Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne looks at the future of retail.

I had planned to write about the discussion regarding street dates in the gaming industry, which has raised its head once again (not as easy to set a street date in the gaming industry as in the comic, book or movie industry because of the fragmentation of the channels of distribution) but then this article asking if the sales person is dying as a job category caught my eye, that and the discussion of the growth of the concept of "retailtainment" as the direction in which retailing will move.

If you have read the linked article, there are a couple of points with which I would take issue:

  1. The author grossly overstates the importance of online retailing to the overall retail sector.  Although it has grown rapidly, online retailing still accounts for only about 10% of sales in the entire retail sector.
  2. The retail sector typically ramps up hiring for the holiday season in September through November then lays off a lot of those hires after Christmas, so an 89,000 person decline in retail sales people may not be that out of line for the period October to now.

Retailing remains important, though, with 1 out of every 10 people in the US employed in retailing, and it is still where most people get their first job and learn valuable skills, such as interacting and working with other staff members and the public, time management and personal responsibility, that will serve them, if learned properly, throughout their life.  However, unlike when I first entered retailing in the 1980s, people no longer spend their careers as retail salespeople.

Movement by stores towards part time work, lower wages and fewer, if any, benefits (and I am talking things like health insurance and retirement plans, not free snacks and a discount off game purchases), have kept employee turnover high across the industry, approximating  67%, meaning the average retailer has to replace two-thirds of their staff every year.  This is why many large chains have moved toward self checkouts with only one staff member monitoring 4-6 check out stations while Amazon tests staff-less stores, where the customer selects items off the store shelf, scans the items themselves and the purchase gets billed to their Amazon account.  Simple once set up and no human interaction needed.  Will this happen quickly?  Nah, too much infrastructure needs to get implemented for retailers to adopt the model widely anytime soon, but it is coming.

This is why stores will move toward the "retailtainment" model, in which customers are entertained while they shop.  Customers want an experience to go along with their shopping, which is why they flock to a new restaurant when one opens.  Dining there is a new experience, one they cannot get elsewhere.  In fact this is why new stores have heavy foot traffic for the first few weeks after opening.  Customers looking for a new experience stop by to check it out, but once the new wears out, they head off to the next experience.

So what do game stores have to do?  Create experiences.  Tournament model stores, those with as much or more table space as retail space, already do this, creating weekly or daily experiences for their customers.  The rest of us have to use atmospherics (appealing to the senses) to bring the customer back.  Stores and salespeople aren’t passé but we will have to work even harder to remain relevant.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of