Is GameStop Deceiving its Customers? Again?

Posted: April 14, 2009 in Articles
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GameStop has gotten a lot of criticism over the years and with their employee borrowing policy now coming to the attention of Kotaku it seems like the floodgates have been opened again.

This isn’t the first time GameStop has been accused of misleading consumers. Since “used” games are shelved right alongside “new” games in the stores, but priced less, its no surprise that the company wants to have a larger number of new games available for purchase. Unfortunately, their definition of “new” does not seem to be meshing with what the law dictates.

In 2003 the company agreed to a settlement in a class action filed against them for reselling games that had been returned to the store, per their return policy, as new. If you’ve ever noticed a sign at GameStop that reads, “All software for video game consoles may have been used and returned in accordance with (the store’s) return policy” then you’ve seen the fruits of this settlement.

Okay, so slap on the wrist and GameStop learns their lesson about false advertising right? Well, maybe not. See when GameStop receives new games they have a practice of opening some games to use the cases as displays. These “gutted” games are still considered new because the contents are all neatly packaged up and filed behind the counter. So when a customer asks why their new game is opened they are told that it was a display box. No harm no fail, so far.

The problem comes when associates check out the games to play at home. They are permitted one game at a time for a free 4 day rental. The benefit being that the employees will have first-hand knowledge of the games they are selling. However, once they return the game it gets filed right next to the display guts and sold as new to the next customer to ask for it. Company policy actually forbids discounting these borrowed games.

This is where the FTC may come in, or as the case may warrant local state deceptive trade practice laws. Is it wrong for GameStop to sell the games as new when they may have been played before?

Most gamers seem pretty quick to jump on the lynch mob lining up outside the stores, but let’s play a little devils advocate, because I’ve got the time and if you’ve read this far, so do you.

Bookstores have similar employee check out policies with their books. As long as the book returns to the store looking unused then it is resold as new. Otherwise the employee is forced to buy it. Same as GameStop, yet nobody is calling for blood here.

Suppose you go to a store a buy a pair of jeans, do you have anyway of knowing that those jeans weren’t already purchased and returned? Somebody could have taken them into the fitting rooms and tried them on without even leaving the store. Does that make them used?

Nobody is crying foul at these business practices, indeed it would seem silly to expect that everything you buy is in the same condition as it was when it rolled off the assembly line. Why are games held to such a higher standard in this regard?

Well, I’ll tell you why, because GameStop has set themselves up for this. By offering new and used games in the same store they are making the promise of a higher standard to their customers. If you go in and buy a used game you expect that it’s been played before, you might even be forgiving of a few incidental scratches here and there or a bent page in the manual.

If you have to pay extra for the same game because you buy it new then you expect there to be a difference. Perhaps not a difference you can see, but a perceived difference in value. Even if the disc is pristine, all the manuals still smelling of fresh ink from the print shop, if that game has been played before then you’ve been lied to. Simple as that.

Now before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I’m not one of those types who thinks that GameStop is an evil corporation that should be put out of business for mistreating their customers. This problem is easy enough to fix, they just have to sell the employee borrowed games as used. This shouldn’t be difficult since about a week after any game is released they have an influx of that game coming back to the store as trade-ins that will be sold as used anyway. I think the employees can wait an extra week to try stuff out, I mean if I can keep up with games without playing them all then surely GameStop’s employees can.

If you’re still upset about getting a crappy deal on your trade-ins, or hate buying new games that are opened already because they were display cases, then don’t shop there. The reason they get away with this stuff is because they can and they can make a lot of money doing it. Let’s start a new wave of consumer awareness here people, the next time you pay new game prices, make sure you’re really getting your money’s worth.

Written for Scrambled Pixel on 4/14/09.

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