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Play & display

The games industry is changing and the High Street can’t afford to be left behind. James Batchelor investigates how retailers are attempting to transform their stores, and how this can be taken further

VIDEO games retail needs a shot in the arm – and soon. Last month, the UK market’s value dropped to an all-time low. With little in the way of blockbusters due before September and the next generation a long way off, it’s time for retailers to take matters into their own hands. And the best place to start is with the stores themselves. “The in-store experience is clearly an important part of the industry’s engagement with its consumers – it always has been and will continue to be,” says HMV’s technology and games boss Ewan Pinder. “At HMV we’re very mindful of this part of the relationship and are looking to see how we can further enhance it for our customers – both in our stores and online.” Both HMV and GAME have already begun experimenting with the layout and focus of their outlets. But the Entertainment Retailers Association stresses that creating better in-store experiences is not all down to retail.

Director general Kim Bayley says: “The UK games industry has benefited from the huge investment by retailers in expanding the distribution of games and the quality of the in-store experience. “In the current climate of declining games sales, it is

22 June 8th 2012 “

Gaming is a vibrant experience, larger than life, and the store should be the place where this can be experienced.

Mark Saunders, Exience

understandable that suppliers sometimes engage in finger-pointing and suggest this is because of deficiencies at retail.

“The reality is that the increasing seasonality of games sales is making it a lot more difficult for retailers to commit to year-round overheads in terms of rent and staffing.”

NOT SO FAR FROM THE TREE Most people look to Apple. The electronic giant’s empire of sleek, white stores have become iconic on the High Street, thanks to their dedicated staff, extensive sampling opportunities and the well-known Genius Bar.

Few stores can install a Ferris Wheel but retailers should take inspiration from Toys R Us New York’s sense of theatre

James Dance, owner of Cornwall’s indie café Loading, says this is something for games retailers to aspire to: “Apple has a dedicated customer base, and their stores are dedicated to building long-term relationships. It creates loyalty and they know that 90 per cent of the time, those people will be back or buy an Apple product in the future. “Larger publishers could benefit from having flagship community stores, as they own the products.” However, Mark Saunders – MD of Exience, the firm that devised GAME’s Westfield Stratford City concept store – says that games retailers can never fully recreate the Apple experience.

“The margins and profits are low in gaming retail, therefore volume is vital to success,” he explains. “So, as much as the Apple store is held up as a great proposition and operational leader, the gaming industry cannot afford to assign open space in this way, nor train their staff as comprehensively. “In terms of encapsulating the energy and adventure of gaming and discovery, then I think Toys R Us in New York has the right level of sensory and interactive wow.” Of course, the Times Square toy store is a little beyond what most games retailers can afford – it does, after all, house a five-storey Ferris Wheel – but the message is clear: give customers something memorable from their time in-store.

DEMONSTRATION DERBY Even the simplest of changes can improve the process of buying games. Perhaps, for example, retailers can look beyond the standard cataloguing system of Chart Releases, Older Titles and Pre-Owned. Would it be easier for gamers to find the titles they seek if they were grouped by genre, like music and books? “I think there’s scope to change the way games are displayed,” says Dance. “Offering more information would help as people are still missing out on titles simply

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