Friday, November 23, 2007

Oh Thank You for Teaching Me How to Shop

The legend that is Allyn Gibson posted about buying video games from stores like GameStop and linked to this article at the Consumerist purportedly written by one of their managers. The 28-point list reads as both a desperate defense of questionable policies and a training manual for the general public when shopping in their venues. Unfortunately, I recognized several of these policies' striking similarities to when I worked for Suncoast back in the day (2001-2003).

The biggest topic I could relate to was about reserves. This was standard practice before I was employed by Suncoast and I don't think it's an inherently bad idea—in concept. We were always pushed by corporate to nab as many reserves as humanly possible. However, we were often restricted to a corporate-generated list which, of course, was full of all the "hot, new" releases i.e., blockbusters and anime. If someone wanted something not on that list, like a Criterion Collection disc that was planned for release two or three months from now, it was virtually impossible to do unless some kind soul at Corporate HQ had entered the inventory info into the database. If you consider the amount of advertising the studios bought from Suncoast (in the form of sales fliers, those stupid things around the employees' necks, ad posters, etc.), it doesn't take a genius to see who gets priority. So we ended up losing customers coming to a movie specialty store because of our inability to pre-order a movie. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it? Oh, and if your reserves didn't meet a given quota, the manager had the power to file a written warning in your employee file whether or not you excelled in other areas like selling (more on that later).

Another item that really bugged me in that article was that reserves are what determined the allocations of various titles to individual stores. Don't get me wrong, automated inventory can be a good thing but it doesn't account for common sense and essentially takes that power away from store managers that should know their clientèle a bit better than a database administrator in the corporate ivory tower. The practice on relying solely on automated inventory essentially relegates store managers to being referees and secretaries. My managers at Suncoast did their level best to bypass the automated system as much as possible, but it was often a case of too little, too late.

Thankfully, our store never went the route of selling used DVDs while I worked there, but we did have the Replay loyalty card that gave you store credit after purchasing a set amount (I think it was $5 after every $100 spent). Every employee had to push this card or offer a renewal in the event someone already had one. For the regulars who would come into our store, this was good thing. However, for the customer who only came in maybe twice a year (if that), then this wouldn't work for them despite blowing a wad of cash at one time. In addition, every employee had to offer "trial" subscriptions of Entertainment Weekly, one of the most useless magazines ever printed, to anyone using a credit/debit card. And I say "trial," since the hope was you'd forget about having to pay for a subscription after the six free issues because you'd continue to receive the stupid magazine and it was a pain in the ass to cancel it. No, that's not underhanded at all.

Hitting up the customer for more stuff at the register is where I went awry of corporate's idea of a model employee. When it was busy around the holidays, I knew people wanted to get in and get out with the least amount of hassle so I often did not ask them if they wanted a loyalty card or "trial" subscription to a stupid magazine. My product knowledge was fairly substantial and I used it to sell movies, and lots of them. If someone came in wanting a particular title and we had it, chances are I could get that someone to walk out with that movie and something else without it feeling like a hassle. This is what sales personnel do. However, I was let go because I didn't bring in enough bacon (i.e., the extra crap) during the one day a week I was working at the time. Despite the often-complimented customer service, it evidently wasn't enough. I harbor no animosity toward the manager, but toward the stupid corporate policies designed to reward the wrong (in my eyes) priorities.

Lastly, the article ends with other "tips" helpful to keep in mind when shopping at GameStop. This is beyond ludicrous. A store should shape its policies to serve the customer first, not shape the customer to its policies. I fully realize that many customers are outright dicks but making it ever more difficult to buy stuff isn't the answer either especially when there are plenty of other venues for one to pick up this stuff—ones that aren't so specialized.


Chris said...

The two Suncoast's that were in Grand Rapids, MI packed up and moved out awhile ago. I can't say that I bought many movies there, but I did like looking at (and occasionally purchasing) their movie and TV related merchandise. So I miss that part of the store.

Being stuck with a Hot Topic or Spencers for that type of stuff, isn't the same.

I do agree that I don't like the "extra" selling stuff that goes on at registers. You know the employee doesn't want to say it, I don't want to hear it. It really is a corporate thing. It's like spam though, 1 out of 100 times it's going to result in a sale so from the point of view of the corporate office, it's a measureable extra sale.

There's no real good hard way to measure for corporate how much it annoys people or impinges on the overall shopping experience, so I imagine the practice will continue to gain in popularity.

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