January 14, 2011

How Brick & Mortars Stores are Letting Themselves Down

Various rpg companies have been making concerted efforts to support the brick & mortar (B&M) store. WotC has their encounters series which are only being run in B&M and have their own rewards. Several companies are offering additional products, usually a pdf copy of a paper book, if it is bought in a B&M. A lot of publishers still only use B&M stores to sell their products.

However, some stores are missing sales simply because they do not stock product on the shelf. I have seen a trend wherein they only stock the “sure thing”, the 4E WotC books. I do not see 4E 3rd party books on the shelf nor books for alternate games.

I understand there was a considerable backlash after the bloat of 3E and the advent of 3.5 and 4E. A lot of stores ended up with lame-duck products on their shelves that no longer moved. Fear of the same thing happening has reduced their initiative to stock a wide range of rpg products. However, I believe they are missing out.

Over the past two weeks I hit 3 different gaming stores in my area (all between 15-30 minutes from my home) looking for a specific product; Rogue Trader: Edge of the Abyss, a somewhat “mainstream” product line. None of them had it. They also did not have other products I would have bought, such as some 4E 3rd party products. Those stores lost out on sales from me. As a gamer what am I to do? The obvious solution is for me to buy those books online. In effect, those stores are driving my business away.

There are a number of reasons why I prefer to shop at a B&M store over shopping online. A lot of these reasons are also part of what a B&M store provides in way of service. The way B&M stores are going to survive is by becoming a service store. They need to provide more than just a specific product since there are many alternate methods these days for getting what they sell. A B&M store needs to provide more, such as variety.

One of my reasons for preferring a B&M store is that I can get instant gratification. I get the book right then. I do not have to wait 1-2 weeks for shipping. I can take it home that night and start reading it.

Another reason for me is that I can preview a book. I can open it up and see if it’s right for me. If I cold-pick a book (look at a book I did not go the store specifically to buy) I can look over it; just looking at the character sheet can tell me a lot about a game. I can not do this online.

All those old books that didn’t sell? I like those. If I decide to pick up a new gaming line I can usually find older books in the line more so at a B&M store than online. Online tends to only carry the newest book. If a store carries the entire line I can fill out the system for myself. This is another thing a store provides for me.

It sounds hokey, but I prefer to buy from one of “us”. Buying online means buying from someone who does not know much about what they are selling. They are selling a book. The local store is selling a gaming book. For me, there is a distinction.

I know some people are asking, why don’t you just have the store order the book for you? That would miss two of my reasons, instant gratification and preview. In addition, the last two stores I ask to do that for me both went out of business with two weeks of my asking for the order (true, but creepy story).

Reasons to stock “alternate” product
Reach a wider audience. Not everyone plays 4E. Every potential customer playing another system is a lost sale if you do not stock that line of products.

Reach the gamer. Even if your customers are buying 4E products it does not mean they are locked into only buying that game system. A lot of gamers like to try out other systems.

Exposure breeds sales. Sometimes all it takes is one person buying and trying a new system and the local community can latch onto the game line. If your store provides gaming space then one way to push this concept is to schedule games around an alternate system. Try a Pathfinder, Warhammer or Dresden night. Create interest in a new system and your sales can expand; just make sure you have the product on the shelf.

I know the modern day store can not carry a wide series of gaming lines. In truth, it requires someone at the store who knows the market, both overall and in their particular area. However, even without such a knowledgeable person, it is still possible to try out a book or two to feel out the waters of a new product line. To not do so is letting me and themselves down.

How is it in your area? Maybe just my particular area (New Hampshire and New England) is having this phenomenon and it is different in other areas. Are you having problems finding specific titles at your brick & mortar store?


Pere Ubu said...

As a (former) bookstore owner:

Problem is, shelf space is at a premium in bookstores, whther they're mainstream or LGSs. Given the amount of stuff published and the state of the economy, it's just good business sense to go with the lowest common denominator, the thing that most likely will sell. No offense, I feel the same as you, but bookstores just can't afford to use the shelf space these days for something that MIGHT sell if the right person walks in. Knowing the market is one thing, mind-reading is another.

As far as service, that was what we tried to do with our bookstore, which worked really well... until the person said "Oh, thanks for the information; I'll just go order it from Amazon." :( Maybe I'm being cynical, but it seems that people these days are much more interested in discounts than in service.

Like I said, though, no offense. I really agree with your point about trying new stuff. But, as a former bookseller, I can see why the gaming stores are ignoring everything else for 4E - because it's what's hot, and what sells. I'd love to walk into our LGS and see a whole rack full of Labyrinth Lord and Dragon Warriors and suchlike - but it ain't happening, and, as you say, everyone loses in the name of keeping the store open and profitable.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more. If they don't stock it, we can't buy it.

There are a few books at the moment I'm interested in buying, but don't want to buy sight-unseen. If my FLGS stocked them and I could flick through the pages I guarantee I would buy at least one, probably more of these books.

The problem is my FLGS doesn't carry any of them, and the only place I know that stocks even one of them wraps their books in plastic so the potential customer can't open them up and browse the pages.

Furthermore, there's no reason for me to drop in at my FLGS on the off-chance they have something that catches my eye, since I know what they stock and I either have it already or I know I don't want it.

So my money remains unspent ...