11-26-2004, 08:45 AM
More often than not, we walk into video game retail stores with nary a thought besides that of picking up some hot new game we’ve had our eyes on and been salivating over for months.* Many of us waltz in, eye our object of delight, and proceed to check out.* *However, sometimes this process isn’t nearly as smooth, and in recent years the simple and satisfying act of procuring one’s desired game has been horribly marred by the “middle man” of sorts – the retailer.*In many cases, a retail associate displays an almost inconceivable amount of ignorance and lack of technical know-how that can adversely affect the consumer’s purchasing decision.* In other, often times overlapping instances and in a most disturbing and unsettling trend, some retailer associates that may/may not have a bounty of gaming knowledge have begun to assume what is right for the consumer, to push certain products over others, and to engage in what many refer to as “suggestive selling.”* ***Suggestive selling.* What makes this term so sinister?* Does it even carry a sinister connotation to begin with?* Many retailers have no qualms with its practice whatsoever.* Maybe it’s merely the successive alliterative “s” sounds which send shivers down one’s spine - or maybe it is perhaps something else, something far deeper and more devious than just that.* *In this article, we’re going to examine retailer malpractice, define what exactly suggestive selling is, and in doing answer the musing above.* Indeed, in the course of this endeavor we shall see that suggestive selling is actually a form of retail bias, and that this bias, while hard to definitively characterize, is quite possibly more prevalently leveled at a certain cubed console.* *To aid in said examination of retail practices, we’ll be pulling direct quotes from Nintendo Now’s intrepid forum-fiends sounding off in the “retail bias” thread created several months ago for this very purpose.* So hold on dear reader, for the controversy is about to ensue.*Ignorance is Bliss*Let us first wrestle with the concept of retailer ignorance, which can and many times does stand on its own two feet, separated from the entanglements of calculated “suggestive selling.”*Let’s face it:* there are people who work at game stores who have no business being there.* They are ignorant, ill-informed, and largely uneducated on video games.* These dolts will often get their facts horribly wrong and push whatever they “perceive” to be the better product, or repeat whatever they heard their friend spouting off during some binge drinking event.* Consider the case below, as recounted by one of our most esteemed site members in the “retail bias” thread in the NNOW forums.* It appears to be a simple yet disturbing instance of retailer ignorance:*Quote:“I was shopping for my sons birthday and saw the GC kiosk w/ RSIII: RS and we decided to take a look at it. Next to us was a customer asking an employee few questions about video games. The employee said too many things false for me to sit idly by minding my own business.The customer said he noticed the GC loads much faster than the other 2. The employees response was because the GCs graphics are far less detailed than the other 2 so it has less to load, therefore faster load times. He then went on to tell him that the GC used mini-CDs as opposed to mini-DVDs. When the customer asked which ones had HD capabilities, he told the customer that the GC could not do it.I couldn't take it. I could only imagine what else he had already told the customer so I had to speak up.I proved the graphics/load situation by showing them the RSIII demo.I had them look at a GC box and a game box to verify the DVD and HD.I got thrown out when I stated, "I wonder how many people have purchased an xbox or PS2 due to misinformed sales associates."Kinda felt good actually.”*Ah, what an example of extraordinary valor in such an ordinary setting!* Gives one goose-bumps, no?*In all seriousness though, this is a prime example of employee ignorance at its finest.* The sales associate has no clue about the capabilities of any video game system, and is merely shooting “facts” off that he either concocted entirely in his own mind (whether or not this person could be so imaginative is definitely questionable, however), or it’s merely misinformation that he overheard and, due to his own lack of video game acumen, chose to repeat like an unthinking automaton.*Ignorance is a horrible thing, but it certainly is no crime and, indeed, is not worth constructing an entire article over.* However, one particular forum member’s response to the above message is rather thought-provoking:*Quote:“Maybe they had an overstock of PS2's or Xbox's and he was told to sell them? Ever think of that? You don't know anything about retail sales, so step off.”*Yowch!* Somebody appears to have some personal, hands-on experience with working in retail, but that fact isn’t what should interest us here; conversely, let’s look at this line: “Maybe they had an overstock of PS2's or Xbox's and he was told to sell them?”* Well, that tends to transcend mere ignorance, doesn’t it?* The associate is no longer simply ignorant, but has an actual objective, which certainly changes how we look at the situation drastically.* In attempting to dismiss the original forum members post, this member opens up a whole new can of worms, suggesting the possibility that even in this seemingly innocent case of stupidity, a darker and more sinister force really pulled the strings of this helpless puppet of a sales associate.*Bias.*“Veauty” is in the Eyes of the Beholder*To attempt to establish that there is some widespread, rampant “retail bias” is no easy task, and for many any attempt would prove to be folly.* Many individuals are adamantly against the concept from the get-go, and view the mere idea of such a bias to be preposterous.* Indeed, several readers are more than likely already screwing up their faces and spraying spittle onto their monitors, exclaiming something along the lines of, “Stupid fanboy article!”** *In truth, such people could not be blamed for such an understandable reaction, but please, hang with us for a second all those of little faith, and you may have half a mind to reconsider such a harsh position.*First, let’s simply define “suggestive selling.”* Suggestive selling is when a retailer chooses to intentionally promote and advocate the positive qualities of a particular product over another, usually for the sake of sales revenue.* The belief by the retailer is typically that by vigorously promoting a certain, more “popular” item of merchandise, there is a much greater chance for a sale because the product is already a “sure-fire hit,” more or less.* It deviates greatly from sole “retail ignorance,” as discussed above, because it is actually a conscious, intentional act that usually requires some cognitive process, and not dumb, unthinking repetition.* I would apologize to any ignorant sales associates who may be reading this article and that fall into the aforementioned category, but honestly, I highly doubt they do much reading to begin with, so I’ll take my chances.*All joking aside, the logic behind suggestive selling essentially is, “Why waste the time to push something that has a lesser chance of selling itself to begin with, when I can push uber-popular ‘Product A’ over here in its stead?”*Some may be inclined to agree with this sentiment, thinking, “Hey, that makes perfect sense to me.”* In actuality though, this makes no sense, and we’re going to take a gander at just why that is. To start with, take this excerpt from the “retail bias” thread again:*Quote:“I went into gamestop the other day and as per usual went and headed strait to the GC section. I managed to locate a copy of Vjoe. I go up to the counter, they guy doesn't even know what the game is (at which point I roll my eyes). Guy asks me if all I own is gamecube (cause i've been there a couple times), I say "No, I've got a PS2 also, but it's really only for DDR." He asks me if I knew that PS2 had San Andreas and MGS3 coming out soon. I told him yeah, but i really don't care. He seemed to ignore the "I really don't care" part and proceded to ask me if I wanted to preorder them. I roll my eyes again and say no, and procede to ask about preordering PM2 (this was a while ago) and he asks me why I would want to do that. Now I'm pissed and just demand he fill my order and with a sigh he does it. (I left the store pretty pissed at this point.)”*This is quite the intriguing scenario and it deserves some contemplation.* Suggestive selling, as defined previously, is certainly taking place in this instance; the retail associate is pushing the high-profile PS2 titles “Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater” and “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” forcibly, casting aside the consumers inquiry about preordering “Paper Mario 2” and apparently dismissing the customer’s choice of “Viewtiful Joe.”* *It cannot be argued that in a large number of cases MGS3 and GTA: SA would “sell themselves” because of their popularity.* Going by that theory, it would indeed seem the savvy move by the sales associate to push these two games, because they have a “greater chance of selling” and accruing additional revenue for the video games outlet…right?* *Actually, this theory is ridiculously flawed in almost every aspect of its conception.* In the above case, a Nintendo fan and devoted GameCube owner, as clearly evidenced by his selection of Viewtiful Joe and Paper Mario 2, is being asked by the sales associate to purchase two PS2 exclusive games.* Sure, both these games are popular, as we openly admitted.* However, they do not constitute an “easy sale” in this case, because the customer is clearly interested in Nintendo merchandise, not Sony products.* A competent execution of the practice of suggestive selling would be if the sales associate asked the customer in question, “Hey, would you be interested in preordering [insert GameCube title or Nintendo product here]?”* *If the above line were delivered, there would be a far greater chance that the games store would make an additional sale than if the associate had plugged one of those “popular” titles.* After all, a sale is a sale, correct?* The sale of a fifty dollar GameCube game makes a retailer the same amount of revenue as the sale of a fifty dollar PS2 or Xbox game, right?* Indeed, one of the forum members put it best when he wrote:*Quote:“If a customer asks a question and you give the answer leaning toward PS2 or Xbox merely because it sells better, you are being a complete retard and I rarely ever use insults. The sale is still a sale.*If 5 people walked in and wanted to buy a game and you suggested Xbox for all 5, you sold how many games? 5.If 5 people walked in and wanted to buy a game and you suggested PS2 for all 5, you sold how many games? 5.If 5 people walked in and wanted to buy a game and you suggested GC for all 5, you sold how many games? 5.It's not like you get a higher commission for selling PS2/Xbox.”*Good Lord, let’s hope these shops don’t get higher commissions for selling one brand over the other!* Then we’d really have a mess on our hands, now wouldn’t we?*In any case, if one were to accept the ponderings posted above and the fact that pushing the more “popular” title doesn’t logically equal an easier sell in all circumstances, as well as the fact that apparently the “popular” title is still pushed irrespective of whether the associate is aware that it is decidedly, shall we say, “unpopular” to a given customer, then we’ve proven through empirical means that a certain bias in retail does indeed exist.* But, what exactly makes a product “popular” to begin with (as perceived by a retail merchant), and who is this bias possibly aimed against?*“But Mom, Why Can’t I Be One of the Popular Kids?”*Rejection.* It’s something we all typically experience at one point or another as a youth, when we are dismissed as “not cool enough” to hang with the hipper, more “socially enlightened” crowd.* Interestingly, despite Nintendo’s age and veteran vantage point, the “new kids on the block,” as it were (cue horrible imagery of a certain early 90’s teeny bop boy-band here), have become the popular ones, and it is actually the GameCube who is experiencing the “growing pains” (cue horrible imagery of a certain late 80’s sentimental sitcom starring Kirk Cameron here).*Consider this quote from the forum thread:*Quote:“Umm....yes of course there is a retailer bias. I know first hand, I worked at a game store and I was the one who ordered the games. GCN games don't sell. I'm sorry, but it's the truth. I was biased in ordering GCN games, I would always, always order less copies of a game for GCN than I would for Xbox or PS2. It's the way it works. The games are not nearly as popular.”*Well, besides getting an objective admission as to the existence of retail bias from a self-proclaimed “insider,” this quote again brings up the interesting prospect of “popularity,” and that the GameCube quite simply doesn’t bask in it.* *But hey, without a doubt, the GCN isn’t popular because it just isn’t selling; it can all be attributed to its “lackluster performance,” as mentioned in the message board post below:*Quote:“This is just a bunch of whining Nintendo fans looking to find someone to blame the lackluster performance of the Gamecube on.I work at a movie theatre and we are told to suggest Milk Duds over, for example, Twizzlers because the Milk Duds sell better. Now are you going to attack me because I am biased against Twizzlers? The fact is, this is how businesses operate. Its not a big conspiracy against Nintendo. This thread and concept that buisness are out to ruin Nintendo is one of the most fanboy things I have ever come across in my days.”*Yessiree, it’s that damn lackluster performance that’ll get ‘ya.* Nintendo could certainly take a page from the Milk Duds playbook!** I mean, they sell way better after all, because the salesman at the theater snack counter suggests them over Twizzlers because people like them bett-*Wait a minute.* The salesman at the theater snack counter suggests them over Twizzlers.* Is this an example of suggestive selling?* Could it be??!!*Yes folks, sarcasm aside, it does obviously appear that the theater is engaging in suggestive selling in their vending of candy, and there is only one logical conclusion as to why Milk Duds have been selling better:* they are being suggested over Twizzlers.* Just think of what would happen if Twizzlers were suggested over Milk Duds!* Clearly, Twizzlers would pick up in sales and could even surpass the sale of Milk Duds.* *Now, it could be argued that the Milk Duds sold better than Twizzlers to begin with, but I believe it would be rather hard to prove that the average American predominately values his chocolate-coated caramels over his licorice-twists.* In other words, popularity is largely dependent upon suggestive selling, and not the other way around, as some would evidently believe.*What a novel thought, eh?* Naturally, the same thing applies to video game systems and titles.* If the retailers actually attempted to suggestively sell certain GameCube titles to their customers in a more widespread fashion than what currently takes place, the GameCube would eventually become more “popular” and would no longer be the ugly stepsister of the console world. *This carries over into the realm of game rental sales as well.* Many rental stores complain that GameCube games just don’t get picked off the shelves, and that as a result game rentals for Nintendo’s console are extremely low compared to the other two systems, and that retailers thus choose not to stock as many GCN titles.* But what would happen if retailers actually tried a little more equalized suggestive selling, or perhaps even, gasp, attempting to push the GCN products ahead of the others?* Naturally, rental sales would improve for the GameCube, and since rental sales for the PS2 and Xbox were already high due to an already established popularity, those would continue to do well also, meaning that the rental store in question benefits, as can the consumer, who might end up enjoying a larger variety of game titles as a result.* *In sum, a more balanced practice of suggestive selling would lead to greater sales and more revenue for the retail merchant, meaning that there would be no excuse for under-stocking GameCube titles in any type of games store, be it GameStop or Blockbuster. *This NNOW forum frequenter seems to understand this concept best and in its broadest meaning:*Quote:“I work at GameStop and I know how the bs works. We pitch PS2 and XBOX games because they will sell. Blah blah yeah, I know.But personally, I think it would make more sense to try and sell GC stuff because really, PS2 and XBOX stuff is going to sell itself. Say all you want but you know if no GameStop or EB employee asked people to pre-order Halo 2, people would still pre-order it, regardless. Same thing with San Andreas.However, let's say you make a decided effort to get people into pre-ordering GC games. Well, not only do you sell the guaranteed XBOX and PS2 stuff, but you get some GC sales, too. Retail stands to make more money if they promote the underdog along with the ‘big boys’.”*This NNOW member really manages to catch onto something that the retailers clearly haven’t, for indeed, those other games will “sell themselves,” and if one were to promote the “underdog” as well as the more “self-supporting” products, everybody would win, and the retailers would actually make more money as a result, as we have said.* The fact that they don’t do this speaks volumes, in and of itself.*Conclusion*Ultimately though, it’s just business, right?* Why should retailers care if they push one product over another?* What does it even matter if there is an actual “retail bias?”* Businesses are in it to make money, and if they are happy with their current practices and are under the delusion that their sales plan as it stands is the most lucrative possible method to employ on the consumer, then that that’s just the way things go, and it’s not a big deal…or is it?*Quote:“It's not ‘just business’. [Certain retailers] were plugging Xbox way more than GameCube before they launched. It's a proven fact.Look at the demographics of these kids that run these stores. These people have the ‘PSX generation mentality’. They're young, they're big on pop culture and it's fads, and they think old school means that one Playstation game that came out a few months after the system launched.”*Whether or not certain products were intentionally plugged more than the GameCube to begin with as a calculated attack on Nintendo isn’t worth considering and is not truly relevant when we sum up what we’ve come to ascertain in the course of this editorial.* To try to prove an all-encompassing, malicious retailer bias against the Big N would be counterproductive seeing as the facts to support such an assertion just aren’t there, and that is not what was attempted in this article.* However, when summing up what we have considered, we can make the assertion that suggestive selling does take place because of some lack of reasoning that occurred somewhere down the line with retailers this generation, that it is vastly detrimental to the consumer, and that it likely harms Nintendo’s sales efforts more than their competitors.*In the end though, irrespective of what company it most influences, the practices of some retailers today are not acceptable, whether we term them simply as “business” or not.* Business though it may be, it isn’t fair to the unassuming customer who walks into a games shop and expects to be fairly treated and not mislead, or even intentionally deceived.* Ultimately there is no large scale change we can bring about, no revolt we can lead against retailers with flaming torches and hoisted pitchforks.* However, we don’t have to accept their practices, and we don’t have to let ourselves succumb to them.* It is our job to educate ourselves about the potential pitfalls of retail, and to look out for our fellow consumer – whether we support Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, or all three.* Knowledge is power, folks, and in a biased world it’s all we have to combat those who would bamboozle us at every turn.* *It is our hope that the knowledge contained within this editorial has helped safeguard someone from the deceptive trickery of retailers, and that at least a few eyes have been opened to a very real problem.*This was but part one of a two part NintendoNow special feature on bias in the video game world.* Part one has focused on retailer bias, while the forthcoming second part shall hone in on an even more troubling potential pitfall for the gaming community, one even more antagonistic towards Nintendo specifically – media bias.* It shall be handled by NintendoNow’s own Executive Editor and VP, Mach.