My experience of purchasing the newest Final Fantasy title reminded me why I have never been the most natural sales person.
Bear in mind before I go on, that I have in the past worked in Game (the high street retailer that sells video games, for those not in the know) as one of those sales assistants who serves you at the till and provides advice on the shop floor. Coincidentally it was this very same store in which I once worked, where I made said purchase.
It was the 15th of February. I had made my way into town with no intention of buying anything at all (rather ironically, my only intention had been to put money into my bank account). Maybe that’s what made it all the more exciting when I walked past HMV and saw a poster in the window for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, a game that I had totally forgotten was being released on the 14th of February. Immediately I had the instinctive feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to help myself. I don’t deny being a fan of the series, and even a fan within the fandom who has very much enjoyed the previous two instalments of the XIII trilogy on PS3. All of a sudden the release of this game had snuck up on me, and at once I felt a desire to take it home for some alone time.
Then it was only a question of price and, in the end, ethics. HMV was thankfully right across the street from Game, and having observed that both retailers were selling at the same price, I decided to check out my third option. A place where you know you’re going to be able to find stuff like this for just a few coins cheaper: Tesco.
As I had thought, it was indeed a whole £5 cheaper in Tesco. Having double checked this for myself, I still stopped short of picking up that copy and heading to the till, comfortable that I’d be saving myself a little bit of money. I asked myself why it was cheaper, and why saving such a little bit in this instance would be important to me? Most of all, I was just instinctively less comfortable with giving Tesco my money than I was with retailers who actually specialise in a knowledge of the games industry. This, for me, was about more than saving a little money. In an instant I knew that this kind of thing could be the death of places like HMV and Game; that in just a few years from now specialist stores could be history and superstores like Tesco will control the entire retail industry. If you’re thinking this process has already begun, you’re right. On this day, though, I wanted no part in its progress.
Proudly back to Game I went, with my ethical thoughts fresh in my mind. Arriving at the till, I was asked the common questions of whether I would like to make any pre-orders or purchase insurance for the game for just £1. Then, this guy starts trying to sell me a limited edition strategy guide for the game. He mentions that, for this game specifically, due to certain elements of the gameplay, the strategy guide would be extremely helpful.
He goes into all of this without first asking me whether or not I had played a Final Fantasy game before, or used one of Piggyback’s famous strategy guides for the series before. If he had, he would have found out that I have used one of these guides for every previous Final Fantasy title I’ve played, and gotten angry at many people who consider this to be some form of cheating (a needless debate that I am not going to touch on here). A Final Fantasy game, I’ve always said, is only truly experienced in full with an accompanying Piggyback strategy guide in tow.
This time, for me, has been an exception. I did not take up his offer of purchasing the guide, partly due to money, but also because I wanted my experience of this game to continue how it started: with surprise, excitement of not really knowing what I’m doing at first, and a freshness that comes with going into something cold. On this occasion I have not even done what I would usually do before purchasing a new game. This includes checking out reviews, or even the previews that appear before release; things I would recommend others do before giving money to certain developers.
Still, the confident sales assistant stood there quoting his sales line. Having done the same thing myself, I saw right through it. I felt I probably knew a lot more about this series than he did. But most of all, I thought of how I would be approaching it if I was in his position at that moment.
The reason I struggled with this side of selling is that I always felt it was surely so obvious to the customer that you were acting; it was your job to make this thing as attractive as possible, even if it was, frankly, not worth your money at all. Game employees are encouraged not so much to think about that, as the profit they themselves will be making. This is why they will always give priority to selling pre-owned titles as well – in that case, all the profit goes to them, and you save money. Everyone wins, apart from the publisher.
So you can see why I have made a point of ethics here. Granted this is not just a retail problem, or a business problem. It’s a human problem.
I remember from my brief days as a door-to-door salesman (what, I didn’t mention I did that too?), being given a ‘script’, a certain few lines that you had to learn off by heart so you could be ready to spew it at the unsuspecting customer as soon as they opened the door to you. It was specially written to manipulate them into buying. To make them want to hear more at least. Every morning before going out we practised this script on each other. Needless to say, for me it felt totally unnatural, and I think for very righteous reasons.
It still surprises me how many people who are otherwise very ethical, will not see this sales technique in the same way that I do. They will make arguments about it being necessary, saying perhaps it is appropriate if you just conduct yourself in the right way and, most importantly, don’t lie. Sure you may not lie, but if instead you are stating an exaggerated truth in order to make something that your target may not otherwise be interested in sound subtly more attractive, is that any better? The serpent did not lie when he tempted Eve. He was the first sales person.
But I see I have started reaching beyond the scope of this article, and the focus of this week. We’re supposed to be talking about video games here, right? Yes… yes, of course we are.