Monday, April 24, 2017

Ptolemaic Retailing (Tradecraft)

Everyone is trying to get the best deal, be they retailers, distributors or consumers. In the game trade, we go through this twisted psychology of denial where we pretend Amazon doesn't exist, since our trade is so fundamentally devalued. It's clear something like half the market, half the people in our area playing games, are buying online. It's such a dominant force, it's amazing we have conflicts with other brick and mortar store owners.

A retailer, not a "game store owner" would look at this and pivot. Pivoting means selling something not devalued. There are plenty of areas of commerce where the manufacturer takes responsibility for their product value. They don't allow it to be dragged through the mud for short term gain.

If I want to buy a Smittybilt bumper for my Jeep, it's a free for all and the market has no bottom. Smittybilt gives zero effs and retailers will race to the bottom with ridiculously low prices on Amazon, along with every off road shop in America. If I want to buy an AEV bumper, I must choose from several approved retailers, all of whom will charge me exactly the same price, and it won't be cheap. AEV can do this because they protect their reputation and their brand value. People complain, they claim AEV is overpriced, but customers enjoy a quality, prestigious product with superior engineering, because the company has the extra cash to do their job. The off road equipment market is mature enough to have both types of manufacturers.

The game trade has very little brand value protection. Just about everyone allows their product to be sold online for less, especially the 500 pound gorilla, Wizards of the Coast. It's a choice they make. Consumers have identified the Amazon price with the MSRP, claiming retailers charging over this price are "gouging." 

Getting back to retailers, what we have is a constant mental crisis as we wrap our heads around the equations necessary to make it all make sense. The game trade is what I call Ptolemaic Retailing. Ptolemy was an astronomer who created this incredibly complex, convoluted theory of how the Sun rotated around the Earth. His math was complex, but entirely correct in describing what he saw. However, the underlying reality of what was actually happening was entirely wrong. Ptolemaic Retailing is attempting to stuff our complex set of wrong observations and assumptions into a business model that works from sheer force of will. 

We guilt customers. We entice them to shop with us with Things Not Retail. We have arguments and worries about authenticity and reputation and even issues of love. We squabble amongst ourselves for the crumbs that fall under the table. We build exotic edifices to the pursuit of ancillary reasoning. We're told the game trade penetrating mass market is good for us, as sales of affected games evaporate. It's madness and it wears you down, let me tell you. A retailer, a dyed in the wool retailer (to paraphrase Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg ), would look at the trade, a sea of Smittybilts, and look for the AEVs in the rough. Perhaps it's specific product lines. Perhaps it's moving on to a different line of business altogether.

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