Corporate America has made it so that buying a jug of milk is a harrowing question-filled ordeal that would make the legendary Sphinx turn tail and run:
“Cash, credit, debit, or check?”
“Paper or plastic? Or did you bring your own bag?”
“Do you have one of our Reward cards?…Would you like one?…I really think you should sign up. We’ve been trained in the art of pen-based torture.”
Actually, there’s little hyperbole involved in this example. Few are the chains that don’t harass buyers to sign up for a “Points Card” or a “Rewards Program.” American retail is dying to take a look at your spending habits, to say nothing of your phone number, your family’s headcount, and your zip code. In exchange for this very valuable marketing information, your new Card will allow you access to discounts and bonuses that range from crummy to moderate.
GameStop has earned its spot as the nation’s number-one games retailer through aggressive sales tactics and a secondhand game market that just won’t quit. Its methods have garnered criticism, but one thing is indisputable: Said methods have worked.
Towards the end of October, GameStop made another big maneuver to secure the North American games market. It began hawking its PowerUp Rewards Card, which awards points on every GameStop purchase: 10 points on every dollar spent on a new game, system, or accessory, and 20 points for every dollar spent on used merchandise. The PowerUp Rewards site lists some of the stuff you can exchange your points for, including A glow-in-the-dark Space Invaders T-shirt, Xbox 360 faceplates, subscriptions to Game Informer, and other tchotchkes.
A GameStop employee identifying himself as “Dragonfire81” submitted a breakdown of the new program to consumer watchdog website, The Consumerist. Not surprisingly, the breakdown illustrates that GameStop’s reward points are not worth your time or privacy–but Dragonfire81 warns that employees have been instructed to harass customers into signing up.
“Firstly, the program rolled out nationally just last week, so every GameStop employee in the country is under orders to sign up everyone under the sun for the program,” Dragonfire81 wrote. “The company expects that with the rewards program being available in a free option that they can get 90% of customers signed up for these cards. If you go into any GameStop between now and Christmas (and probably beyond) you can expect to be badgered mercilessly about the card and given the stink eye if you don’t want one, even a free one.”
Anyone who has worked a retail job in the United States is probably feeling mixed pangs of dread and sympathy for GameStop’s employees. Being instructed to sign up customers for rewards cards, credit cards, and all their ilk is a nightmare of numbers, paperwork, and customer abuse. Faceless individuals who lord over store chains from another state issue rewards–and more often, threats–in order to strong-arm hapless cashiers into harassing wary shoppers who just want to buy their products and go home.
The difference with GameStop’s new program is that they’re forcing it on a young and relatively savvy customer base. We’re not little old ladies who will exchange personal information in order to save a few pennies: We frequent the game community, hear from its employees, and visit websites like The Consumerist. We know first-hand the misery of hawking these rewards programs.
Despite GameStop’s success, its wide expansion, low payout for used games, and never-ending attempts to sign up consumers for Game Informer subscriptions has not endeared the chain to the community. If GameStop is truly looking for 90% penetration with its rewards card, its methods will have to be more aggressive and relentless than ever. How will gamers react? Will we finally be pushed too far?
GameStop is king, but it’s not without competition. While digital downloads will probably never replace the retail giant, they can certainly sway a person who wants to play a new game without the hassle of shopping for it. And enduring a drawn-out sales pitch is a hassle. Moreover, people may find a peaceful shopping environment a very fair trade-off for the slightly higher prices that independent game stores sometimes require.
GameStop may be introducing its rewards program in order to get to know its customer base better, but its prodding might backfire. Interestingly, the chain is overlooking the most important fact it should know about its customers: They know what GameStop is trying to push on them, and they’re not interested.