While my son battles a recurring illness, I’ve become a soft touch for trips to the local GameStop, one of the nation’s leading video game retailers.
You’d think a chain of over 6,000 stores worldwide that traffics in hot releases like Medal of Honor (in which you play on the ”most unforgiving and hostile battlefield conditions of present day Afghanistan”) and Lego Harry Potter (same concept except with fewer Taliban and more Legos) would be wildly successful. However, as recently as a few months ago, they were among the more desperate victims of the recession, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. This could be due in part to the fact they have three separate stores within a mile of each other in my hometown.
So I find myself patronizing one of these stores several times a week, and it tends to be a mixed experience. Occasionally they’ll be swamped with dozens of customers whose combined age is less than my 56 years, some wandering the aisles in search of the perfect summertime diversion that doesn’t involve leaving the living room, and others waiting in a long line for the cashier. Other times I can waltz right in, state my business, have the teenage cashier ask if I might be interested in the new waltzing game, and be out of there in short order.
When the wait is lengthy, it tends to be because the chain has adopted the same X-TREME! approach to customer service that it shows in many of its games. Workers have been well trained in an extended script of mandatory verbal monologue that makes the screenplay to Avatar read like a cartoon short.
Call them on the phone to ask for directions and you get “Thank you for calling GameStop, where you receive an extra 10% on trade-ins of up to three previously used games. This is Gary, how may I help you?”
Walk in the front door and you get a hearty “Welcome to GameStop!”, whether they’re ringing up someone’s purchase, helping a mom find a cheerleader game for her daughter, or being held-up.
If you manage to find your selection from racks that cover the walls floor to ceiling, you join the queue waiting to pay your money. The line creeps slowly along, in large part because of jugheaded customers who aren’t sure what they want — “I need 360 X-Box points and that game that makes you say ‘whee!’”, says a grandma — or whose debit card is tapped out, so “can I call my dad to bring some cash? He’s only three states over.”
The other reason the checkout is slow is because of the litany of questions that the workers are required to ask. Here’s what I faced recently when I finally got to the counter, to trade in three used games and purchase a new one.
“So how’d you like Final Fantasy 14?” he asks, despite the fact it should be obvious from my age that, between planning for retirement and prepping for an upcoming colonoscopy, I would have little time to be playing video games.
“It wasn’t for me, it was for my son,” I have to answer. “But he assures me it was at least twice as fun as Final Fantasy 7.”
“Do you have an Edge Card with us?” he asks, referring to the frequent-customer program that gets you up to 20 cents off the price of a $50 game.
I produce the card, and shove forward the three trade-ins. He scans these into his computer register, then asks to see a photo ID, which somehow guarantees I didn’t steal these from my retirement advisor. I sign a signature pad, hoping the credit will be enough for the Red Dead Redemption I “want.”
“Are you going to want the warranty with that? An extra $3 covers you for a year from any kind of damage, wear and tear, malfunction, breakage …”
“No, no, I’m told we don’t want that,” I interrupt. It’s usually barely a week before Daniel beats the game, which puts it into the next trade-in pile long before any rainbow-colored digital bits might fall off the disc.
“How about a strategy guide?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Are there any other new releases you’d like to pre-order? Maybe Oil Spill in the Gulf: Death to the Pelicans or Elena Kagan’s Confirmatorium?”
“Nope, this is going to do it for today,” I say with finality.
“Okay, well with the trade-ins, and remember you’re getting an extra 10% credit on those today only, though be sure to stop by tomorrow when our next random promotion begins, you owe only $13.46. You got a great deal here,” he assures me.
I swipe my credit card, and he asks again for the picture ID as well as the card. He’s comparing the two — wants to make sure they’re both made out of plastic and approximately rectangular — and finally I pass the security check. My new purchase is bagged and ready to go, but not before one final hustle.
“I hope we did good for you today and ask, if you get the chance, stop by our website and let us know how we did,” he says, using a yellow highlighter to point out the TellGameStop.com survey website on the receipt. “You have a chance to win one of ten $500 gift cards given out each month.”
I look at the nametag on his shirt and tell “Brad,” with all momentary sincerity, that I will do exactly that, and thank him again for his help.
On my way home, I remember it was this same Brad who has helped me several times in the past. I genuinely do appreciate that he always treats me with respect, despite the fact that my fogey-tude causes him to inwardly roll his eyes every time I walk in the door. I like that he thinks I’m hip enough to have an opinion on the latest hot new games and doesn’t try instead to sell me a pack of playing cards or a nice backgammon set. So when I get home, I go online and take the survey.
When I enter feedback code, I learn that “Brad” is a pseudonym that lets him relate to his teenage demographic better than his real name, which is “Frederick.” (Great name for a Halo villain, not so great for a gabby GameStop clerk). I run quickly through the various questions, made simple by the fact that Brad/Frederick does such conscientious work and deserves to be rewarded. I’m “extremely satisfied” with my overall GameStop experience, so much so that I nearly climaxed, but there’s no place to add that. I did make a trade-in with my purchase and it was worth “about what I expected.” Yes, I was “acknowledged” when I came in the store; yes, I was offered additional products or services; and yes, I was thanked for my purchase. I considered myself “very likely” to recommend this location to a friend, and “very likely” to visit again some day.
Finally, I’m asked what could this GameStop location do in the future to improve my experience, and am advised that “all ideas and suggestions are welcome.”
Well I must say, despite the questionable management of the business’s finances at a macro level, I have to admire the can-do spunk and spirit shown in this store. I’m always happy to see Brad working because I know he’ll do right by me, even when they’re at their busiest. He’ll even sneak me to the front of the line on occasion, concerned perhaps that my advanced age will send me toppling over should I have to wait too long behind the jugheads. There’s no telling what he could accomplish.
So I figure I might as well aim high in this free-form field of the assessment, and hope that perhaps the genuine and ambitious attitudes of Brad and his friends could be transferred to issues in the troubled outside world.
“Improvement of service not possible unless they can give away money, increase stalled housing starts, or help Israelis and Palestinians toward a permanent two-state solution,” I write. “Also, fix sign on door that says you open at 11 on Sunday when you open at 10.”