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Level Up: how OpCapita can raise Game from retail ashes

Charlotte is director of Retail and Shopper at leading independent full-service marketing agency Haygarth. Charlotte has over 10 years of experience working across pure retail clients as well as a core specialism in customer marketing for brands trying to achieve cut through, share of voice and sales in third party retail. She currently heads up accounts at Haygarth including Disney and Signet.

Until OpCapita came to the rescue over the weekend, Game’s demise was set to be the largest administration of a listed retailer in the UK since Woolworths crumbled in 2008. Heavy supermarket discounting and the phenomenal rise of online retailing aside, Game’s management could be accused of some of the same mistakes as Woolworths’: miles of wasted, lacklustre retail space, uncompetitive pricing and (according to some disgruntled customers) indifferent, untrained staff.

Basically, Game’s store environment failed to evolve against shopper expectations. Tut, tut. When you’ve got the likes of Amazon on your heels, your retail space is the only card you’ve got to play and Game clearly wasn’t playing its well enough, despite being the leading brand in a £2.8bn market.

So what does OpCapita need to do next in order to retain a strong retail presence for Game on the high street?

According to EA UK boss Keith Ramsdale, a new approach is in order: “Game is full of good people, it's a good store, I just think they need a different approach and I'll think they'll have one.” Well, this new approach will need more than OpCapita’s investment alone. First and foremost, it will need to take into account savvy consumers who do their research online and buy cheaper, rather than making the trip to a dreary store just to pay a higher price.

It is in our industry’s nature to look to the future and arguably there is a place on the high street for a specialist gaming store – but only one that follows a new model.

Specialist: a new definition

There’s always room for specialists if you are, in fact, offering something special. Let’s face it: Game’s stores had become ubiquitous and a little unloved.

What the gaming retail sector is crying out for is a good dose of retail theatre on a daily basis – not just for big game launches. Take the book sector, which has been under similar pressures, but companies such as Foyles are fighting their corner with originality, heritage and atmosphere as their weapons. Foyles has made its flagship store a destination, complete with a café and a wide range of quirky and even vintage books. Further proof is the success of the Apple, Disney and National Geographic destination stores in central London. The richer retail experience they offer should be a shining inspiration to gaming retailers to create a more social, lifestyle-led retail offering.

I know, I know, Apple is always referred to as a glowing example, but with its Genius bars and lots of shiny Apple products to test out in-store, it really does have its customer engagement strategy spot-on. In the same way, gaming stores need to provide something customers can’t get at home and can’t get at Sainsbury’s. OpCapita would be well advised to reduce the number of Game stores but invest in high tech interactive equipment and create an environment where people can relax and spend some time testing out games, which will drive destination shopping, dwell time and engagement.

Making retail more of an experience is one of the best ways of utilising retail space, following in the footsteps of B&Q’s ‘You Can Do It’ in-store kids DIY classes and Disney’s Cars 2 Tour, which brought life size Disney characters to local Asda, Toys ‘R’ Us and Argos stores. Taking your marketing regional is a sure fire way of increasing footfall, giving local customers a reason to come down to the store on a weekend.

What’s marketing go to do with it?

Answer: a lot. One of the most crucial things Game neglected to do (apart from creating stores that lacked the excitement inherent in the product they were selling) was engage with its customer base long-term - the Holy Grail of modern marketing. This is one of the first things OpCapita will have to address.

Customer engagement covers a whole range of elements, starting with staff interaction and store design, layout and well thought out POS and presentation of stock. The most frequent complaint made in customer reviews of Game is experience of noticeably unenthusiastic in-store staff, despite the company’s ‘all our employees are passionate gamers’ USP claim. OpCapita will have to either honour this claim or scrap it. Employees are the front line at retail and it’s important that any retail marketing plan includes internal marketing to turn staff into fans. Training programmes like the award-winning Sales Apprentice programme Haygarth created for HP Palm across the O2 retail estate can enthuse and engage staff, delivering much needed passion to the front line. As we all know, the quality of your people is vital to the quality of your business – especially in a customer service environment.

Finally, the gaming sector is perfectly placed to take advantage of smartphone marketing to reward customers for visiting the store, or produce rich content in the form of a high quality editorial magazine that is a pleasure to read.

Now that Game has survived administration, it must be prepared to rise to the customer engagement challenge and expand its focus beyond mere boxed retail. Otherwise, it certainly won’t be a case of ‘LEVEL UP’.

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