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 explores the holiday seasonality in brick and mortar game stores. 

I have heard from a number of stores that they have started shaking off the December doldrums and sales have picked up. Typically, what happens with specialty brick-and-mortar game stores is that we see great sales, much like everyone else, over the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend and then sales slack off for the next two weeks to sales levels more typical of a non-holiday sales period before picking up towards the end of the second week of the month. Why?

Anymore I put it down to the effect of online sales. As more and more people move to do their shopping online (both Singles Day and Cyber Monday set sales records again), the sales that the brick-and-mortar store would see early in December have shifted to the online realm.

Remember, the specialty game store itself is a comparatively recent phenomenon, only predating the rise of the Internet by about ten years or so and it is only in about the last 10-15 years that Christmas sales have provided significant dollar amounts of store revenue. That was when we started seeing the “Euro-style” board game enter the mainstream and customers beyond the hardcore D&D, miniatures or boardgames customers venture in. Concurrent with that, we started seeing an increase in the professionalism of the game store as it moved beyond second-hand fixtures and poster-plastered windows to high quality display racks, accent lighting, illuminated exterior signage and upscale flooring, putting many game stores on footing equal or better than that of the typical mall store. During that time period, the lack of Christmas sales did not bother most game stores as they expected to make up the lack of pre-Christmas sales with “Grandma” money after the holiday and always expected above average sales during the two weeks after Christmas.

Today, as the type of games specialty game stores sell have become more mainstream, with even D&D books hitting the top of national best seller lists, we have to compete more for the holiday shoppers’ dollars with many of them looking online first because, frankly, most of the time they will find the games they want there more cheaply than at the specialty game store. However, as the Christmas holiday gets closer, it becomes more “dicey” to put in an order through an online retailer, as many of them will not guarantee on-time delivery for Christmas after about the 19th or so. December 15th , in fact, was Free Shipping Day, a day on which many online retailers offer free shipping on products. Now through Christmas, free shipping for many sites goes away and customers may have to pay a premium to get their orders delivered by the 24th. However, the FLGS will have a lot of those same products in stock and ready for the customer to just walk in, purchase what they want and go, without any worry as to whether it will arrive on time or not. Of course, the concern for the FLGS is, did it stock the right products in the right quantities and can it get at least one restock of sold-out games this week?

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