Times have changed. So goes the well-worn adage, and it holds as true for games retail as any other sector caught up in the digital revolution.
It's not all about discs versus downloads either; from the continuing boom of social media to the emergence of live streaming, retailers must learn to surf the crest of the latest social technology to keep in touch with customers – or risk being washed away.
Gone are the days when a customer's only option was to walk down to the High Street and pick a box off the shelf,” observes Sam White, social media manager at Green Man Gaming and Playfire (pictured, left).
Traditional retailers had several minutes in which to engage their customers; influencing purchases with mood, lighting, and point of sale promotion. With only seconds to capture a customer's attention online, the focus must be on creating a good experience.”
But for those starting out in the online world, the choice is often overwhelming – from user-driven forums and reviews to live video services such as Twitch and the new forms of business interaction fronted by Twitter, knowing where – and how – to engage your customers can leave many lost.
White suggests that stores simply need to follow their customers.
Never, ever forget who you are doing all of this for,” he says.Know how to communicate with your customers at those points where they live their lives online – talk in their language, and the language of whichever medium they choose to use, and give them reasons to keep engaging with you.”
"Social networks have become people's web-based homes. We have to keep that in mind, and act like we are a visiting friend – not a door-to-door salesman."
Tomasz Nalewajk, GOG.com
The obvious online entry point for many retailers is also one of the most indispensible – social media.
Five years ago many people didn't spend as much time on Facebook or Twitter as they do now, and many networks that are now popular simply didn't exist,” explains Tomasz Nalewajk, brand director at GOG.com (pictured above, right).
A while ago it was far from uncommon to see a large business that struggles with being social. Now, it can be a deal-breaker for many customers if social channels aren't regularly updated.”
Social channels are useful to retailers of all sizes. Indie outlets lacking the resource necessary for their own webpage could use a Facebook page as a free place to host information – whether that's an address and phone number or the latest in-store promotions. Twitter can similarly be a quick way to entice consumers into stores.
But while social media can be powerful for businesses, Nalewajk warns not to see Facebook and Twitter as a place to bombard consumers with advertising.
Social networks have become a part of many peoples' daily routine, a place of entertainment and social interactions – their web-based homes, so to speak,” he explains. We have to keep that in mind at all times, and act like we are a visiting friend – not a door-to-door salesman.”
Outlets need to stay on top of social changes, too.
Retailers have to go where the people go – both physically and online,” states Nalewajk. If a new social platform appears that is relevant to a business, they should appear on it. If their users shift their focus to a different medium – for example, move from text to imagery – the company should do so as well.”
As anyone on the internet knows, one bad word can quickly snowball – and end in disaster for products and businesses alike. It's therefore just as important to know what customers are thinking after a sale has been closed – and then encourage them to share their positive stories.
The customer is not just always right – the customer writes,” says White. Just as we highlight and promote titles to our audience, customer recommendations about GMG are invaluable to us.
We work with Trustpilot to help our customers rate and comment on our service. It not only allows us to measure what we are getting right – and look at areas where we can improve – it also allows us to connect directly with every reviewer so we can have a dialogue. Just as online environments can be unforgiving of mistakes, are permanently visible and can be accessed on a global scale, recommendations also provide credibility and help build a reputation.”
Nalewajk adds that allowing customers to have their say on products can also be incredibly attractive for prospective buyers.
Users' comments on products and services are one of the most important decisive factors for others – that's why retailers not only have to provide quality products, but also monitor people's reactions to them,” he comments.
Reviews on our site let players make more informed choices – ultimately leading to greater customer satisfaction – as well as providing a way for them to express their opinions.”
He suggests that firms willing to embrace a review system can double their site's purpose, bringing in traffic for both business and information – the latter of which can then be transformed into sales: We see a lot more activity, opinions and recommendations on our site and forums than under professional reviews on external sites – even the more popular ones.”
"People can always talk to each other, so why would they want to listen to something that a marketing machine spat out?"
Tomasz Nalewajk, GOG.com
There are a number of clever little social changes you can find on websites designed to get consumers involved. Steam, for instance, has a Greenlight system, which allows its users to select which titles make it to the store.
GOG, meanwhile, utilises a Community Wishlist feature. This al