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This morning’s “stupid things companies do” report comes to us from Tech Crunch and has to do with some lunacy at GameStop.  For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, GameStop (which also runs EB Games) is kind of Barnes & Noble for games.  In fact, it’s actually a B&N spin-off.  Unlike their former parent, they don’t seem to have a customer-centric focus and this incident is pretty clear proof of that.  But let’s see what you think and maybe figure out a few pointers for all of us along the way.

A new, well-reviewed game came out and of course consumers rushed to GameStop, among other places, to get it.  We’ll let Tech Crunch pick it up from here:

Tucked inside the box was a little surprise: a coupon for a free copy of the same game through the still relatively new game streaming service, OnLive — something which, if purchased directly through OnLive, would cost $49.99. At least, there was supposed to be a coupon…

The reports started trickling in fairly quickly: for some reason, the coupon seemed to be absent from nearly all copies sold through GameStop.

What had happened? Had the folks at the factory forgotten to pack some of the coupons? Nope. Had GameStop worked out a distribution deal to keep the coupons from ever finding their way into their copies? Nope.

GameStop employees had opened the boxes, removed the coupon, and put the product back on the shelf… after orders from above to do so.

Yes, they have proof this was deliberate – GameStop confirmed it on their Facebook page.  OnLive is an on demand game service that delivers games over broadband Internet to the TV and computers. Obviously, someone at GameStop feels that they’re a threat and, as they put it “GameStop’s policy is that we do not promote competitive services without a formal partnership.”  It’s the equivalent of WalMart ripping open DVD‘s that have Netflix coupons inside, removing them and then selling the DVD’s.

So here is what I take away:

  • Did GameStop think they wouldn’t get caught?  Obviously the game is sold through other outlets and as you may have noticed, people are pretty connected these days, especially the audience for video games.
  • On that note, did you think word wouldn’t get out?  Instead of an online competitor getting some sampling, you now have a PR disaster on your hands.
  • That PR disaster is great marketing for…OnLive!  They’ll probably get a fair amount of sampling from all the negative press you’re receiving.
  • This leads to the obvious question:  is this a first?  Apparently, it’s not – former employees have come forth and said GameStop allows employees to open and reseal boxes to try games and sell them as new.  PR disaster #2 waits in the wings…

As the music business learned, you can’t fight technology.  If digital distribution is a threat to your business, figure out how to change.  Figure out how to present consumers with a reason to come to your store – personalized service, game manuals, the advantages of physical media, pricing, etc.  Your former parent company did.  In no case is selling a customer a degraded product OK without telling them that you’ve altered it from their expectations.  There’s too much competition these days to do stupid stuff such as this.

Your thoughts?

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