Competing on Price – Or Not

Recently had a talk with someone who asked me a simple question ‘Isn’t online difficult? You just have price to compete on’.  It is perhaps one of the most common beliefs out there, and the simple fact is that it’s not true.  On the surface, price definitely looks like the only thing that we all compete on; but it really isn’t just about the price + shipping.

Customers choose one company over another for a series of reasons including:

Usability

How useful is the site? To what extent does the site offer you the tools that you need to put an order through.  This can range from offering a payment method that you prefer to a wishlist / guest registry to reviews.  Heck, it could be as simple as having the right colour font.

Reputation

Buying online (heck, buying in general) is a leap of faith.  You only need to go to BGG’s Discussing Retailers section to see the number of times customers have to ask ‘is this company good’?  Having a reputation of good customer service can put you ahead of a similar, less well-known company.

Shipping Speed

How fast does your order go out? Does it take a day? 2 days? A week? It matters to some people, it doesn’t for others.

Selection & Availability

Does a company have everything you want? Do they have it in-stock? Amazon’s a great example of a place that has low prices (especially when you include Free Shipping) but do they have everything you want in-stock? Sure, there’s not a huge difference if you can do multiple small free-shipping orders (like in the US with Amazon Prime) but what if you struggle to reach that threshold?

Returns, Mis-shipments & Other Exceptions

What are the return policies of the company? What are their policies on mis-shipments or wrongly labelled / addressed orders? What are their policies on exceptions or mistakes in the ordering / shipping process?  When everything goes well, we never worry about these things but when it doesn’t, you need to know the policies of the site.  In Canada alone, among the major game stores, the policies dealing with any of these areas are quite different.

Customer Rewards

Are there any? There might be, there might not be; and within the rewards programs there’s quite a difference in degrees and options available.  These things can complicate even a simple site-to-site comparison.

Pre-Order Policies

Lastly, what are your options with regards to pre-orders? There are obviously a lot of ways to take pre-orders – from adding individuals to a notification list, a reservation list, taking orders (and charging for orders) to just taking an authorisation (the way we do).  All of these policies affect customers differently, and again differentiate the customers

The Hidden Cost

Here’s the truth though – the more lax / favorable the policies are towards a customer, the more likely the prices are going to be higher.  As an example – it’s easy to do returns with a B&M store compared to an online store, but you do pay for that convenience.  Again, the same with game space (which we don’t have).  The more you expect in terms of favorable policies and the like, the higher the prices are likely going to be.

There’s a disconnect between us and say, Amazon though – they provide great policies and low prices; and manage to do so without impacting their service much generally.  Of course, they also have a bottomless bank-account.

Changes to Local Pickup Hours

One of the biggest benefits of having recently hired another full-time employee is that we can now have staff at the office on a regular basis. As a result, we’ve finally managed to do away with the appointment system for Local Pickups and extend our hours.

From now on, customers wanting to pick up games in person instead of paying shipping costs will be able to do so any time from 12pm – 6pm, Monday to Friday. No appointment is required; simply wait until you’ve received a confirmation email informing you that your order is ready for pickup, and come visit us during those hours to get your games.

Our office is located at 311 Rear W Cordova, in the alleyway between Cordova and Water St.

We’re hoping that these new hours will make it easier for customers who live farther away from Downtown or work irregular hours to make use of the Local Pickup option. Let us know what you think!

Small Publisher Contest

Well, the first month for the small publisher contest is up.  We decided to go with Reiver Games since we thoroughly enjoy the blog and think both Carpe Astra and It’s Alive should get more air time.

Please post your submissions here for the contest.  The winner will be announced in the June newsletter.

Look forward to reading some great submissions.

Shipping, Order & Return Policies update

We just changed our shipping, order & return policies page.  The main alteration (beyond clarification and design changes) has been to introduce information and explicitly state a new pre-order policy.

Our pre-order policy has been to hold shipping of an order till all products in an order are available to ship unless otherwise requested by a customer.  We are going to continue with this policy at the moment, as customers seem to prefer this method as they may then take advantage of the free shipping policies and ‘banking’ or ‘holding’ various board games for themselves.

However, we have introduced charges for all in-stock games for orders that will not ship for over a month. To clarify, if your order will ship in 2 weeks, you will not be charged until we actually ship the entire order. However, if your order is expected to ship in 6 weeks, we will charge you for any in-stock games that might be on your order.

The reason for this change has been to reduce our holding costs for pre-orders.  When a customer places a $400 order with only one $20 product on pre-order, we are forced to ‘hold’ all $380 of in-stock product aside for him till the order ships.  If this order ships within a month, this is not an issue.  If the pre-order is for 6  months away (its happened), this is a very large quantity of product held aside.  Especially when multiplied over 20-30 customers.

However, I’m not entirely satisfied this is the best option so far.  Other options available at other game stores include:

  • shipping the in-stock product immediately and charging additional shipping for the pre-ordered games when they are available
  • charging for the full amount immediately
  • not taking any pre-orders at all

I’m still considering if there are other options available, and if so, will they meet our business requirements as well as customer service requirements.  If you have any ideas or suggestions, do offer them.  We’d be grateful to hear from you on this.