Jon visits GameStop in search of a free disc and gets more than he bargained for.
Late last week I stopped in at a GameStop at a local mall to pick up Capcom's free Monster Hunter Tri demo disc. I stopped in on my lunch break, and thanks to several nearby schools the place was, predictably, a zoo. A large crowd is something I can handle, but what I have a harder time stomaching is the chain's borderline dishonest customer service.
Full disclosure: GameStop and I have a history. I've never made a secret of my less-than-stellar customer service experiences at several of its stores, and while I wouldn't say I have an axe to grind, I'll readily admit that I'm not a GameStop fan and generally avoid their stores like the plague. I pre-order from them only when they have exclusive swag, and enter their stores only when absolutely necessary. The brief anecdote I'm about to relate did nothing to alleviate my disdain.
Upon entering the store, I figured that I might be able to find the discs somewhere in a floor display, thereby skipping the lengthy cash register line entirely. I had no such luck, so I took my spot in line to wait to ask if they had them behind the desk. Aside from the clerk manning the cash register, there was another clerk standing around on the "public" side of the counter doing nothing. Was he on his lunch break? I have no idea. However, he seemed perfectly content to stand there and watch customers wait in line while he assumedly "worked the floor". To his credit he did eventually open up a second register (maybe after he was off of break?), but this was only after the line became ten customers deep and we'd all been waiting there for at least fifteen minutes.
I had a couple of friends with me, so I stepped out of line to walk over and ask him about the demo's availability. He told me that I had to place a pre-order to get it. This was noteworthy on two fronts: First, it was flat-out wrong. The demo has been a known freebie since it was announced, and was always intended to be that way. Second, I can only deduce that he was deliberately trying to mislead me in the hopes that I would mistakenly place $5 down on the game in order to get the demo disc. When I challenged him on the pre-order caveat, he played dumb and asked the other clerk for confirmation. Without looking up from her checkout duties she replied, "Yeah, it's free," in a dull monotone. I walked up to the front of the line, grabbed my disc from the cardboard holder on the counter, and left.
All of this could be excused if it were an isolated incident. Maybe a clerk in a store here and there didn't listen or didn't care, so when asked about the disc they didn't really know and erred on the side of their commission. I could understand that. However, according to an informal poll taken by NintendoGal, this "mistake" is happening at Gamestops all over the country. In the Seattle area alone, over a dozen stores apparently denied customers the free demo altogether without a pre-order, and based on my own experiences here in Atlanta, I can believe it.
The only explanation I can come up with for this sad state of affairs is that store-level managers are tacitly endorsing this behavior, or at the very least looking the other way. I can't see GameStop corporate encouraging the willful misleading of their customers, but the cynic in me can't see them discouraging it either. After all, it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, right? And certainly all Gamestop head office cares about at the end of the day are the pre-order numbers coming in from each store, so if a manager decides to "misinterpret" the price tag on a demo disc, the ill-gotten pre-order money will certainly make it all better.
However, the long-term damage on the customer end is an aversion to the company and an expectation of shady behavior by its staff. I typically expect GameStop employees to be fountains of misinformation, pushers of overpriced used games in poor condition, and hustlers that seem like they're going to get beaten by their pimp at the end of their shift if they don't secure a pre-order. No, I don't want a strategy guide. I don't want "protection" for my game. I don't want to have to pay $5 for something that we both know is free. I will, however, take a one-way ticket out of your store as quickly as possible.
GameStop needs to start treating its customers with respect instead of trying to squeeze them for every dime. They need promotional instructions clearly articulated across their organization to prevent individual store staff from becoming an obstacle to the game-purchasing process. With online shopping becoming easier and easier and digital distribution looming just over the horizon, poor retail service like this will ultimately result in GameStop's retail outlets becoming a thing of the past. I, for one, wouldn't miss them.