Will GameStop be the Next Blockbuster?

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As a kid, I loved going to Blockbuster. Wandering the aisles looking for a new movie or game to rent and enjoy over the weekend. Blockbuster was responsible for some of my earliest gaming memories, back in the day of Nintendo 64 and GameBoy Color. It also provided a much cheaper alternative to buying games from Best Boy or Toys R Us. But, due to the rising popularity of unique rental services like Redbox and Netflix as well as the growing video-on-demand market, the company went bankrupt, was bought by Dish Network and eventually became defunct.

As Blockbuster was waning, GameStop soon became its replacement for affordable gaming. By allowing customers to sell games back to the store and buy used games, GameStop was able to create a new market in the void left by Blockbuster.

However, in recent years, I found myself going to GameStop less and less. I passed by one while running errands the other day. Part of me wanted to go in and see what they had in stock. Another part of me thought, what was the point? I had already browsed the PlayStation Store and didn’t buy anything then. It left me wondering, will GameStop will go the way of the Blockbusters?

GameStop’s business model, even with high prices on used games and low-balling on trade-ins, is relatively customer friendly when comparing it to its brick and mortar competitors. But in the age of the digital marketplaces, GameStop simply cannot keep up. While Xbox and PlayStation’s storefronts have been open for business for over a decade, it wasn’t until the beginning of the current generation of consoles that they became fully competitive with the likes of GameStop.

By offering free games to paying members of Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus, the two console makers have created a service that the brick and mortars are unable to do. Additionally, the use off publisher, franchise and the occasional flash sale gives customers a reason to return to PlayStation and Xbox over and over again.

This continuous loop from one sale to another, whether or not players are even buying anything, draws eyes to the digital stores and away from what other stores are offering. The announcement of a Flash Sale on PS4 games always has me looking to see what the deals are, even if I never intended on buying a new game on that given day. And once I’m looking at the Flash Sale deals, I take a second to look around at what else the PlayStation Store is offering. At the time of me writing this, they were promoting the second episode of Batman: The Telltale Series and a sale on the Assassin’s Creed franchise.

From the one sale, I’m drawn in and kept inside of PlayStation’s ecosystem, a move that benefits the customer and the company alike. That’s some power that GameStop doesn’t have, at least not at the moment. GameStop, in recent years, has diversified the offerings of their stores. Customers can become PowerUp Rewards Pro members and receive some perks for their purchases and trade-ins, which now includes more than just video games. GameStop now allows customers to trade-in and purchase electronics in their retail stores as well as gaming-adjacent trinkets and toys from ThinkGeek.

In August 2016, GameStop also purchased over 500 AT&T stores in order to diversify their business model even further. The idea here is to sink hooks into a more casual customer, one who wouldn’t normally find themselves in a GameStop in the first place. But what is key for GameStop’s future is to have recurring, loyal customers. It’ll be difficult to pull off, since PlayStation and Xbox have their loyalty built in. (If you’re browsing their respective stores, you’re likely to be using one of their consoles.) There needs to be a real reason to go in to a GameStop again and again that you can’t get digitally. For me, it’s could have been that aimless wandering I loved about Blockbuster as a kid. But, as I mentioned before with PlayStation’s Flash Sale, that feeling has already been recreated.

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Dan Berlin

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