Monday, September 29, 2014

Gamestop: The Circle of Life Part IV

The final part of Gamestop's Circle of Life was the one I took to the most. However much I objected to the pre-order system, I made up for it in my fervor for selling subscriptions.

If the Gamestop subscriptions were just about the Game Informer magazine I wouldn't have cared about it very much. I mean, the magazine is pretty decent as far as gaming magazines go, but magazines are becoming increasingly irrelevant. I have no doubt, though, that Game Informer is the world's most-subscribed-to gaming magazine, though, since it's tied to Gamestop's discount card.

That said, some people dismiss Game Informer as a glorified sales paper for Gamestop. Having read it for years, though, and as someone who's generally suspicious of anything that might be advertising, I can say that Game Informer is no more corrupt than any other gaming news source. They review games on their merits, and though the average score for a game is probably 8/10 rather than 5/10 (a strange sort of scoring inflation that bugs me to no end), bad games get bad scores no matter how much advertising money they poured into Gamestop.

Most of the time the magazine seems to be concealing its relationship to Gamestop at all. There's no point in advertising for the store, after all: the subscriber already has the discount card, so they're clearly a customer already.

That said, I've definitely had customers come into the store just to subscribe to the magazine, with no interest in the accompanying discount card. And even the people who weren't that interested in the magazine at first usually came around, as the quality of the magazine pretty much spoke for itself.

On the other hand, some people were incredibly suspicious of the magazine. They didn't want anything to be sent to their house, ever, and it got to the point where when I'd sell the discount card I would avoid mentioning the magazine for fear of scaring people away. People would assume that a magazine subscription meant that we would charge their cards somehow (even when they paid with cash) at the end of the year to automatically renew their subscriptions. I don't know how many times I had to make it clear that, no, Gamestop will not charge you in the future for the card, and the only way to renew your subscription was to come in the store and do so manually.

I blame stores like Books-A-Million to instilling this paranoia. If you had a discount card with them and paid with a card, then they would offer your a free 3-month subscription to some magazines, not mentioning that if you don't unsubscribe before the three months were over they would charge you for a year. This kind of sneaky desperation on the part of those magazines convinced me that, generally speaking, magazines are a dying medium, and you should always pay in cash if shopping at Books-A-Million.

Anyway, my favorite activity at Gamestop was buying and selling used games, since it game me a chance to practice selling the subscription. Specifically, I was great at selling the discount card since it involved doing a lot of quick, easy math in my head.

Here are the elements: the subscription was $15 for a year. The discount card gave 10% off of used games and 10% extra for traded-in games. So, when someone walked in with a stack of games to trade in, I immediately started calculating how much credit they would get, and how much more they'd get with the card. Then, when I was done scanning everything in, I told them how much credit they had and let them check out the rest of the store without finalizing the transaction, hoping they'd come back with some used games.

In short, I tried to get the cost of the subscription as close to zero as possible before talking to them about it. For instance, if they traded in $30 worth of games and bought $40 worth of used games, then I could tell them, hey, this $15 subscription is only going to cost them $8 today and would last them a year--if they half-paid for the thing in a single day, it would almost certainly pay for itself and then some by the end of the year.

Selling the card to someone buying a $50 used game was easy as well--the card is already 1/3 of the way to paying for itself.

The absolute best thing, though, was when people would buy and/or trade enough to make the card "less than free," as I sometimes put it. It wasn't the most common situation and, oddly enough, it wasn't even always a guaranteed sale, but it happened often enough for me to look forward to them. I was one of the few employees who didn't groan when I saw someone walking in with used games to trade in, since I saw it as an opportunity.

The trickiest sale I ever made was to a guy who came in to trade games pretty regularly, yet he never went for the card. Until one day he came in with a bunch of games and came back with a few used games, more than enough to make the card pay for itself. And I mean, this was a lot of games--hundreds of dollars in either direction. He came in with only $20 cash, and his total without the discount card was $20.65 or something like that. He looked a bit frustrated that he was so close. I told him to hold on.

I rang up the subscription for him using the name and address of a friend of mine. We require the name and address of anyone who trades things in with us, so we had this customer's information readily available. However, he was one of those guys who was afraid of the magazine, so I input different information for the discount card itself. After ringing it all up, deducting the cost of the card, and applying the discounts... we would owe the customer about $1 in store credit. That was a difference of over $20--nearly $40 if you account for the fifteen bucks that went toward the price of the card.

The guy hesitated for a moment, wrestled with himself, then relented. He didn't have to pay a dime, got a card that not only had a little store credit on it but also would work for future purchases, and walked away satisfied.

A month or so later a friend of mine asked me why he was receiving magazines in the mail.

Anyway, I genuinely believed that the discount card would pay off for most people, and I think it was this conviction as much as my quick math that sold the thing. If I ever suspected that the card wasn't going to be used much, or that it wouldn't actually help someone, I refrained from pushing the card, much to my manager's dismay. I was supposed to push, push, push, and I refused to do so. That's not the kind of salesman I wanted to be, and my numbers spoke for themselves.

It was this conviction that touched me when I realized I didn't want to renew my subscription this year. I realized that I became one of those people who simply didn't need the card, and I was pretty much just giving money to Gamestop each year out of habit instead. That time in my life is over.

With the means and methods out of the way, next time I write about Gamestop it'll be about people and politics. Our relationships with corporate, with customers, and with each other defined a lot of our daily lives, and generally determined how long we could bear to stay with the company.

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