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Back to School Special

Ben Parfitt
Back to School Special
Of all the possible presents a child will eagerly envisage receiving when watching their parent wander into a video games shop, you can guarantee that the one thing they won’t expect or appreciate is Algebra Adventures. “Thanks,” they’ll say through gritted teeth, while concluding yet again that their parents hate them.

From a child’s point of view, any gift approved by the National Curriculum is only really going lead to more work. It’s the equivalent of giving them a brand new shammy leather wrapped up as a birthday present, then pointing sternly to a bucket of soapy water next to the family car.

None of which matters of course, since ultimately parents hold the purse strings and will be the ones that will be buying the products. For them, educational software is a (relatively) painless way of getting their offspring to partake in some extra tuition. For games retailers it represents a safe stock option with a long lifespan, stable price point and evergreen sales – a safe harbour in the sea of fluctuating selling seasons and unstable pricing dynamic of video games.

In the current climate of supermarket infringement, it’s more important than ever for games retailers to diversify their product range in order to be a destination outlet for a wider selection of interactive software as well as a core stock of games.

“Since games retailers now have to compete with the grocery sector, increasing their product range allows them to become a one-stop solution for PC software,” says Steve Powell, sales director at GSP.

“In addition, with the popularity of gaming formats such as Nintendo, and the overall softening of their customer base, games retailers are often talking to the same target audience as that of educational software. By including education within their product mix, they can potentially keep a customer who may have gone elsewhere and as a result increase their sales.”

Since the majority of educational software also tends to be quite cheap, it also represents good opportunities for attachment sales – with conscientious parents quite willing to spend an extra tenner on a maths programme to go alongside the latest shooter.

“By stocking educational software you are giving the customer choice,” explains Lotta Farley, head of consumer markets EMEA at Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Parents and grandparents may be in store buying the latest game for little Johnny and spot a good educational product like Britannica and decide to purchase both. Having a recognised brand like Encyclopaedia Britannica on the shelves can only instill confidence in the customer and hopefully loyalty to that store.”

As you would expect, there are a few titles that will sell best during specific periods in the year – software designed to guide pupils through GCSEs will, of course, sell better in the weeks preceding the exam dates. There is also a jump in software sales during September when the schools open again and parents rush out to spend their money on any product promising to give their kids a head start, alongside more stationary than the average office. However there are plenty of non-exam specific titles that will do well all year round.

“There’s no denying that the ‘back to school’ period is a key sales driver for all educational software, but it’s worth remembering that products which are aimed at passing specific exams only have a small sales window and don’t perform well during the rest of the year,” reveals Grant Hughes PR and marketing manager at Focus.

However for those titles, it’s just about stock rotation. Since the rules of calculus and the geography of the planet has changed little since software companies started to put them on discs, many of the products have comparatively long life spans, meaning they can be put on shelves for the sales peaks and taken off again till the next one.

Others, however, are more optimistic as to the potential of the software to sell all year round: “The category is seen as being evergreen, providing consistent, steady sales throughout the year,” continues Powell.

“It appeals to considered purchasers who have a specific educational need in mind, and also the impulse buyers with character-led titles that have educational content. There are clearly specific times of the year when retailers can maximise volume by promoting heavily in store; Easter revision, back to school and Christmas, but out of these periods, where retailers carry a strong range, have good stock depth and merchandise products effectively, the category is capable of delivering healthy, year round sales.”

The message is clear: by putting aside a small amount of shelf space for educational software, retailers can diversify their range and set themselves up with a steady revenue stream – a slow burn product selection that can take the edge off the troughs and peaks of the games market.

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