The problem with games retail

I’m not sure the long-term outlook really is. There is a structural problem with specialist entertainment-media retail and it is one that threatens to bring the whole thing down.

You’re expecting me to say digital distribution but I’m talking about something even more fundamental than that. I’m talking about one of the key issues that will drive more and more customers away from High Street retail and into other channels: specialist entertainment media retailers are adding nothing to the High Street shopping experience.

They are failing to give customers good enough reasons to shop with them. Digital distribution channels, supermarkets and cheap on-line retailers are proving so popular because High Street specialists are doing little that customers value.

All shopping is about discovery. The point at which that discovery is made may shift but no shopping trip is ever made without it. When customers browse our shops they do so with a burning sub-conscious demand that we surprise, inspire and delight them.

Our role as retailers is to create discovery-based formats that meet that demand: a set of reasons to visit and reasons to spend. Nobody is doing that very well in entertainment media and they are taking great risks by failing to meet customers’ discovery needs.

There is still time – if I were at a specialist High Street chain right now, rather than just concentrating on banking the cheques, I’d be thinking long and hard about how to deliver something other than convenience that customers will value.

Delivering on customers’ discovery needs is where I would be putting my effort.

There are broadly four approaches to tackling the discovery opportunity: promotion-led, service-led, format-led and product-led. We’re talking about great promotions, honest recommendation, investments in staff, lots more in-store communication, better demonstration and changes in merchandising practice.

It’s hard to argue with the numbers at GAME and I have huge respect for the business, but right now the sole reason the company is performing strongly is convenience.

GAME makes it easy for customers, who know what they want, to go and buy a video game. The experience in-store however is no different from that in a supermarket or, frankly, anywhere else.

There’s no advice, no recommendation, no discovery. In a market that is growing as rapidly as this one, that lack of added-value isn’t a problem. That’s not always going to be the case, the major new platforms will be settling into a period of normalisation soon. If specialist entertainment retailers aren’t careful, customers’ inherent need for added value will end up taking them elsewhere.

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