Why Does (GameStore) Offer You $2 in Trade for a $10 Game?

We’ll pick a hypothetical example that is somewhat extreme. Say there’s a game… uh, Halo 6. It’s been a couple of years since release, it came bundled in a Christmas packaging of the Xbox 1440, and the multiplayer scene has been eclipsed by that of Halo 7, so there’s lots of copies out there.

2014-06-16 13.47.25Say I’m Big Boss at GameStore Big Data HQ. I look at how many of these fracking games we have on the shelf, and realize that on average, each of my stores has 40 copies. Criminy. I figure out that the number of copies that are traded in sample stores is close to the same whether I give $4 in store credit or $8 in store credit. In fact, the number of copies traded in doesn’t start to go down until I get down to the $3 range.

I do further research and realize that Halo 6 isn’t selling much better at $7 than it is at $15. Once I increase it above $15, sales numbers start to trend downward. It turns out that when someone walks into one of my stores looking for Halo 6, they’re willing to pay $15. They may even know that it’s selling on half.com for $8, but they want to play it this weekend, so they pay their $15.

Clearly, the better trade-in value is $4, and the better sale price is $15. Even this is really too simplistic, since it ignores the fact that I want to keep the smallest possible amount of inventory that will give me the greatest number of sales. Maybe I’m willing to give $2 instead of $4 at the cost of some lost trades because I can’t actually sell at any price all the copies that will come in if I’m giving $4. I’m sure there’s other factors, all weighted differently.

If you think that GameStop doesn’t have analysts with specialized software that tracks data this way, well, I guess you should hate GameStop on a forum for a while today. My estimate is that my business is at least 25% fueled by such hatred*.

As always, we must remember that customer satisfaction, while usually playing a very important role, is not the goal. As a small business owner, I have the luxury of caring about how my customers perceive me, but even that has limits.  Corporations have a responsibility to maximize shareholder value. I have the same responsibility, but my quality of life as the operator of the business factors in, too, so I’m probably more sensitive to my customers than the big guys. I’d rather be both profitable and beloved, but sometimes you have to decide which one you’ll favor over the other.

(* – When you think about it, this competition-fueling hatred is probably another one of those factors. I wonder if the field in the database is called something like PROJECTED_BUTTHURT_LEVEL. They obviously have found what is, to them, an acceptable level.)

I Have No Idea What the Right Thing is Here

*ring ring*
Paul: Game Store, this is Paul!
Grandmother: Hello. I’m looking for a game for the Playstation. It’s Saints Row, I think the third one.
Paul: Lemme check on that for you. *tap tap tap* Wow, I’m sorry, we’re sold out of all our Saints Row games! We do get it in all the time, though, or you could get a gift card!
Grandmother: Well, it’s for our 10 year-old in Georgia. We want to get it for him in time for Christmas.
Paul: Well, obviously it’s up to you guys, but Saints Row may not be appropriate for someone that young.
Grandmother: Well, he just had a stroke, and this is the first thing he’s asked for. I think he’s played all the other ones.
Paul: Oh, goodness. That’s rough.
Grandmother: It sure is, poor thing. He got into a fight with another boy at school and got hit by a chair.

I guess I’m glad I don’t have to make the call about whether or not to give him the game.

Open the Door, Get on the Floor, Everybody Bank With Dinosaurs

(Paul is at the bank and notices that the customer standing very closely behind him is awfully interested in his deposit. He turns around.)

Paul: Can I help you?
Guy: I just never thought I’d see a guy in a dinosaur shirt making a big deposit.
Paul: Well, I never thought I’d hear Linkin Park being played at a bank.
Teller (looking uncomfortable): I guess it’s a brave new world for everyone!

The Wicked Flees Though None Pursue Him

It’s a tale of two customers. We’ll call one Short and one Tall.

Short comes in with his wife and asks about a 360 and a couple of games. The differences are explained and the friendly couple chooses a console. It’s set on the counter with a couple of games. Discs are found from the cabinet and prepared while the couple shops for accessories.

Tall comes in, wishing to sell his 360. It’s dirty and comes with a dog-chewed controller. We make an offer on the console contingent on a successful test, and Tall accepts the offer graciously. We begin testing the console.

A few minutes pass. Tall speaks up, “Hey, actually, my little brother still wants the Xbox, so I’m gonna keep it.” We help Tall package his system back up while he profusely apologizes for wasting our time. No biggie, it’s always OK to get information and make a choice that you’re comfortable with.

About 30 seconds later, Short says “Hey man, we need to get something from our car, we’ll be right back.” He pulls his wife out of the store by her arm.

At this point, my wife and I are pretty sure that we know what’s going on. After a couple minutes, I stick my head out the door and sure enough, everyone is gone. We put the discs back into the cabinet and put our (clean, warrantied) system back on the shelf.

It would have been just fine for them to work something out in the parking lot. I couldn’t have stopped them and wouldn’t want to be That Guy even if I could. I just don’t like being lied to, especially when there was absolutely no reason to be shady. Used 360s have about a 1/20 defect rate that’s built into our price calculations, so I hope for Short’s sake that it doesn’t start grinding discs next week.

It’s Less Awkward Every Time I Do It

One of my favorite conversations to have:

Customer: Why are you taking a picture of my ID?
Paul: Because you’ve traded in the same games three times. I believe them to be stolen, so I’m collecting evidence to send to the police.
Customer: You don’t have to do all that.
Paul: I don’t, but I really, really enjoy it. Here’s your games and your ID. Get out and don’t come back.


Unemployed, Unemployed, Does Whatever the Unemployed Do

*ring ring*
Paul: Game Store, this is Paul!
Caller: Do you have Spiderman?
Paul: For what system?
Caller: What do you mean?
Paul: I mean, what game system do you have?
Caller: What does that have to do with it? I just want Spiderman!
Paul: I know that, but there are lots of different systems, with Spiderman games for all of them.
Caller: Well, it’s a PS2, OK? Geez.
Paul: OK, then, lemme check.
Caller: Don’t put me on hold!
Paul: I’m not putting you on hold, I’m looking it up in our computer. There. It shows that we have two copies of Spiderman 3 for the PS2.
Caller: Can you check on your shelf, in case the computer is wrong?
Paul: *takes about three minutes to find it among 1000+ games* Yep, got it right here. $5.
Caller: OK, what about The Hulk?
Paul: No, we don’t have a copy of that for PS2.
Caller: What about Superman?
Paul: Yes sir, I’ve got that. It’s $5.
Caller: OK. Maybe I’ll come get those once I have some job and get some money.
Paul: ಠ_ಠ

Three Stages of Trade-in Grief

The three stages of drug-addled trade-in customer grief, or maybe delusion:

1. “I’ve got AT LEAST $2,000 invested in these cards/games. I’d like to get at least half of that back. Why are you looking at me like that?”
2. “Look, if I can just get $100 to pay my phone bill and get some cigarettes, I’ll be OK with that.”
3. “$88.40? You guys are the best! Thanks!”

Spending Twenties to Chase Fives

It’s a new month. That means that tonight, I’ll be doing a price update in our point of sale system. I wrote our current system myself, poorly, in vb.net. Before, it was a shoe-horned open-source point of sale system and the update procedure involved a perl script I did not understand. The current price update procedure is to download a price list from a pricing service and update all the items in the database. If we have a game in stock and the price has changed, the title, quantity in stock, and new price go onto a report that the lackey carries around the store on a clipboard the next day, checking off games as he updates their price tags.

It started off easy enough. Four pages, single-spaced in a 14-point font. Lackeys knocked it out in a couple of hours.


As of last month, it was 19 pages, and multiple lackeys were planning together about who was going to tackle what in the week-long process. The announcement that the next morning there would be a price update waiting on the printer elicited groans, pleas, bargaining, and threats to call in sick.

Something had to be done. I did some tinkering with the reports and realized that something like half of the updated items were only being updated by $1 one way or another. In some cases, game prices would go up by one dollar one month, only to drop by a dollar the next.

So I set it up so that my system ignores price updates of a buck or less if it’s something we have in stock. If we don’t have it in stock, it doesn’t hurt to go ahead and make the update, since it’s not going to make extra re-pricing work.

If a game is on a trend either up or down in value, only changing by a buck this month and by another buck next month, then I’ll be able to catch it as it reaches that $2 threshold.

As a result, my prices are not as bleeding-edge accurate as they could be. But when my average price is 15 to 40 percent lower than my competition, and actually competitive with eBay prices, does it matter if I’m selling it for $33 or $32? Not enough to take up a day or two of lackey time every month. Even if there’s nothing else for them to do, I would rather them spend the time compulsively cleaning the glass, re-sorting Magic cards, talking to customers about games, and looking nervously up at the security cameras.

Don’t spend twenties chasing fives. Let the five go and put the twenty into something more productive, like the Store Mascot Costume Fund.

You Are in the You Business

This one goes out to my hobby retail homies.

You are in the You business. You are not in the video game business, the comic book business, the tabletop gaming business, or the collectible card game business. And anything that you’re doing that doesn’t benefit your You business isn’t work, it’s play, and if it’s not fun, that’s crappy play. Get rid of it and replace it with something that’s either profitable or fun.

Modify as needed for your own edification.

Tacti-tard Trainer Buzzword Bingo

Last night, pdb and I were discussing the unsafe training at Lethal Weapons Academy in Erie, PA, when I had the idea of a bingo card to assist in spotting bad training. With pdb’s help, I put one together. Here it is.


Take this card with you to your class. Keep in mind that use of one or even several phrases on the card isn’t necessarily indicative of poor training, but if you find that more than a third of the boxes are checked, or you get a complete line, you need to be looking for an exit. Maybe just leave at the lunch break and not come back.

You can also use this card to weed out crappy trainers just by looking at course descriptions online. Give it a try!