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30 Oct 2017

Learning from Amazon

I was in New York City recently and took the opportunity to stop in to see one of Amazon’s newer physical retail stores, located on 34th St right across from the Empire State Building.  Given the primary commentary across the retail industry this year is how Amazon is crushing all the “Brick & Mortar” retailers who have a physical location, I’ve been curious to see how the “King of internet retail” approached the challenge of a physical location.  I took a few notes and my experience has me thinking about some changes to implement at Fair Game as well.

– The first thing I noticed when walking in is how very “clean” their design is.  Very neutral/warm colors, all the items are faced out (ie you see the cover of the book and not the spine), display tables are not “busy”. It was very apparent that they significantly filtered and curated the selection of materials available to purchase.  If you wanted a book that was listed on Amazon’s Top 10 list, you’re in luck.  If you wanted a travel guide for your upcoming trip to Myanmar, you are better served to walk down the street to the Barnes & Noble store which has a significantly larger selection of books to buy.

– AMZN attempted to bring the user interface you are familiar with online, into the store.  Much of Amazon’s early growth spurt has been attributed to their use of the “Customers who purchased X also bought Y” feature which eventually morphed into the use of very sophisticated algorithms that utilize your past browsing/purchase history (and everyone else who is profiled as similar to you) to make recommendations on what you might like.  In the store there was a SIGNIFICANT use of the “If you like this, you’ll love this” mechanic as well as highlighting the Amazon rating on everything they sell (4.6 Stars!!) and also adding an amazon user review (a positive one, of course!).

– There were no price tags. On anything.  Several signs sprinkled throughout the store stated what the price would be (Amazon Prime Member?  You get the online Amazon price.  Not a member of Prime? You pay full list price). There were also scanners around the store that you could use to scan the barcode of the item and have it display the price.  On the shelf in front of the item, there were shelf tag/displays, but instead of showing the price it showed the amazon rating for the product as well as the review or some other mention that let you know it was safe to purchase (95% of people who buy rated 5 stars!).

– Specific to board games, I was quite surprised at how many games they had for sale as well as the assortment.  A four foot wide shelf upfront was dedicated to games, along with another 8+ feet in the back (next to the childrens/teens book areas) and some space up near the check out line that had small box games (Sleeping Queens, etc) that people could easily grab on their way up to the counter.  Games they had displayed and available for sale included Tokaido (plus an expansion!), Onitama, Reverse Charades, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, Bears vs Babies, Codenames, Takenoko and Rubiks cubes.  There were many more but I neglected to take a picture showing them all. Interestingly, it appears that a good part of the decision making on what games made the cut had to do with the physical footprint of the game box. I did not see one game that was larger than the width of Ticket to Ride.  And keeping with the approach with books, everything was faced out.

– They separated parts of the store into quite a few different segments.  I don’t know if this led to any particular titles being located in more than one part of the store or not, but it was interesting to interact with, as a consumer.  One of the segmentations they used was based upon age brackets.  For example, Fiction ages 6-8, 9-12, etc.  I found it would make it MUCH easier to purchase something for my child or friend, given the different age segments were (hopefully) curated with age appropriate titles. Books might be a little easier to do this for (as there is a little more of a natural progression of complexity and content within books) but it still got me thinking about how we could do a MUCH better job of organizing and communicating to customers within the store.  Ie we have a segment of “Kids Games” but that segment could be organized and broken down even further to help those customers who are looking to make a purchase for a 6 yr old rather than a 10 yr old.

– Another section of the store that they devoted about 6-8 feet of wall space to was titled “Page turners” and explained that these were books that Kindle users on average finished in less than 3 days. I took that description to mean those were titles that would “draw you in and is easy enough on the eyes and brain functioning” to make it enjoyable for people to binge consume.  I would argue that there are a number of games that I would throw in this type of category…..easy to learn, high replayability and something you can’t wait to get back to the table with a new set of friends. Basically, “binge worthy” games.

– One final observation that I felt was significant.  The front of the store was very open and there was nothing higher than 4 foot tall that would impede your line of sight, but once you got into the middle of the store, the shelves got VERY tall.  It brought in what I would call the “library effect”, where you get into an aisle of books and just get lost looking at all the different options. The “make sure the consumer has line of sight to all parts of the store at all time” mantra seems to be stated quite consistently by a bunch of retail experts, so this was a striking departure.

So….what sort of things did I take from my visit that I want to try and implement at Fair Game? 

1 –  Signage and segmentation.  We are going to do a better job of this.  We’ve been kicking around some very small changes/improvements in the past year, but its time for us to get serious.  You’ll see changes soon.  Let us know if you like them!

2 – Related to #1, we can do a better job of creating spaces in the store that are “less cluttered” with product.  The reality is that our small physical footprint makes this a more difficult challenge than if we had 4,000 sq ft to work with, but its something we are going to just need to figure out.  This probably means that the breadth of games we have in stock will be lower, but how many of you have noticed our copy of Rocky Road ala Mode, anyways?

3 – The checkout process and layout was very smooth.  We need to continue to focus on making the checkout process as easy, efficient and convenient as possible for community members who are wanting to make purchases.  We have some work to do on the technology side of things (having a website with e-commerce functionality where you can buy something and pick up in store, for example) but I hope at a minimum that there are very few times during the course of the week where you are having to wait in line for more than 30-60 seconds as folks in front of you finish their purchases.