My Paradigm Shift: Why I Shop Online

The other day on Facebook I posed a question to my local gaming club of some 380+ members regarding a local store. More precisely, I asked: “Boardgame night seems to be taking off at Final Round, does anyone still game at Realms?”, both Final Round and Realms are local stores. The responses I received were limited to a few individuals. The responses involved a mix of customer dissatisfaction with the second store and that store’s manager responding reasonably to try to win consumers back. It left me thinking about the usefulness of the local game stores as it pertains to my experiences.

A conversation with another blogger following the discourse on Facebook really identified that I, as a consumer, have little use for the local game store because I do the bulk of my shopping online. That is not to say that I shop online because the little guy is trying to stick it to me with higher prices than can be found online. let me be clear, I shop online mainly because those products that I am looking for are generally not available in general retail distribution. I know I am in the minority of gaming consumers whose local store is not likely to be able to provide me with opportunities to access much of what I am seeking.I realized that I have gone through a paradigm shift over the last few years as a matter of necessity.

In an effort for transparency in this discussion, my gaming habits include roleplaying games, boardgames, and wargames only, but mostly roleplaying games.

Let’s look at what the typical local store has to offer. Your local gaming store will offer most if not all of the following and maybe a few things not mentioned.

  • New retail products (games, books, cards, etc)
  • New gaming accessories
  • Used games and books
  • Gaming space

In the area of new retail product, which makes up the bulk of any stores inventory, there are high operating costs associated with these products. In addition to wholesale costs to buy the inventory, retailers have other operating costs. These other costs include general operating expenses (rent and utilities), but may also include a wide array of expenses related to advertising, promotional materials, game library expenses and other miscellaneous expenses each month. These expenses, summarized as overhead, are why local retails cannot offer, in most cases, competitive pricing to match online retailers. If they were brave enough to venture down that road for too long, they would be operating at a loss because it’s unlikely that they will sell enough volume to make up for the loss in revenue from MSRP sales.

If we keep the previous discussion in mind, local stores have to compete with online retailers and for the most part, they cannot. Consumers have to make a conscience decision as to where to spend their hard earned money which is leads to more and more sales going to online retailers. There are certain advantages to buying locally. For example, you can get instant gratification, ask questions and possibly demo a game. Aside from the instant gratification that can only come from buying locally, the other possible advantages can be had to those that look for them online. There are a plethora of websites, videos, and blogs such as this one that provide game reviews, instructional videos and generalized discussions about any given game. Demoing of some games can be facilitate online as well, but that is for a separate discussion. We can’t overlook the possibility that your local game store may just not be all that knowledgeable about most of the games and products they sell due to the sheet volume of games on the market today. Again, another reason for the savvy shopper to turn to online resources before making their decision to purchase a product or not.

All of my local stores have some type of boardgame library for demonstration purposes. Only one of them has the really taken the time to learn the vast majority of the games they have in this library and they very open about teaching people these games and it’s a way to help potentially secure a sale. Another store is very active with demoing and teaching some of the more collectible games and that is a positive thing as well.

For me personally, I like making money stretch as far as possible. This is definitely a factor in some of my decisions, but more importantly having access to the types of products I like is more important. Typically, this is why I look to online retailers. I have been generally unimpressed by most stores when I ask questions about a particular game. I usually get the deer in the headlights look from the employees I ask. If want to learn about a prospective game I might be interested in, the quickest and most assured way to get good information is to look online.

Retailers also offer gaming accessories like card sleeves, play mats, dice and other sundry accessories the gamer could ever possibly need. These are often impulse purchases by consumers and location (local or online) probably is not a real factor in the viability of the local game store. While there may be peaks in sales, there are corresponding valleys in sales.

My local stores, of which there are five, all sell a variety of accessories. It is these products that I buy locally when I feel compelled to make a local purchase. Usually, the price point is minimal and the use or function of the product is something I am in need of. In these cases, online shopping is not practical due to shipping costs.

Local stores that stock used game products are risk takers, for better or worse. Unfortunately, this is a rather risky market to get into for the local stores. More times than not I have seen stores venture down this path only to be saddled with inventory they can’t move locally and they themselves turn to online sites like eBay or Amazon to unload this excess inventory, sometimes at better prices than they could have gotten locally. Since there are many sites these days to purchase used products or even trade for them with other gamers and even store owners, are used products worth stocking at the local store? I still think there is some value to the local consumer if they are in the market for something in the used bin.

One of my local stores carries quite a bit of used products (RPGs) and most of it sits and collects dust and is eventually dumped on eBay just to clear the bins. I should note that I do regularly look through the used RPG bins. Sometimes I find something, most times I see the same old stuff. Another local store does sell used Boardgames and RPGs; when I do go by that shop, I see the same used inventory there. I rarely see a change in inventory, but I don’t go there all that often either. Eventually both stores look at online sources as way to move these products from time to time.

The one advantage that local stores have is the ability, in most cases, to have space for gamers to congregate and play games. This is a double-edged sword for most retailers. There are costs associated with having a gaming space, but the potential for collateral sales exists and it’s a customer-centric service they are providing. Many stores that carry trading card games such as Magic the Gathering rely on the ability to generate income from their gaming space. These store hold lots of paid events which are profitable. Ask any retailer what one segment of their inventory pays the bills and they response will almost be unanimous, Magic the Gathering and other collectable games keep the lights on and pay the rent. Conversely, the casual gamers or store regulars who are not likely to make regular and/or large semi-regular purchases, tend to camp out or otherwise take advantage of the gaming space as place to hangout.

Some stores require a small charge to use their gaming space or some other type of reward program that might include free use of the space, but if these gamers are not making additional purchases while they are at the store, they are non-players in a store’s bottom line. Unfortunately, many stores suffer from a perpetual use of their gaming space by folks that are the least likely of consumers to make regular purchases. Now this is not always the case and I have seen both ends of this spectrum in action.

I can visit several of my local stores and see the above in action on any given day of the week. The largest store charges a $2 table fee and you can use the table for as long as you want. If a group of gamers (game type is unimportant) decides to play games all day there and actually pay the $2 fee (many do not), the chances they are each making purchases at the store is unlikely. Perfect example of this is the local boardgame club meets periodically at this largest of the stores. They do not pay table fees and typically occupy tables for 6+ hours. Most, not all, of the members that show up, to play do not make any measureable purchases aside form the occasional drinks or snacks.

There are three factors that go into my decision to not utilize local gaming spaces most of the time. I do occasionally play some of the local stores, but not as much as I used to. The first, is the games I want to play, whether they be RPGs or Boardgames are likely to not have enough of a player base locally. Attempts to generate local interest in some of these games has not amounted to anything and may be indicative of my local area and not a widespread problem. The second, my schedule is not very conducive to playing at the local stores all that often. More times than not, I turned to playing my games online as a matter of convenience. Lastly, I feel uncomfortable, even if paying a table fee, playing at local stores if I am not patronizing them in any other way. Seems like an asshole move.

To wrap up this discussion, my local retailers cannot stock most of what I am interested in purchasing. Since niche games are a big part of my gaming expenses, the local stores are not a place I can turn to with certainty or regularity to buy products. Accessories are hit or miss for me as well. These days, there is very little in the way of accessories that I would need to purchase. Lastly, gaming space is not something I routinely need these days.

My decisions to shop online and to mostly play in an online environment are purely a personal decision and not an indication of whether or not I like or dislike a particular store. I would love to know why you shop online or at your local store.

~ Modoc

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