Pre-Orders are Killing the Impulse Buy

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Let me tell you a little story that began long long ago; probably a good three hours even at the time of this writing. It all started with a simple concept: I felt like reviewing a new game this week. It seemed like an easy task to just get a bit of entertainment and knock out some of my quota in one fell swoop. In my mind, I saw two choices of new games to review: Beautiful Katamari and Tony Hawk: Proving Grounds. Not the prime choices I would’ve preferred, but it’s what I had to work with. Since my decision rested between two games that were pretty much identical to their years-old predecessors, I chose to go with the cheapest one. And so I set out with a grocery list that had the words “Milk, Bread, Katamari” scribbled on it. Little did I suspect what a chore just finding that last item would turn out to be.

Since it was closest and across the street from a Jamba Juice, I stopped off at Gamestop first. After perusing the aisles a bit and not finding the one thing I was looking for, I went to the front counter to ask about Beautiful Katamari. The guy behind the counter gave me a look usually reserved for a clown holding a bloody butcher knife, and then told me that they had sold out of the game the day before. He then went on to explain that only two people had pre-ordered the game and so they only received four copies from their supplier. Ironically enough, he stood right in front of a wall of about three dozen copies of Tony Hawk as he was telling me this.

I thanked him anyways, briefly considered buying Tony Hawk, dismissed the idea, and left the store. My eyes immediately fell on a Game Crazy sign off in the distance and I figured, what the hell. So I proceeded to that store, asked the same question, and received the exact same clown-with-bloody-butcher knife look, only from three people simultaneously. Even though the game has been out for two days by now, they told me they hadn’t yet received their shipment for the game. No one had pre-ordered it at this particular location. Once again, I was told this from someone standing in front of about three dozen unsold copies of Tony Hawk.

At this point, I resigned myself to defeat for the time being and looked for a place to eat. About fifteen minutes later I walked out of a shop with a sandwhich in one hand and realized I was standing right next to a Play N Trade. Heaving a long sigh — the kind where you know you’re about to do something pointless just for pointless’s sake — I walked over to the store and went inside. The exchange once I walked in went something like this:

“Hello, how are you doing today?”
“Pretty good. Hey, do you guys have Beautiful Katamari in?”
“I’m sorry, do we have ‘what’ in?”
“Beautiful Katamari.”
“What’s that?”

This did not bode well. As you can imagine, they didn’t have the game; in fact, they hadn’t even ordered it. At this point, my little errand transformed into a straightforward goal. To put it in much nerdier terms, my side quest became the story mission. I mean, here I am, an 18-25 year old male being denied my God-given right to waste some disposable income however I see fit. Madness, I say.

So where did I eventually find and purchase my quarry? At a Fred Meyer of all places (for those not living in the Pacific Northwest, Fred Meyer is essentially like Wal-Mart, only fancier, slightly more expensive, and less reviled). Really I was only there for the milk and bread and just wandered into the electronics section out of habit. So of course after all this time, when three of the game stores closest to me had collectively only four copies, Fred Meyer had five copies just tucked out of the way where no one who wasn’t looking would find them. They also had the requisite three dozen unsold copies of Tony Hawk.

My point with all this — to add a little bit of relevance to my roundabout, rambling tale — is that the whole pre-order system seems to be hurting the good old fashioned impulse buy. Pre-orders are great for those who pay close attention to gaming news and make their purchasing decisions well in advance of a game’s release. But for people in my situation, who find themselves on the fence until release time rolls around sometimes, it can mean they miss out. A new game is released and a games store in the middle of a bustling business area receives only four copies? What made that situation even stranger was that I’d been in that exact same shop last week, and there wasn’t even a display box out saying you could pre-order it. Or what about the second store I visited? So having no pre-orders is an excuse to ignore a release date entirely? Call me crazy, but it seems like more copies of a game will get sold when people can actually see them on the shelf and say, “Hey, what’s that game?” I can understand some stores might not expect huge sales when there are low pre-orders, but I think it’s fairly safe to assume that at least ten copies of a brand new game will get sold sooner or later; if nothing else than at least to the handful of game reviewers in the area.

In other words, from now on all my game shopping will be done at Fred Meyer along with my grocery shopping. Or maybe I’ll just run down to GameStop and pre-order six or seven games. Check back later on when I’ll most likely have a review of Beautiful Katamari posted, which is sure to contain the words “just like in the first game” more than a few times.

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No Comments on Pre-Orders are Killing the Impulse Buy

Daniel

On October 18, 2007 at 8:48 pm

This might seem like a silly question… but you weren’t dressed up as a clown holding a bloody butcher knife, were you?

Sean McGeezer

On October 18, 2007 at 9:34 pm

this all sounds too familiar, the exact same thing happened to me trying to find this game, and sure enough, I ended up getting it at Fred Meyer

Josef

On October 18, 2007 at 10:12 pm

Thats crazy just two or three day ago I went to a wall mart in my town to get The Orange Box and they were all sold out it ended up that all the game stores in my town were sold out of the game….And end the end I went to the next towns (thats about 45 minutes away)Gamestop to get it. I should have Pre-ordered it.

Mr. Sadistic

On October 18, 2007 at 10:14 pm

It always surprises me seeing these stories of certain games (or consoles) being sold out at various stores in a city. Where I live (San Antonio) I’ve never had that problem. I remember walking into a Wal-Mart, expecting to buy just a CD but I saw boxes of Nintendo Wiis for sale. So I picked one up, no hassles. About the only problem I did was when the Onyx Nintendo DS came out. I had to go to about 3 Best Buys and a Target store to find one.

weclock

On October 18, 2007 at 11:32 pm

@ Josef, you can buy orange box online and start playing almost immediately, you have to have an internet connection to play, so it wouldn’t hurt anyone if you did it.

Also, I hate the pre-order system too.

Josh

On October 19, 2007 at 1:16 am

Not surprising.

From a business standpoint, gamestore make $10 profit off of every new game sold. Thats not including payroll and other business expenses, thats bottom line $10 dollars off a video game.

Most suppliers don’t offer buyback incentives like other retail items that are sold, such as toys, cloths ect. Meaning if walmart doesnt sell a certain item, the company it belongs to will buy it back.

Games just don’t work that way. Considering the small amount of money made off games you can’t blame Gamestop ect. to not want to carry a bunch of a particular item when there does not seem to be a demand for it, in your case pre-ordering.

Rollett

On October 19, 2007 at 2:32 am

Gamestop ( i know for a fact ) totaly bases their games in stock off pre-order demand for initial shipments.. if the company gets VERY low pre-orders we get VERY few copys… Not only is there What Josh says.. but they are small stores.. little room… ect we have copys of FREAKEN NANO BREAKER…. we have had them since they came out.. that was when no one pre-ordered… and we got like 5 copys any ways.. still having 3 of those copys from LAUNCH DAY!… the box’s are even fadeing lol.

L Hall

On October 19, 2007 at 7:34 am

If only companies had the ability to predict demand perfectly, unlimited funds to buy games and no risk of financial loss. Wouldn’t it be great?

The reality is game stores WANT to have the game available for you to buy on release day. That is how they make money. However, it is better for them to loose a sale and a small profit than to have the potential large loss of profit from games that do not sell and cash flow issues caused when they can not buy the next big game because their cash is tied up in games that have not yet sold. With the hundreds of games coming out this fall, a company could put itself out of business if they make too many of these mistakes.

Game Crazy is even willing to give you a “RENT ONE GET ONE FREE” certificate for games or movies at Hollywood Video to give you an added incentive to pre-order the game with them. I know this fact does not help on release day when you can not find the game you want but it is an added incentive to look into the games you might want before they come out.

Jonathan

On October 19, 2007 at 12:06 pm

Nice to see some (I’m assuming) employees of these stores on here clarifying things. I hadn’t considered the whole franchise aspect and how the managers only have a limited amount of titles they can order altogether, so it does make sense from a business standpoint to avoid over-stocking whenever possible, particularly when it’s possible for a game to completely flop. Unfortunately, stocking based on pre-orders still leaves out the more casual consumers. Before I started working for this site, I really didn’t pay much attention to game release dates. I’d mostly just wander into a game store from time to time and scan the shelves to see what was available. I wish I could think of a better system for predicting potential game sales, but then I’d probably be working for the GameStop HQ or something.

philip

On October 19, 2007 at 9:33 pm

I agree with the frustration levels of this. Software shouldn’t be so incredibly difficult to come by, as opposed to (for example) the stake-outs to get Wii’s. Once you own the hardware, maybe it’s naive to think so, but I would assume that publishers/distributors would be doing everything possible to get copies represented in stores. Personally, I would love to spend my money in stores like EB that specialize, but I’ve found from experience, that some of the employees (not all of them obviously) are too opinionated, alienating, and ignorant of their product selections. At this point, I don’t want to have to drive to 3 different places to get a game on release date; at this point I can just go to a Wal-Mart or a Best Buy and it will be on the shelf. Yet, for the EB’s near me, there ends up being incredible amounts of confusion and convoluted explanations of “ship dates” and “release dates” that end up condescending to consumers. I don’t love the idea of pre-ordering, because I don’t want to decide about buying something months in advance (unless it’s something I know I really need). There is a big difference between overstocking, and understocking, especially for new releases which must show the biggest profit margins, much like music & video, which show highest sales during that opening first two week window.

Saleem

On October 20, 2007 at 4:16 pm

First I would like to apologize on behalf of that PNT store where you did not get the game. It was not my store, but I plan to open a Play N Trade store in a few months. There were a number of different ways it could have been handled better and one would be to offering to get it for you. Even if it meant driving down to another store to buy it. More than likely that would have shown you dedication to keep you as a customer.

Ordering new games is really fishy and in addition you don’t want to order too many nor too little. Not ordering a game at all is pretty odd but they may not be informed of the game. The reason that a store orders new games is to have variety in product but also so that you would trade in your older games for this new game you want. Thats where they make the money and it is still profitable unlike consoles.

Also the way the industry is set up to ship games is very confusing. Only a handful of games are pre-shipped ala Halo 3. This means that games are in stores before the launch for the street date. This is to make sure the game is in stores and they can work on advertising efforts to make sure people know when it comes out.

Movies and music do this all the time where there is a certain day, typically Tuesday, where a new product gets released. Pretty much everyone sticks to it and the consumer knows the deal… new movies come out on Tuesday. With videogames you don’t get that. You can have multiple release dates in a week especially harder when they come out later in the week due to shipping. If a game is to be released Friday, you won’t see that game till Monday. It is stupid that at lease the large publishers do not agree to do this.

Having the product in store before the release date would help everyone. In addition alot of stores, PNT, Gamestop, Gamecrazy… do their new game ordering based on their pre-orders. Sometimes only limiting new games to pre-orders so when you ask, they remind you that you should have pre-ordered this. This is so games don’t sit on the shelf and get marked down too much. Alot of vendors do not have a buy back program or price protection. So when Beautiful Katimari drops to $30… they are basically not making any money off it at all and if it drops below that they loose.

But it is also the industry that push pre-orders as pre-sales. Thats why you sometimes get press releases for huge games like Halo 3 stating how many are pre-ordered. Another reason why pre-orders are popular is there is a percentage that does not come back to buy the game. So that $5 is just sitting in the store and they will sell your pre-ordered game. Many times you need to come in with in a week to get your game. Also if you don’t have proof that you pre-ordered it, your stuck. This is why there are strong rumors that Gamestop will be increasing the price from $5 to $10 for pre-orders.

So, those are my thoughts… hope that helps kinda.