The Fine Art of Bartering, 2008 Edition

2008 June 17
by Vanir

Last week, all of us here at SR were pleased to find an incredibly sweet deal on the 4th edition boxed set of books. $57, and that included shipping. I have no idea how the Internets brought us this price, but whatever deal had with WotC saved me a whole ton of money. I just got my books on Saturday, and they are Fantastic. Reviews will be coming as soon as we have read enough to have any idea what we are talking about! Unfortunately, that’s not really what I wanted to talk about right now — it is simply the root from which a very stupid tree grew.

Dante went into one of our local gaming shops over the weekend, and during the course of a conversation with one of the employees about 4e, he mentioned that he got his 4e books already. And. in a nutshell, the conversation went something like this:

Dante: “I see you’ve got 4e books in. I love the new edition. Got my books just this week.”
Employee: “Well I bet you paid more somewhere else!”
Dante: “Actually, I got them online for $57 shipped.”
Employee: “Why the hell did you do that? Where are you going to play games if you don’t support your local gaming shop?” <begin several more minutes of vitriol and guilt>

This begs two questions. One, why the hell would we buy it online as opposed to this guy’s gaming shop? I think the answer possibly lies with the fact that we could get it for $57 instead of $102. I can understand buying local under most circumstances, to support the community and local commerce and all that. But please forgive me if I do not have enough civic pride or have enough loyalty to your store to take advantage of a price that is over half off what you’re asking. I get that Internet sales are killing brick and mortar stores. I understand why he didn’t go under the MSRP. But I also happen to have both a newborn and a thirst for Xbox games, and he’s crazy if he thinks I’m not going to take a $45 discount on the same product.

The other question, as to where we’re going to play games if we don’t support our local gaming store, made me a little angrier. Making customers feel guilty about not shopping at your store makes me want to shop at your store considerably less. You know what’s going to happen if you piss everybody off and nobody buys stuff at your shop anymore? We’re still going to buy our stuff elsewhere and we’re still going to play games wherever we want. And for the record, I have never played a game inside a game store before. I have this thing called a “kitchen table” around which we all gather. Some of my friends have a similar device.

When Dante told me his tale, I got my +3 panties in a twist, and I had written most of this article before I realized that I might not know the whole story here. I’ve never run a shop before, much less a gaming shop, and I don’t know how everything works exactly. Fortunately, my friend Tony did run one up until recently. So I asked him his thoughts. And basically, I was pleased to hear that I wasn’t completely off the tracks in my thinking (at least in his opinion). The guy’s price really wasn’t his fault, and he did think the guy was kind of a toolbox for guilting his customers. A lot of the guy’s problem, Tony thought, was that the owner of our local store hadn’t figured out it was 2008 yet and he was playing by an old set of rules. Tony knew right from the start that his store wasn’t going to be able to compete with the prices of the Internets, and thusly, he offered a lot of things that the Internet couldn’t give his customers. He hosted events, like tournaments. He held promotions. He gave people reasons to want to physically come into the store. And he supplemented that income with Internet sales.

All of us here at Stupid Ranger are firm believers that a strong gaming community benefits everyone. But I also believe that a good gaming community is founded when a lot of people discover a common interest and all work together to make it great. Not because they feel guilty about it. If you want your store to be the center around which the local gaming revolves, make your store kick ass. Give us reasonable prices, host fun events, put up leaderboards, and let people get in contact. The community doesn’t even have to be IN the store — put up a website. Offer stuff for sale online. Put up forums and spread the word to your customers. Get us involved and make it relaxing and enjoyable for us. It’s gaming, we’re supposed to have fun. Don’t make us feel like we’re going to sink the whole community and make your family starve if we don’t jump on your wagon. I have my own wagon. It is nice.

I imagine this article is probably going to piss a couple people off, but this is part of the world all of us gamers live in. I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts and experiences, especially any of you who own a game store. And please note that I didn’t name any names. I probably won’t be shopping at this particular place again, but I certainly don’t want them to lose business. I want to see our local gaming shops succeed just as much as the next guy.

12 Responses leave one →
  1. mudbunny permalink
    June 17, 2008

    I have given up shopping at my (not-so)FLGS for RPG books. While they have a great selection of RPG books (as well as an amazing selection of board games) the attitude I get from them is crap. My nsFLGS, the last time I was there waiting in line to buy 3 board games and 4 splatbooks, spent 30 minutes ignoring me while he discussed M:tG with the guy in front of me. Not actually buying/selling anything, but discussing strategies and preferred decks. I understand that M:tG may be his braed and butter, but still, how hard would it have been to ask the other guy to step aside, and ring me through the cash.

  2. Todd Bradley permalink
    June 17, 2008

    I’ve only had 2 game stores I’d call “local” in the past 12 years.

    One was a Wizards of the Coast outlet store, which offered the same products you could buy online, for the MSRP. They offered no additional services, and they went out of business.

    The other was a small locally owned comic book and game store that offered great service, including big tables in the back that anyone could reserve for gaming for free. After the MTG craze blew over, they found that they couldn’t make rent selling comic books and games, and so they went out of business, too.

    So I don’t have any local game stores anymore, and don’t feel at all bad about buying all my games online.

  3. Michael permalink
    June 17, 2008

    I have to admit, I did feel a bit guilty about buying my copies of the new books via amazon. I love my local game store (Phantom of the Attic Games in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh), but the nearly 50% discount offered by Amazon was just too sweet to pass up.

    Unfortunately, small, local stores are unable to compete on media with the big box stores and internet giants. Amazon is buying in such bulk that it makes sense for WOTC to cut them a deal. They’ll still make a good profit. Amazon will be moving so many copies, they can afford a smaller profit per item. By being an online store, they are also able to cut down on overheard (staffing/location costs/etc). They are able to turn around and pass those savings on to the consumer.

    Since I’m lucky enough to have a great game store in town, I make sure to by my minis, paints, battle mats, dice, other accessories, the occasional board game, and the occasional manual in the store.

    I plan on spending the $50 i saved specifically in the store…

  4. Sal Manzo permalink
    June 17, 2008

    I’m with Michael. I couldn’t pass up the discount compared to what my FLGS could offer (Game Empire, Pasadena, CA), but intend to offer them my cash for some of their higher margin stuff.

    That said, I’m fortunate to have a few stores in my area. I switched from m old store to GE because it _was_ a nsFLGS. GE is nice and bright, with friendly staff and a decent selection of stuff (plus a very nice used item area, and significant gaming area). My old store was grognard central, with a better selection but indifferent staff and more claustrophobic feel. My wife doesn’t mind going to GE with me. She would find something else to do if I wanted to go to nsFLGS.

  5. Kavonde permalink
    June 17, 2008

    I don’t normally buy books at my FLGS, because as you said, online stores like will often not only be cheaper, but will even provide me with free shipping. If I don’t need a book right away, it’s a perfectly acceptable arrangement.

    But even though the shop owners don’t try to dish out guilt trips for this sort of thing (actually, they do the opposite), I still feel kinda bad for it. I know how tough it’s got to be to own and operate any kind of small business in this country right now, and I really do value the community of nerds that the store has helped grow and foster over the years.

    I ease my conscience by buying all the accessories I need there (tile grids, miniatures, paint and supplies, etc.), but I still feel vaguely guilty about the books. Then again, if the owners were actively trying to make me feel bad, I’d probably be about as ticked off as you were 😛

  6. Joshua Jabin permalink
    June 17, 2008

    While I agree that local gaming stores certainly shouldn’t try to make their customers guilty, I can understand the frustration. It’s nearly impossible for them to lower their prices and still make any money. Online sources, however, can buy in enough bulk that they can offer significantly lower prices. It’s difficult to survive when customers can get the same products for cheaper somewhere else. It’s understandably frustrating that it’s so difficult for a local gaming shop to survive, and, although it shouldn’t, that frustration is bound to occasionally be targeted at customers who shop online.

  7. kanati permalink
    June 17, 2008

    *I* paid the 102 dollars and supported that shop. So great big raspberries to you.

  8. Dante permalink
    June 17, 2008

    It really wasn’t all that big of a deal, honestly. I understand their frustration at being undercut by a readily available provider.

    I like the notion of buying minis and gaming supplies from the local shop, but honestly I’ve not had much a need for stuff like that lately.

    I’ll probably end up buying that stuff from the local gaming shop. And used video games too. When I’m actually needing those things, that is.

  9. TMan permalink
    June 18, 2008

    I also paid the big bucks for the set at my FLGS (Dragon’s Lair, Austin TX) despite the full price tag. But I did so knowing that I want that store to be there so I can browse the books I don’t already know I want to buy.

    A friend of mine said it best. Today, a FLGS is a boutique. It has to cater to the customer in service and fun because they will never be able to compete completely on price. So, they should never use guilt to motivate a purchase, they should use expertise and advice, knowledge of products, events, etc to entice the customer. After all, Amazon is never going to have a raffle for free minis at the midnight sales event (like my FLGS).

  10. Ben Overmyer permalink
    June 18, 2008

    I live in Brookings, South Dakota. It’s one of the more urban areas in SD, with a population that occasionally exceeds 20,000 when the school year starts. We have one FLGS (whose owner also owns the consignment/clothing shop across the street).

    I bought my 4E boxed set from him for $89 even. Even though I’m amazed he’s able to afford it, he offers 20% off every single gaming product in the shop, regardless of how new it is.

    I haven’t seen his numbers, but I think he makes margin on HeroClix and comics. Since the shop doubles as an aquarium, he also makes coin off of fish and fish supplies. Fish and games may sound like an odd combination, but it seems to work.

    The only thing he doesn’t have is a lot of in-store gaming space. He has one table in the back, but it’s not enough space for big groups (7+ players) or tournaments.

    I think what we really need these days is a new take on what a FLGS should be. The old model isn’t surviving well these days.

  11. Charles permalink
    June 20, 2008

    I have seen the same problems with another hobby, racing grade R/C trucks/planes. Most local hobby shops (LHS) just can’t compete with the big internet stores on kits, and those are the biggest ticket items in the hobby. When it comes to parts, service, and know how they can, and usualy do, wipe the floor with the net stores.

    I see the same thing here with the game shops. They can’t compete with the net shops for books and such, but they can compete when it comes to things like mini’s, paints, and so on.

    Like the former shop owner said, they are running the old buisness model, and it is not working anymore. These shops will have to change to take advantage of what they can do better than the net, and/or deversify what they offer like the shop in the last comment.

    In the end it is just the changing of the times and buisness, those that can adapt will, and those that won’t will go the way of the dodo.

  12. Darth Krzysztof permalink
    June 24, 2008

    I preordered my 4E set on Amazon (early on, too) for the deep discount, but got a message *on the day it was supposed to ship out* saying my order was going to be delayed by at least two weeks.

    So next day I ended up paying full price for the last copy an FLGS had. That was also Worldwide D&D Game Day, so I went to a different FLGS to play, where they had millions of copies. (I bought at the first store to get my Frequent Buyer card stamped, though, since I was paying the full $105)

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