You take one step through the door at GameStop and your smartphone vibrates in your pocket.
It’s a message, from the store, that reads: “Hello, welcome back! I hope you’re enjoying your new Xbox One. Just to let you know, we have 50 per cent off pre-owned Xbox One games today.”
Perfect. You stroll over to the pre-owned section and instantly spot Dead Rising 3. You’ve heard it’s good, but you’re not entirely sure what the game is about. So you scan the box with your GameStop app and instantly a trailer appears.
“Looks good doesn’t it?” asks the GameStop employee that has wandered over to you, tablet in hand. “Hello, my name is John. I’m your concierge for your visit today. How have you found Titanfall?”
“Oh, I’ve only played it a bit, but it’s okay so far.”
“Great. Well we have a Titanfall expert on staff, so if you need any advice, just give us a shout. Also, if you are interested in any of the games or hardware in store today, you have $7 in trade-in credit. Let me know if I can help at all.”
This is the future of retail. Or at least, one possible future. It’s part of a number of experiments being trialled in a few stores by the GameStop Technology Institute – a division of the retailer that’s trying to advance how games are sold. Think game retail's equivilent to Stark Industries from Iron Man; GameStop's R&D division.
The way the above scenario works is that as a customer walks through the door at GameStop, they will automatically log in to the store’s WiFi (as long as they’ve signed up to the service). This will trigger a specific marketing message sent to the phone, and will also alert store staff to his or her presence – complete with recent purchases, trade-in credit, Wish List information and so on.
“You have to be careful, right, because you don’t want to seem creepy,” acknowledges Jeff Donaldson, senior vice president of GameStop’s new R&D division.
“You have to do it in a way that is helpful to the customer. But we are working on a Concierge App so that our store associates will know who is in the store and be able to better help them.”
He continues: “Another cool idea we have is that you can be watching a trailer on your smartphone, and you can walk up to any display in the store and just flick the video onto that display and it just comes alive on this beautiful, crisp, colourful, huge 4K display. I actually saw this work just a couple of weeks ago.”
"We have to be careful with what we're doing,
because we don’t want to seem creepy."
- Jeff Donaldson, GameStop
Anyone that has ever got me on the topic of physical games retailers will have heard me excitedly explain my vision of its future. My view for how shops on the High Street might look resembles a Games Workshop-style store, filled with machines for gamers to play. And around the side, along the walls of the store, you can find hardware and merchandise, but not necessarily software.
If a gamer likes the title he or she is playing, that customer can simply flick out their GAME/GameStop/whatever app, scan a QR code besides the game, and they’ve bought it. In fact, if their console is ‘always on’ (as Xbox had originally proposed for its new machine) then the game might even be downloaded before he or she even gets home.
Well, I thought that was just my idea.
“That experience you just described is an experience that we have up and running in our lab,” says Donaldson.
“I can’t really comment publically on who we are working with on that. But I can say we have strong relationships with Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Those guys are interested in what we are doing and we will certainly be working with them on some of these experiences.”
All of this may all sound like a vanity project from a retailer with a bit of money to spend. Yet this is a rapidly changing digital world, a world where gamers can access their content faster and easier from Xbox Live, Steam, PSN or whatever. It’s initiatives like the GameStop Technology Institute that will ensure shops are offering something that is worth going to the High Street for.
“Our CEO talks to us a lot about how the rate of internal change at GameStop – and in the industry – is very rapid,” says Donaldson.
“And we need to make sure we are driving, pursuing and deploying a rate of change that is a faster than that in the market place. We created GTI to get ahead of the curve.
“Our president also has a saying – ‘Stores must morph to the customer, not the other way around.’ His vision is when customers walk into our stores, they get a personalised experience.
“The initial focus is what we call the digitalisation of physical space. Essentially you merge the online and physical world. Browse behavior on GameStop.com is merged with the ?in-store behavior.”
GTI is made up of three parts. The first is its research function. The retailer has teamed up with Texas A&M University to help the firm study retail, technology and consumer trends.
The second function is the Innovation Lab (its experimental area). The company will have 100 live stores to play with here. The first of these can be found in its own backyard in Austin Texas, but there will also be test stores across America. And Donaldson says there will be some international testing in Europe, too.
“We can get some great consumer feedback there, and in certain ways expectations are higher in international markets than they are here in the US.”
The final function is a sourcing one, and Donaldson says the company is speaking to ‘tech titans, venture capital funds and innovative start-ups’ to hunt out the latest solutions and products.
"We need to make sure we are driving, pursuing and deploying a rate of change that is a faster than that in the market place."
- Jeff Donaldson, GameStop
It sounds expensive, and indeed GTI is using up five per cent of GameStop’s overall IP spend for the year. But that number could rise.
“We are not limited as to how high we can go, our CEO has not put any boundaries on that,” says Donaldson.
“We have put a five per cent budget together for the experimentation, but we can spend more when it comes to rolling this stuff out.”
Many of GTI’s experiments won’t work. Donaldson says the projects that get rolled out will be the ones that not only benefit GameStop, but that customers genuinely find useful. Yet GameStop has money to spend, and with uncertainty in the retail space, it views now as a good time to invest in its future.
Will the physical store survive the next generation? Donaldson is convinced they will. Yet, he says, it is not all about saving the local shop.
“The role of physical shops will become clearer – how they enhance retail’s role and get items to customers,” he concludes.
“While that is true, we did not create GTI just to enhance the role of the store. The experimentation isn’t just in a physical outlet, but online, too. As an example, if I am on GameStop.com and playing a game, if I need to ask a question about what I am playing, I should be able to video call my local store and get some advice.
“That is something I can do in store, so it should be able to do the same thing online. GTI is more about equalising the channels, rather than emphasising one over the other.”