat. Also, we sell games back occasionally and I take pride in treating people and things with respect, and teach my children to do the same. It’s worth 6 bucks to have an in-tact product. AND I actually do read the inserts & use the online codes. (By the way, I don’t need to justify my desire to pay GameStop an extra six bucks for a new game.)
At this point the manager, with his tone and his body language, basically communicated to me that I’d have to argue with him to get the new game. This, I decided, wasn’t worth it, especially since my son and I were both well overdue to eat lunch.
On the short drive home, I began to wonder why the manager “helped” me so much. His insistence on the used game bordered on weird. The fact that I left the store feeling bamboozled into buying an inferior product started to anger me.
As lunch was cooking, I remembered my basic capitalism education: there is a reason behind every sell. What could the reason be here? Why sell these used games so strongly? It must be profit margin. That was the only logical choice.
I took my suspicions to Twitter. More than a few savvy users confirmed it: The profit GameStop makes on used games is far, far higher than the profit on new games, even though new games are at a higher price point. GameStop buys back games at a low price and then sells them for the majority of the new sticker price (of course, this is without the cover, the box, the original instruction booklet or any of the inserts, as well as unused online access codes unique to the game). They sold me a game at $25.75 out of a possible $31.17 (I’m guessing on the cents, but it’s around there), so at about 80% of the new price. GameStop most definitely paid much less than $25.75 for this used game
(impossible to know how many users the game had, by the way).
New games on wholesale probably are at least 80% of the price. So say GameStop makes 6 bucks on every sale of new games. So if the store pays less than $19.75 ($25.75-$6.00=$19.75) for used games, which, they do (and as I said, this game may be used and used and used), then their motivation to re-sell the used game is much stronger than their motivation to sell the new one. They’ve already paid the wholesale price for the game, so pretty much anything they make on it afterwards, even with the buy-back money they put out (which they usually give in store credit, of course – even more money saved for GameStop), is pure gravy.
So the manager (who, as I do want to stress, is a knowledgeable and nice guy. Usually) was not just “being helpful.” He was pushing his profit margin instead of listening to me. I didn’t want the used game. I also didn’t want to justify my purchasing decisions. I just wanted the new game. He should have taken the new game and asked me, “Would you like to save a few dollars on a used game? They don’t come with the box but they are much less expensive.” I would have said, “Thanks but no, I want the new box. Call me crazy” and my whole dust-up on Twitter and this blog post wouldn’t have happened. Plus I may still be considering shopping there. Not any more. Now I know he wasn’t trying to be helpful to me at all.
Some friends on Twitter told me to complain to the GameStop district manager, but honestly I don’t see the point. The store’s model, their whole business theory, is based on re-selling games. They aren’t going to tell a store manager to stop pushing them. That’s the majority of their profit margin. My little complaint will do no good, except for the manager being trained to be more subtle (and evil) with his push.
My friends tell me Amazon is a decent alternative to GameStop. We are GameStop members (pay $16 bucks a year for discounts, but guess what, only on USED GAMES) but I’m going to pursue the Amazon option. I predict GameStop will go out of business if they don’t insist on selling decent-looking used games for a better value than 80% of the new game price (and that was with my discount!). More and more women are buying games for kids and themselves. Daughters have personal gaming systems of their own (my daughter games a lot. GameStop ignores her as a gamer.) DS ownership in adult women is rising (my own mother has one) and women don’t, in general, buy crappy-looking stuff. We are also smart shoppers who know the value of products. A game without a case isn’t worth 80% of the new price. If GameStop doesn’t have the women going forward, they won’t survive. (Their email and print flyers are so male-oriented that I don’t even read them. I unsubbed today). If GameStop doesn’t figure out how to market to and treat girls and women as customers, and if they don’t construct a better business model than “used games profit margin” they will be dead within 5 years. If you have stock or work there, strongly consider something new now if possible.
Any thoughts, gamers?