Friday, September 26, 2014

Gamestop: The Circle of Life, Part II

Last time I started explaining about Gamestop's Circle of Life, the engine that drove the company. To recap, the circle goes like so: Reservations > Trade-Ins > Used Games > Subscriptions > Reservations. I then proceeded to talk about the intricacies of the reservations system: particularly its inflated importance, the politics of it, and the social pressures that led to many employees spending more money at their job than they should.

This time I'm going to talk about the company's trade-in and used games system, which has its own share of intricacies you likely never considered.

First, while I was not a fan of reservations, I have to admit that the system served it intended purpose: even without constant offers to bump trade-in values put toward certain upcoming titles, people often game in to practically pay for new games with their unwanted used games.

The system was simple: people would bring in their old games, and we would inspect the condition of the disks, then scan them to see how much they were worth. From there the customer could decide if the amount offered was worth it to them.

I generally can't bear to part with my precious video games, determined as I am to create a decent library of video games I can pass on to my children or something. I would generally only trade games in when I knew a game was damaged or if I had absolutely no interest in keeping the game, a rare occasion.

Most everyone else, though, seemed fine with trading stuff in all the time. There was no single type of person who traded things in: people of all ages and economic situations would come in with their old stuff. Some people would, in fact, buy a new game, beat it, then happily trade it in a few days later.

The Gamestop employees often judged our customers on their trades. Our favorites, for instance, were the regular customers who we knew took good care of their games, kept their cases intact, and knew what to expect for the games' trade-in value. It's sadly easy to overlook these lovely customers, as bad experiences last longer in our memories than good ones. Still, I made a special effort to keep those good experiences in mind to keep myself sane, so as I recall there were a fair number of these angelic customers. So, if you want to stand out as a good trader to Gamestop employees remember these three points: keep your games in good condition, keep their original cases, and don't balk at the price Gamestop offers you.

The worst customers, of course, had none of these qualities. Some would come in with a handful of loose, scratched up discs hoping for some quick cash. Most Gamestops, including the ones I worked at, offered cash for games and gaming systems, though the cash value was 20% less than the store credit value. Between the condition of the games and the penalty for cash trades, the amount Gamestop offered often upset the generally desperate for cash customers, and they would tkae out their frustrations on the bearer of such bad news. Still, despite their bile, they would still often take the pittance we were offering since, really, nobody else was going to give them more.

Also, in most cases other employees would just assume the games being traded in for cash were stolen, especially when the customer in question was twitchy and had bloodshot eyes. Still, there was nothing we could do about it, so we simply took their games and hoped for the best.

Anyway, most customers would fall somewhere in between those extremes. There were lots of perfectly nice (and not-so-nice) mothers trading in games that showed clear signs of being owned by kids. Some people took great care of their things, which translated into an inflated sense of their worth. Some people seemed to simply throw their game cases away upon purchase, and some families somehow managed to bring back games that could only be described as "sweaty."

The condition of the games affected their trade-in value in very clear-cut ways. The process was simple: we would visually inspect the underside of game disks and, if there were scratches, we would run our fingernail across the surface. If our nail snagged on a scratch, the disk needed to be refurbished. There were a few cases in which we simply could not accept a disk: if the disc was cracked, the inner ring was ruined, or if the top of the disc was scratched that usually meant that the game was either unplayable or nearly so. Beyond that, though, we simply decided if the game looked to be in sellable condition or not, then marked the games accordingly in our system. The refurbishing fee generally ranged from $0.75 to $5 depending on the value of the disc, not on the severity of the damage. Any other problems--a lack of case, for instance--had no effect on the trade-in value of the game.

The value of the games were determined by the corporate office, which updated the values of the games in the database each night. Every game we could possibly accept as a trade in had a value in our system, and that value was based on the current selling price of the game, the game's age, its rarity, and its forecasted value: the rate at which its selling price was predicted to decline. Gamestop didn't want to buy a game for $20 that it would soon be selling for $25.

The important thing that many customers didn't quite understand, though, was that, other than determining if the game was sellable or not, we had no control over the value of the games. We had no power to haggle or make deals: the prices were what they were, and no amount of arguing was going to change that. I, for one, am glad we don't live in a haggling culture, but not everyone shares my enthusiasm for set prices.

The worst thing to accept, though, was system trade-ins. Whoever got stuck processing a system trade definitely got the short end of the stick.

It wasn't that system trades were difficult to do, they were simply time-consuming. Every system needed to be plugged into a small TV and prove that 1) it turned on, 2) it could load a game, and 3) its controls were responsive. Sometimes we got "lucky" with some particularly dirty, smelly systems that we knew without checking needed to be refurbished, but such time-saving situations were not that common. It wasn't so bad when things were slow, but people often bring their systems in to trade during the holiday season, when every register basically needs to be running non-stop. A system trade can take several times longer than your average transaction, and that time is critical when there's a line of impatient customers wrapping around your store.

I'm sure I'll have some specific stories of people I met primarily through the trade-in system later, but again I've managed to ramble on for 1,000+ words on a single aspect of that Circle of Life. I predict that the Used Games discussion will bear at least as much fruit later.

1 comment:

  1. I can honestly say I can't remember ever trading in any of my games. I have bought a used one that was damaged though. -_-