GameStop and The Wow Factor!

I’ve been reading “Platform” by Michael Hyatt, and based on the fact that Hyatt’s “wow factor” was making it’s way into the GameStop vocabulary in the lately, I’m willing to bet that someone at their corporate office was paying attention.

Unfortunately, I think they just liked the idea of having a wow factor and merely skimmed through the material. They really seemed to miss most of the point.

I can read!

Let’s clear the air first.
I’m not writing this as some disgruntled former employee that wants to see this company go under. On the contrary, I like the company for the most part. I worked there for a decade, and I did learn some valuable things there. I also made contacts during my time there that have aided my life in unexpected ways. (J-Man and Rich Prophet of Chalkskin are both former employees of mine.) I am not demanding for the end to GameStop. I’m simply an outside observer that’s calling things the way he sees them. I’ve started my own business, and I’m trying to give Wolf In Wool Productions as much opportunity for success as possible. As I’m learning about how to make a successful company, I’m also discovering that what I was taught over the last ten years wasn’t exactly the way to do that. This is more of a friendly warning to GameStop and an encouragement for them to finally lift their eyes to a more encouraging future. Stop spouting philosophies that you don’t really live up to, and go all-in.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The fact that I am somewhat disgruntled will show in the vividness of my metaphors, which will be unsuitable for anyone that shouldn’t play an M-rated game, neophytes who walk lockstep with every company mandate, and corporate executives who lack a sense of humor. Beware!

Dwight Schrute
Not intended for this guy.

The Wow Factor.
Hyatt is pretty specific about what you need to wow your customers. He basically says you need to have ten ingredients:

1. Surprise – Exceed our expectations. Create delight, amazement, wonder, or awe.
2. Anticipation – Get your customers to begin to live it in advance.
3. Resonance – Touches the heart. Gives goosebumps or even tears.
4. Transcendence – An experience of purpose, meaning, or even God.
5. Clarity – You suddenly “get it” in a new way.
6. Presence – You are thinking about what is happening now.
7. Universality – Almost everyone will experience it in the same way.
8. Evangelism – It needs to be shared. You recommend it unconditionally.
9. Longevity – The shine never wears off. It endures.
10. Privilege – You feel like humbled and part of an elite group at once.

I want you to close your eyes and imagine an experience that you had that fit at least most of these descriptors. Maybe it was a vacation you took. Maybe it was a book you read. Maybe it was a play or a day at a spa or a movie or. . .

Well, I highly doubt you thought about your last trip to GameStop. Honestly, how many of these things can you really pin on that donkey?

Game Stop
Not saying wow, unless it’s “Wow! My eyes hurt.”

Now on with the unfiltered editorial and those vivid metaphors I promised.
In my opinion, GameStop expects their employees to create the sense of wow for their customer. It’s something I myself was asked to do time and time again by my superiors. We want our customers to have a “wow experience.” Having now learned a considerable amount more about what they were asking, I would have to say that they are expecting way too much from their employees. That or they’re deluding themselves into thinking their stores could be perceived in a very, very different way than they are laid out. Of all of the stores I visited, I could say that maybe Universal City Walk’s store is the exception to the rule. Generally GameStop stores resemble a dumbed-down Odd Lots or a Blockbuster video from the 80’s. Not exactly the thrilling, magical layout you would need to wow anyone with any kind of real expectations.

How does the layout for their sales floor, general display of their products, or their unusual business practices (ie gutting games, allowing employees to check out new games, low-balling trade in values, etc.) surprise you? (Unless you’re expectations are low.) How does it help bring clarity to the experience? (Customers are constantly getting lost and have to ask for direction around the store.) How does it cause you to focus on the here and now? (Unless you’re really occupied with finding that out-of-place game somewhere in the haystack of used PS2?) Even when you’re dealing with video games, a beloved past-time, the store design barely conjures feelings of nostalgia. (Certainly not enough to warrant transcendence.) When you take the interaction with the staff away from the equation, the overall shopping experience at your neighborhood GameStop just feels so cheap, and it’s all based on the feeling you get when you look around their store. (There is no privilege in shopping such a generic sales floor.)

Nice try though.

My personal belief is that their being dubious. They are expecting the mere fact that they sell an exciting product to generate the needed thrill to compensate for the poor business practices that constitute their highly underwhelming layout. It’s as though they expect nerds to have a geekgasm just by being around video games, and the staff is there to further stimulate their erogenous zones while they come down from the erotic experience of spending their hard earned money on something that will distract them from the world just long enough to earn enough for the game they pre-ordered.

I guess that means they do have the anticipation category on lock.

How lucky they are to have GameStop around to satisfy them. Otherwise, they’d have to get their lovin’ from a big box store that won’t even warm them up with half-working demos and cardboard cut outs of Masterchief. That or they’d have to risk a virus downloading their favorite fantasies on pirate sites like some kind of regular pervert. And when they’re at home, finally alone, they can utilize the privacy of their personal privy to page through the latest issue of their porn rag, Game Informer. With each upcoming game, their anticipation rises, and they find themselves drawn back to their costume-painted mistress again and again.

Red Beard
Ooh! GameStop, your beard tickles!!

Enough of that sexy talk.
I digress… My point is that the business model for GameStop seems to revolve completely around their products and their employees as the sole source of wow. They’re strategy is to hire folks that love games just as much as their customers and have their associates be the front-runners of evangelism. However, by only taking the experience halfway, they are in essence hamstringing their quarterbacks and almost guaranteeing they fumble the ball.

When I was working there, they would build up midnight releases as these epic occasions, and they really have the potential to turn an occasional shopper into a loyal customer. They would talk about making deals with pizza chains, soda companies, etc etc. But unless you had a Chick-Fil-A nearby, you were boned. (And that’s only because Dan Cathy’s policy is to give GameStop everything they need, expecting nothing in return.) The entire event was laid in the hands of the store manager. They had zero support, but the expectations were astronomical.

Well, that’s midnight releases, but what about the day-to-day. Just ask any GameStop manager what their operations, tasks, and expectation consist of. With their heavy task loads and lack of payroll, it’s a wonder if they’ll even have time to answer your question. They’re taking their greatest asset, and their weighing them down with the same outdated practices and philosophies that keep their sales floors from having that shine.

And, honestly, how sad is a GameStop store compared to the expectation of fun you get from playing a video game? How in the heck do they make themselves believe that they’re doing anything aside from falling short of expectations?

Used PS2
I mean, I guess it kind of looks like Tetris.

Here’s where I vent my personal frustrations.
GameStop overestimates their brand, and they put too much pressure on their employees without giving them the necessary support to be successful. Sure, some managers will compensate, but that is almost exclusively the singular act of that employee. They either have so much excitement for the gaming world that they explode with energy and transcend their environment to personally bring the customer up to them. Or they are incredibly gifted at balancing tasks, operations, and sales and can be all things to everyone all the time. GameStop has certainly not made it easy for anyone to be wowed by their storefront, sales floor, or experience. They overwhelm their employees with busy work, do not give them the man hours to effectively run their business, hamstring them with unmanageable fixtures and walls, make them feel guilty for feeling the heat, and just generally discount the value of even their hardest working people. These employees can be incredibly dedicated and well-balanced, but unless they shine incredibly well in the pinlight of an area that they micromanage (rewards cards, reservations, constant growth of sales and trades, and a customer service matrix that is based on their “wow” experience), then the employee is replaceable. A burden even. You have to be in the top two thirds of the company to not be constantly challenged, shamed, and reprimanded. This is despite the economic limitations of your store’s location or the ceiling of growth a store can experience. You have to always be growing your business, even when operating at a consistently high level. If you’re not in the top third, you’re told that you’re doing it wrong. What one store can do, all of them can do. This wouldn’t be true even if you weren’t ranking your stores against one another. It’s impossible for all stores to meet at the same equilibrium. That’s a fanatic’s dream, and it should have been abolished long ago. Instead of focusing on how to better the experience and compete against outside forces, the bonus scale is based on how to beat the other GameStops that are all within walking distance of your own store.

Sony and Best Buy
While you were worried about the other GameStop in your mall, Kevin Butler was making love with Best Buy.

Why it’s important GameStop heeds this warning.
GameStop – Can I call you G.S.? G.S., let me talk directly to you for a moment. You are losing your foothold. While you stay focused on managing your practices virtually the same way you did when the Super Nintendo reigned supreme, technology is slowly making you obsolete. Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo. . . They’re all trying to find ways to do their business without a middle man. And let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s not because the industry doesn’t see your value. They clearly have made a lot of money with you over the years. It’s entirely because they don’t care for your business practices anymore.

You’re not wowing them either.

I can relate to you. I’m trying to start an entertainment company in a time when music, television, and movies have become temporary commodities. I’m trying to find a foothold where I can give my fans a wow experience, and I’m working my butt to the bone to do it. It’s not easy to reinvent the wheel!

And I understand EXACTLY what you’re trying to do on a very personal level. I worked for you for a decade. I worked ridiculously hard for you and kept things in balance pretty well. But when I first started working for you, my employees were excited about working at GameStop. That changed over the years. Soon they didn’t work for you. Their labors and efforts, their struggles and tears, their triumphs and growth was because they worked for me. Me as an individual. I was noted as one of the most successful managers when it came to churning out responsible, ambitious key holders. I gave birth to several managers, assistant managers, and senior game advisers during my tenure. I was the guy you came to when your store needed someone great.

With tough times in my community and a dwindling passion for selling magazines, I was constantly being put on a chopping block. I often told I was not good enough. No matter how hard I worked, I was on a treadmill. I was going nowhere. I was back then exactly where you are as a company right now.

I mean, think about “wow” experiences… real ones, where you were genuinely knocked back by an emotional reaction from entering a store. Maybe it’s the Lego store by Disney Land. Maybe it’s the brick facade and cologne smell of an Abercrombie & Fitch. Maybe it’s that toy store you loved so much when you were a little kid. Now, compare that to a customer’s experience walking into one of your stores. It’s apples and oranges.

You sell video games! Why can’t you make a visit to GameStop like a trip to the Mushroom Kingdom? Or Rapture? Or Azeroth? Or Hyrule? Or . . . I mean, really anywhere but your clustered, confusing, convoluted sales floor.

If you really want to commit to wowing their customers, you need to commit fully. The experience is cheapened by the store’s layout and marketing. Own that and stop living in denial. Stop making your employees believe that it’s their fault. Right now, you’re asking your employees to do all of the work, and while most of them are doing a great job, I really think it would be a totally different ball game if the stores had an added ascetic value.

Homer in Mushroom Kingdom
Woohoo!! Best GameStop ever!

What you’re doing right.

1 The DLC program was a step in the right direction, but it was unmanageable. Just don’t give up on it!

2 You have it right with GameStop TV and the Guide. You should be kissing the folks that came up with that stuff tenderly every night.

3 The way you manage your back stock in an increasingly expanding industry is commendable.

4 Don’t stop inventory counts or any of the things that aid in loss prevention. The model is set, and it’s pretty sound.

5 The POS system is pretty rad. Streamline it, and it will be the greatest tool for your people.

6 For the most part, you’re hiring the right people.

Brotherhood of Steel
More of this.

What you need to change today if you’re serious about committing to wow.

1 Don’t just think that because you hired great talent that you’re any good at cultivating them. Your track record suggests otherwise. I’ve seen twenty year veteran managers winning awards at your conference. They’ve been there for twenty years, they’re doing well enough to win something, and they aren’t moving up with you? Something’s broken, and I’m pretty sure I know what it is. You don’t support your people. You don’t make them better. Instead, you hire them and expect them to do it on their own. Or under the guidance of their superior, who you are also doing very little to grow. You’ve gotten a little better at this, but it’s really quite pitiful. You’ve lost so many great people over the last five years, because they got burned out waiting for the sky to open up for them. Change that.

2 Help your inexperienced managers more. Train them in operations and don’t just zero in on sales sales sales. Your training is really lackluster when you compare it to Starbucks or really any other company that is truly going after the wow. Instead of relying on expensive programs and data matrix for scheduling, just teach your people how to do that stuff. It’s really not hard, and it’s embarrassing that you have managers who can’t write a schedule.

3 Don’t just appreciate your gold medalists in sales. Your people are working hard everyday in stuff that you require them to do. Most of them are operating at a ridiculously high level when it comes to shrink or TOH accuracy or any number of things that you rank, require, and never recognize. A nod on a conference call is not enough when they’re often being told on the other side of the mouth “I’m not going to fire you for bad TOH.”

4 Stop creating busy work. I know, you don’t think it’s busy work. It’s simply the needs of the business. Yeah, great! Except how many other retailers require their staff to gut games? You need to separate needs from wants. No, it’s not even that. You have to stop wanting stupid things. Why do you want your stores drowning in gutted cases? Not only does it quadruple your workload, it’s also a friggin’ eyesore! I know it’s not an easy egg to crack, but you’ve had fifteen years to come up with an alternative. You don’t have another fifteen.

5 Most importantly, make your stores an escape. Think about five words that exemplify what video games mean to people, and remodel your stores to that. It will make a world of difference.

Guitar Hero
This was the last picture ever taken of Timmy. Three seconds later, he was crushed beneath a pile of rhythm game peripherals.

And to my friends that still work there, I have this to say.
I don’t think I was ever cut out for that kind of work, and no matter how hard I tried, I would never have the level of success that I know many of you are capable of. I just hope that GameStop can improve their customer experience from a corporate level down. I’m not knocking you or your work. You do a great job, and it’s really not easy. I just hope that the guys you work for aren’t trying to ride it out and squeeze every cent they can out of the company before they become obsolete. I truly hope they’re doing something to make themselves – and you – irreplaceable.

I hope they’re ready to wow us.

“Wow, mom! It’s Black Friday, and I’m just trying to find a game for my boyfriend, and I feel like I’m on another planet, and I tried to get help from the nice guy that works here, but he was busy trying to find a used game in the used PS2 section – whatever a used PS2 is – and I just want to curl up and die! WOW!!”


2 thoughts on “GameStop and The Wow Factor!

  1. This is like almost any company I ever worked for. Which means, depressing as it is, it must work for the companies. OR, rather, we must work. So they got us by the short hairs.

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