Monday, July 26, 2010

Law of the Jungle

I was driving home today thinking about the various types of customers. My mind was still in Robert E. Howard's Africa after reading Solomon Kane for a week. I got inspired by Paizo's Heart of the Jungle. It may have influenced my thoughts:

The Alpha. These are the guys (they're all guys) who visit once a week, follow new releases, and generally spur us on to be a cutting edge retail establishment. We hit street dates because of them. We study new releases so we don't miss anything, and we enjoy talking about their characters (or army, or latest board game experience). They are often mistaken for those "friends" that staff seem to be enthralled by. Statistically, they're our top 30 or so customers and make up a fairly small group. If retail were a performing art, these would be our season ticket holders and our toughest critics, the people that we're trying to impress. Sometimes we forget that the regular customers, the bulk of our business, only visit monthly. "Yeah, that's not new, it came out two weeks ago." Alpha gamers tend to be involved across multiple departments, such as role-players who also play miniature games. They are statistically more likely to use the game space, but many couldn't care less about it.

The Regular. The Regular visits us about once a month; the average. They tend to be focused on their one game, although some are casual about a secondary game. Most are somewhat informed about street dates and new releases. They are no less important than our alpha customers, and in fact, make up the bulk of our sales. These are not anonymous folks. We tend to know much about their game, have a general idea of their likes and dislikes, and can often steer them to what's new since their last visit. Many will ask "What's new?" It's a question that implies a) I remember what they like, b) I remember the last time they visited, and c) I know ... what's new. The store needs to be aimed at The Regular, but it's often counter-intuitive, since we get so much more feedback from The Alpha.

The Vulture. This might sound like a derogatory term, but the vulture is essential to a retail operation. Vultures only shop the sale, the clearance rack, the ding & dent section, or the used book department. Retail inventory is a zero sum game, so we can't buy new, potentially profitable games until the old, unprofitable product has been cleared out. Regulars and Alphas will buy some clearance stuff, but they tend to be new release driven. The vulture is rather skeptical of new releases, preferring the old and the on sale. New releases will be old and on sale soon enough from their perspective. The Vulture provides a necessary service to the retail ecosystem. Many are deeply knowledgeable gamers with decades of experience in a wide variety of games. Some have deep knowledge of the game industry and have transcended the mainstream game trade, often picking up games for reasons that have nothing to do with the game's intended purpose.  Experienced retailers know to embrace the vulture. Every product has a life cycle and there is some security in knowing that at the end, the vulture awaits.

Internet Shopper (The Parasite). While The Vulture plays an important role, the Internet Shopper is a parasite. These are people who visit the store, shop for games, ask lots of questions from the experienced staff, and then buy everything online. Some of them have been visiting us for years, despite hints that we would rather they not. The worst Internet Shoppers will use our game space, taking up additional resources used by members of our gaming community. The very worst will encourage others to follow their oh so clever path. Of all the types of customers, we have no use for these people. Let me also mention that this does not refer to people who occasionally buy online or even buy a LOT of stuff online. Many, many customers match that description, and although we would like to gain more of their business, I understand their reasoning and hope to find ways to better engage them. The people I'm referring to are those who virtually never buy from the store in such an obvious manner that speaking to them seems like lost moments of your life.

The Angel. How to describe this customer? The rent is due. Payroll has been pushed back a couple days already. In walks this customer, the friendly, easy going gamer who wishes nothing but a pure retail experience. They've got retail needs. You will satisfy them. Angels spend a lot of money. They're not alphas or regulars, they're a handful of customers who will literally make your day. They often have a knack for buying the unusual, or the overstock, or some other combination of merchandise that required the stars to align in our favor. Some visit only once or twice a year, but it's memorable. Retail is a nasty, brutish way to make a living and many a day is spent knowing you'll be losing money, sometimes lots of money. The Angel can save the day, or the week, possibly push you over the edge to make rent or payroll. Most have been our customers for years. Most, I think, don't really know how important they are to the business, especially psychologically.

Finally. It's generally bad form to talk about these archetypes, mostly because people will try to classify themselves, often erroneously, either up or down. Every Regular thinks they're an Alpha. Every Alpha thinks they're an Angel. The Internet Shopper doesn't care what I have to say and The Vulture is too busy on some online Delphi forum to notice. Save the Internet Shopper, every group is needed to keep the store going. Every customer is important.

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