Two Huge Lessons from the GameStop PowerPass Debacle
In October, we talked about our excitement for the launch of the PowerPass program from GameStop. The program, which was expected to launch November 19, would’ve given Power-Up loyalty members a used game rental option at GameStop and seemed to be a solid strategy for driving in-store foot traffic.
But earlier this month, just days before it was set to officially become available, GameStop very quietly canned the program. Though the company said it was due to “program limitations,” several reports cited issues with the GameStop’s point-of-sale system being able to actually support PowerPass.
The program had been in a soft-launch phase where certain consumers and employees were putting it through a test run.
“We have elected to temporarily pause the roll out of the new PowerPass subscription service, based on a few program limitations we have identified. We feel this is the right thing to do for now to ensure we are able to provide our guests an exceptional service,” a GameStop spokesperson told the website Kotaku. “For those guests who have already purchased the service, we will allow them to bring the pass, and video game they have checked-out, back to receive a full refund. In addition, we will allow them to pick out any Pre-Owned game for free.”
The company has asked staff to get rid of the store’s Holiday Guide and asked them to replace a weekly ad, both of which had promotional material around the shuttered program. GameStop hasn’t left any hints as to whether PowerPass could return in the future.
The story is more cringeworthy to us as the consumer tech covering media because we were on top of the initial launch itself only to see it all come crashing down basically two weeks after first reporting on it. Aside from Power-Up members and GameStop shareholders who have a vested interest in the company, the average consumer likely missed this story altogether.
CE retailers should take note of how this all unfolded though, because there are two very important lessons to be learned from GameStop’s missteps.
Lesson 1: Check your Tech. Pretty straightforward here. Though they didn’t say as much, the reports out of Kotaku alluding to a point-of-sale system that was out of date and unable to support the PowerPass program tell you all you need to know.
It’s absolutely critical for retailers to upgrade—and, at the very least, maintain—their retail technology to ensure they can offer customers an optimal shopping experience. Point-of-sale technology is the top-of-mind retail tech at the moment because of the GameStop story, but it should include everything from product labels, to in-store kiosks, to the TV wall video loop. Customers today can very easily pick up on the slightest glitch or error, and when they do, it makes them a little less confident in you as a potential solutions provider—especially in the consumer electronics space.
Speaking specifically to the alleged issues with PowerPass, this is a perfect example of an awesome idea being bogged down (possibly) by outdated or incompatible technology. If incompatibility is truly the issue for GameStop, the fix isn’t going to be a quick or cheap one. You’re now talking about having to replace the POS software and/or hardware at every single GameStop location, which might not be worth it if they don’t see the benefits outweighing the costs.
Additionally, if it is just a maintenance or outdated tech issue, it’s one that might’ve been avoided had the company had a strategy for proper upkeep on in-store technology. It’s possible that they did—but even then, it’d a pretty big oversight on their part to think that they could launch a new program without checking to make sure their software was able to support what they were aiming to accomplish. Which, as it happens, is a perfect segue to lesson number two.
Lesson 2: Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself. GameStop should’ve realized that this program wasn’t going to be able to get off the ground before they went ahead and did a “soft launch.” The only reason that this story is a story is because GameStop went out and announced that it was going to offer this awesome new program, only to have to turn around a few weeks later and renege.
This whole situation feels like an office cliché. It probably started as someone’s good idea that caught steam, started rolling downhill, moved too quickly, started losing control, and then crashed and burned. The management team probably all bought in, they got super jazzed about a new idea that could revitalize their customer base and bring them back in-store, so they pitched it to the higher-ups, built out this great concept of a program, and launched it before checking in with their IT team to make sure it was something that they could actually, you know, do. (Raise your hand if you’ve heard that one before.)
So, not only did they get ahead of themselves technologically, but also from a company-wide communications standpoint. Someone, somewhere at GameStop had to have known that this wasn’t going to work with their systems. Or, if they did, they probably found out too late, were asked to try to fix it before the launch date, and had to break the bad news that it wasn’t going to be possible.
Soft launches, like what GameStop had done with PowerPass, are a great opportunity to work out those problems and even just to uncover them in the first place. For all of the grief it feels like I’m throwing their way, they truly did do the right thing here in how they tested the program. That soft launch did it’s job and did it effectively—it allowed them to test the program out in its intended environment and prevented them from launching it on a wider scale as issues cropped up.
But from a communications standpoint, they should’ve left themselves more time to ensure that the program would work and could launch. Because they got ahead of themselves, they were essentially forced to recall a product/service before it even made it to market.
It’s my hope that we do see PowerPass eventually become available as a service from GameStop, because I really think it has potential. It’s a program we were excited about. It deserves a happy ending despite the troubled state it currently finds itself in.