As a kid, my heart would leap when my folks would be headed anywhere near our local gaming store. Whether I had any allowance saved up or not, I would ask to tag along, in hopes that we could stop for a quick visit.
In the early 1980s, if I wanted any new gaming accessory, there was only one place to find it. A trip to the gaming store was not only a chance for me to buy something, but also my main source of information about the hobby. Sure, every once in a while I might be able to get a copy of Dragon Magazine at the local news-stand but they were hard to come by. If I wanted any real “game related news”, it would require actually setting foot in my local gaming store.
Obviously that’s not the case these days. With the Internet we often know about products relatively early in the developmental stages. Want some out-of-print item? Chances are that eBay or Amazon will be your best bet, and often be cheaper than if you found it in a store. Hell, often even brand new items can be purchased at favorable prices online (and that’s assuming that you’re even going to buy a hard copy as opposed to a .pdf)
With these changes, I would have to think that the brick & mortar gaming stores are feeling the heat. They’re not alone, as video rental stores are increasingly hard to come by and even traditional bookstores are facing an uncertain future.
With this kind of outlook, I would expect retailers to be doing everything in their power to tie themselves to their customers. Unfortunately, in the few months since I’ve dipped myself back into the hobby, I’ve seen no signs of this.
As I was poking around and deciding whether I wanted to create a blog for myself, I spent a lot of time reading the blogs of other gamers. This happened to be right around the time of Free RPG Day 2011. In reading the pre-event buzz, I thought that this sounded like a fantastic idea. This type of event could clearly be good for retailers.
Unfortunately, in the weeks following, I must have read at least 20 blogs or forum reports with negative impressions from the event. Many complained that they had made the trip to a retailer (who had been using advertising materials for the event), only to find that the employees on hand knew nothing about the event.
My biggest issue with the 5 stores which I’ve visited in recent months is customer service. Perhaps I don’t look like a “typical” gamer, but when I walk into a store, I feel like I’m wearing a cloak of invisibility. Not a single employee has greeted me or even looked up from whatever they were reading. In and of itself, that’s not a huge problem. I usually know what I’m looking for and enjoy browsing. However, I AM a gamer. I have to wonder about the scores of parents or significant others who have no idea what they’re looking for.
Take a moment and consider the parent of a young gamer, who comes in seeking birthday or Christmas presents. Unless they’re into the hobby themselves, they’d likely be totally lost in a gaming store. If confronted with a friendly and helpful employee, they’ll likely walk out of there with some heavy purchases (it’s not like there’s a rival gaming store on every corner). On the other hand, if they’re treated rudely or ignored all together, “little Johnny” is likely to end up with an iTunes gift card for a present.
Obviously, customer service issues can be common in any retail venue. However, it seems to me that gaming stores and other “geek related” retailers (comic book stores & video game stores) are particularly challenged in this area. Sadly, I’m afraid that this is directly because of the stigma which if often attached to these hobbies.
By in large, it seems that folks who work in gaming stores are gamers themselves. This should be a great asset. However, it often seems that I encounter one of the three following stereotypes.
- The Outcast: This fellow never fit into any social group while he was growing up and he’s got a MASSIVE chip on his shoulders. Having finally found a place where he is accepted, he views any customers who aren’t like him as “outsiders”. Ironically, he’s doing exactly what was done to him for his whole life. The sooner you’re out of his store, the better.
- The Elitist: This guy takes his job very seriously. Oh he’ll talk to you, but he’ll only tell you what he wants to spout off at the moment. He’s quite certain that he knows everything about everything (after all, he does work in a gaming store). Interested in a product that he doesn’t like? You’re in for a 10 minute soliloquy about why your game sucks. In the meantime, he will make certain that you’re aware of his “gaming credentials”.
- The Nerd-Rager: This poor soul has his mind made up about everything (Star Wars vs. Star Trek, DC vs. Marvel, 3.5e vs. 4.0e). He can actually be quite charming, as long as your views align with his. However, should you be interested in a product outside of his particular likes, he will immediately become condescending.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some awesome gaming stores out there with really sharp employees. More than anything, it’s just to wish that I had one nearby. I love this hobby and I love browsing through a good brick & mortar gaming store. I just hope that they’re always around for us to enjoy.
What’s it like in your neighborhood? Do you still frequent an actual gaming store or do you make all of your purchases online? Have you had any really positive (or negative) experiences? I would love to hear your stories.
Thank you for reading. Good Gaming!