10 Reasons That Determine Where We Buy

9 October 2017

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why I buy certain products from some stores and not others.

I’m specifically referring to products that are identical no matter where you buy them (e.g., board games), not products that vary from vendor to vendor (e.g., hamburgers). No matter how you buy an English-language retail version of Charterstone, it’s going to be the same.

Before I continue, take 2 seconds to think about the last product purchase you made. Where did you buy it? Why did you buy it there instead of someplace else?

I buy most of my games from an online store focused on hobby board games. Recently I stopped to think why I buy from this store, as I’ve actually had mixed experiences with them. The true answer surprised me: I buy from this store because they’re really good at listing games as soon as they’re announced, so when they’re fresh on my mind, I can go to one place, search for the game, find it within a reasonable degree of certainty, and at the very least add it to my wishlist.

This is such an odd reason to prefer one store over another, though it’s supported by a more rational reason, which is convenience. Time is my most precious resource, so if I can find and order something in less than a minute and have it delivered to me, that’s wonderful.

Your reasons may be vastly different from mine. While there are certainly more than 10 reasons, I’m going to list what I perceive to be the top 10, followed by a poll and comments section so you can share your perspective.

10 Reasons That Determine Where We Buy

  1. Price: I’m starting the list with price because it’s the most obvious, though it’s so obvious that we may overlook the other reasons. As you read through the rest of the list, ask yourself if you value the reason more than a small increase in price.
  2. Convenience: It’s nice to live in a time when you can order pretty much anything and have it delivered to your front door. Convenience also extends to how easy it is to order something or how hard it is to change something you’re already entrenched in. I shop at the same grocery store because I know where everything is, even though I could probably get better prices elsewhere.
  3. Loyalty: Sometimes we develop loyalty to a certain store or source. I’m talking about true loyalty on an emotional level, not loyalty programs, though those can have an impact as well. Loyalty can go hand in hand with locality–you may feel loyal to the store down the road because it’s nearby.
  4. Credibility: Have you ever looked at how other people have rated a certain store? The reasons for those ratings may be varied, but the average rating can have a big impact on your choice, especially for a first-time purchase. For example, if there’s a store that packages games really well before they ship and another that just tosses them into a box with a packing slip, I’m going to trust the former more than the latter.
  5. Community: This is a reason that can make or break brick-and-mortar retailers, and it’s something online retailers could also do better at. If you have a robust, thriving community, it can draw people in and make them feel included in something bigger than themselves. If you have a stagnant, possessive community, it can make newcomers feel unwelcome. This is often an extension of the environment created by the location.
  6. Customer Service: There are various offshoots of what this means. Part of it is how helpful a store is when you’re trying to purchase a product–do they provide the information you need or even teach you how the product works? Another part is how they respond when you have a question or when something goes wrong. And the last part is about personal connection–it’s high-level customer service when this happens (like how Top Shelf Gamer writes a handwritten personal note on every package they send out).
  7. Priority: There have been a few times that I’ve ordered something simply because I want to guarantee that I get it in the first print run–I don’t want to risk waiting another 6 months to get something I’m really excited about.
  8. Organization: This is what I was talking about at the beginning of this article. I like when a store is up-to-date with information about a product category and when I can easily find and enter my desires on a wishlist (or add them to my cart). It’s even better when the store will contact me when a product is in stock. This isn’t just an asset–when a store offers these things, I quickly end up going to them out of habit and convenience rather than hunt around.
  9. Testing Grounds: I don’t buy clothes often, and when I do, I usually buy them online because of convenience. But many people prefer to shop in person because they can try on the shirt or shoes on before buying them. Same with a game store–you can often test out a game before buying it. This is a powerful reason to make the purchase at a place outfitted with the capability to try before you buy.
  10. Impulse: We’re human, and we sometimes make buying decisions on impulse. This is one of the reasons why companies sell stuff at conventions. I think part of impulse is speed–within a few seconds of deciding you want something, you can own it. That’s pretty compelling.

Okay, so what? What does all of this mean? It depends on who you are:

  • Consumer: The realization I came to is that I should figure out what I value and act on it rather than just default to price (which, as it turns out, isn’t in my top 3). Basically, be true to yourself. If having a testing ground is very important to you, but the store where you try on clothes or test games isn’t where you actually buy them, eventually that store may go out of business and you’ll lose the option of trying before you buy. Same with the other 9 reasons. We have a lot of power as consumers, but we only benefit from that power if we act on what’s important to us.
  • Retailers: I think it’s possible to address each and every one of these reasons–it’s just a matter of how far you’re willing to go and if it’s sustainable. In truth, it may be better to do 7 things really well and sacrifice the others instead of doing an okay job with all 10. I love seeing when stores think outside of the box, like when an online store goes out of its way to create a community or when a local store offers delivery.
  • Creators: Unless you’re planning to never sell your product via retail, it’s important to consider that backers are going to choose between pledging to your project now or waiting to buy it from a store later. You have control over many of the reasons listed above.

What do you think? The following poll is structured so you can pick your top 3 motivators for buying a product from a specific place instead of buying the exact same product from someone else.


17 Comments on “10 Reasons That Determine Where We Buy

  1. Whenever possible I buy at my LFGS. The owner is a great guy that gets to know your personal preferences for games, makes it a point to call you by name when you enter the store, and holds lots of great little events.

    I will always, ALWAYS invest in a place that takes a vested interest in knowing and keeping their customers.

  2. In the last couple of years, i have change my ways of buying games. Previously, it was always about price. I was looking at american and canadian websites, looking for the best deal. But now, having a bigger gaming group and wanting to grow it even more, if the game is language dependant, i put a better value on buying a french copy of a game. Also, being a regular at my local game cafe, where i know the owners and most of the staff, it feels good to buy from them. Even if that means i have to wait a little more to get my games.

  3. One factor of price is shipping cost to me. There are places that can ship the game to me for an equivalent price of 1,5 dollar, on the other hand there are some places that cost like 4-5 – which is quite a lot for a shipping in my country imho.
    Also I take into consideration what does the store offer me – some stores offer points which can then later the price of my next order. Some give a hard 5% discount after a lot of purchases.

    I usually choose between three stores/websites myself – one offers me points and has a really good selection/one has an FLGS nearby so I feel loyal if I support them, but I buy here if the prices are good tbh/or one other website where I find some really good prices sometimes but doesn’t offer any points or discounts, but offers free shipping on almost all my orders

  4. I am the retail manager for a board game cafe so I have a bit of a different perspective than the average consumer. 80% of our customers are super casual gamers and we cater our retail section accordingly with a bunch of heavier titles as well. Many of these customers don’t care about online reviews or seek out cheaper discount online retailers and buy from us. We also know that the area we are in has a large alpha gamer community that has a very active Facebook group that organizes group buys through online stores to get free shipping and they have meetups at supermarket community centers (ie. they aren’t our customers). What we’ve seen is several of our casual customers get into the hobby from us and once they find out about this large gaming group, we never see them again since the organizers of the group “show them the light” of online ordering that is much cheaper than us. I don’t begrudge people looking for a better price especially since prices continue to rise, but it does sting a little.

    1. Thanks for sharing your unique perspective, John! While price does appear to be at the top of the poll, my hope is that this post will inspire people to think more about the other things they truly value and to actively pursue those objectives too.

    2. John, I have been to your cafe and would like to provide some feedback. It seems your cafe has a target demographic (early 20s, very casual and light gamers) and has successfully tailored your business to meet the needs of those customers. Upon moving to the area a year ago and not knowing any gamers, I went to the cafe to seek out connections. Other than the android netrunner meetup, there were no events/meetups for solo gamers or new gamers. The staff looked bewildered and shrugged their shoulders when I asked. A few weeks later I stumbled upon the aforementioned “alpha gamer community” and began attending their events. Perhaps this is a target you are missing. The universities, navy base, and other miscellaneous circumstances provide a steady flow of people into the area. Are you doing anything to bring them into your cafe? More importantly, what are you doing to keep them in your cafe? Have you considered hosting events for solo gamers or new gamers? Thematic events (space, zombie, a certain IP, a game series, etc) might be a draw as well.

      The prices at the cafe are extremely high. MSRP + 40%!! This is a major deterrent for any gamer and customer in general. Are there discounts for customers who already spent 2+ hours at the cafe? Alternatively, if you hosted a “Scythe night” where you demoed the game for groups and then offered a discount on the game, I think you could see a positive return. This could potentially bring back some of those “alpha gamers” who would like to play a game before making a purchase. Jamey, along with other smaller companies, is actively involved in the push help the LFGS. Are you taking the steps to make the cafe a convenient and viable option for people to purchase their games from? How easy is it to pre-order a game such as Charterstone? Your website provides zero information on pre-orders. In fact, it does not even mention that you have games available for purchase!

      Ultimately, there needs to be an incentive for people return to the cafe and/or purchase games. Jamey’s list provides areas that any cafe/store should always seek to provide, especially in terms of loyalty, customer service, convenience, and community. I have been in the cafe five or 6 times, and I’ve always felt like a customer and not a member of a community.

      I hope this helps.

  5. I usually get my games from my FLGS. Sometimes it means paying more, but I look at it as the price I pay for being able to play for free on game night. Our FLGS has a game night every Saturday and the owner will stay until we are done (sometimes into the wee hours of the morning). I do occasionally buy online or chain retailers, but that is the exception for me. Of course, I do get games off Kickstarter.

  6. I guess I’m in the minority. I tried to think for a long time about why I go to the stores I go to, and nothing really fit into your categories. I buy my games from kickstarter to support ideas that I think are cool that I otherwise wouldn’t see at a store. I buy my books from brick and mortar stores that I feel are likely to go out of business without my support. Everything else is delivered via amazon, which I guess would fall into convenience.

  7. Your argument for convenience is exactly why I loved buying Stonemeier products from kickstarter in the past. I could just buy a game and know that it would be shipped as soon as it was available. Products and even preorders sell out and it can be frusterating using traditional channels especially when demand is high for a new product. I probably tried 3 to 5 times before I successfully secured a Charterstone pre-order, for example.

  8. For retail games availability is the main factor for me. Maybe I lean slightly out of mainstream with my gaming purchases but out of the ten or so retailers I have used in the past few years, it’s often only 1-2 who have stock for a game. It’s rarely as easy as “we’ll order it for you” because there’s nothing to order from distributors, the next re-print is months or years away AND that information is often not available at the retailer anyway, you have to search it yourself on BGG (for example).

    Availability aside, it’s price and service. Price is the trigger for impulse buys while service/previous experience factors in when game is available at multiple retailers at roughly the same price.

    Delivery service/convenience is also a factor but in an interesting way. I’ll try to avoid couriers/front door services if possible. Why? Because quite often it’s way more convenient to just pick it up yourself from the closest post office. Couriers often show up at your door when you’re at work, sometimes don’t call or even leave a note about failed delivery. Without tracking code you might be completely out of luck. At least this is slowly becoming less of an issue as more couriers start to offer services such as a simple text message query about when you might be at home. Also couriers don’t have that many pick-up points here. Even living in a reasonably sized city some courier pick-up points would be completely out of reach if I didn’t have a car. For those living in rural areas the closest pick-up point for non-post office packages might be as far as hundreds of kilometers away should the one mid-day delivery attempt fail to reach you (at work).

  9. We are in Ottawa, ON and unfortunately we don’t have the greatest stores. Games are easily $20.00 more than ordering online from a flgs in the greater Toronto area. We choose to buy from two online stores there (one being a brick and mortar). They have great prices (free shipping with minimum purchase), great customer service and availability.

  10. As I am no longer a resident of North America or Europe, shipping is a key factor – a combination of total price and good packaging. A significant number of games arrive as if they were purchased from a ding and dent sale and often a sturdier box or some air pockets would have prevented the damage.

  11. Jamey,

    For the first few years upon returning to the board gaming hobby in its new form, I focused on Customer Service, Community, and Convenience and I had all three at my FLGS. But, all good things must come to an end. After I had gone to this store on many, many occasions, and having purchased hundreds of dollars in games, I learned that their other location (30 mi. away) was forced to close and they brought all of the stock to the store near me. Three years later this location met the same fate. It’s unfortunate, because by all accounts, the 25-year existence of the store told a tale of happy customers, knowledgeable staff, and well-stocked shelves. Now, I turn to Cool Stuff or Amazon, which lacks (unless you have to return a game) Customer Service and Community for my new and old titles. Convenience still reigns as one important factor, but the other two have been sadly replaced by Cost (Price).

    Cheers,
    Joe

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