This article was originally published November 14th, 2019
As retail experts, it’s easy to forget the joy of shopping. I had a chance to recapture that feeling through the eyes of my eight-year old son Arthur recently.
He’d run a stall at his school and made £72, he donated half to the British Heart Foundation and could buy a videogame with the rest plus a little pocket money. Instead of waiting for Amazon, Arthur asked if we could go the same day to GAME. I’m a gamer, it’s my favorite hobby. But I’ve not set foot in GAME in at least three years.
Over that time, despite contributing every day to an online games forum (we’ve been a community of friends for nearly 20 years), and despite continuing to buy every new console, I’ve played very little. Three games tops.
Why? You could argue I’ve been busier but have I? Before Uncrowd I wrote five books, built a successful consultancy, renovated a house and had a load of kids.
Standing in GAME that Sunday I understood why.
Lack of visibility.
Publishers have got what they wished for; robust digital distribution, I can buy any game direct from my console immediately and download it fast. But like many other committed gamers, I don’t do this. I don’t do it because despite loving games, I’m not being SOLD games.
GAME’s weakness was always that it attempted to sell customers the boxes games come in, rather than the content inside those boxes, however it has become clear that even just selling empty boxes has more endowment affect than scrolling through digital stores. It is my hypothesis that the very act of physical contact with a purchase is a powerful driver of want.
Picking up game boxes with Arthur, wandering the aisles seeing the games generated a powerful connection for me. I even bought Outer Worlds and a Dungeons & Dragons starter kit; two things I’ve sort of fancied getting but haven’t till that point had either put into my hands.
Why haven’t I been to GAME in three years? Because GAME has given me no reason to visit. What I have bought has been from Amazon. Arthur’s Mum has bought all her own and his previous games from Amazon too. She has had no reason to visit.
You can’t win shopper missions as a retailer if you don’t understand what you need to do to make customers want to bring you those missions in the first place. GAME doesn’t understand and is leaving money on the table as a result. What I experienced on Sunday was a timely reminder that the taught muscular cables of physical retail still snake into the soul in a way that other channels simply can’t match.