This article was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of OnWindows
Speciality retailers like GameStop are used to dealing with passionate customers. The company, which has more than 6,600 stores across 15 countries, serves some of the biggest video gaming fanatics in the world – customers that are enthusiastic about the products they’re buying and expect a high level of service when they walk into a store or go online to make their next purchase.
It’s Jeff Donaldson’s job to ensure that GameStop is on track to deliver the greatest experience possible to these customers. As senior vice president of the GameStop Technology Institute – a business unit formed in March 2014 to drive technological innovation across the company – Donaldson is committed to accelerating the retailer’s pace of change, and he has been achieving that by working with universities and some of the leading technology companies in the world, including Microsoft, to create new customer interaction technologies and business applications.
“Our aim is not to just to keep up with the latest trends, but really advance the state of the experience we’re offering, and deliver it in a valuable and useful way to both our customers and staff,” says Donaldson. “We don’t want to be fast followers; we want to lead the way.”
One key area Donaldson and his team are focused at the moment is bridging the gap between digital and the bricks-and-mortar store to better engage with customers. “I think it’s do or die for retailers when it comes to bridging that gap,” he says. “Customers’ expectations are growing and retailers need to evolve in line with their needs, using the latest tools at their disposal to deliver the best retail experiences.”
At the National Retail Federation’s annual tradeshow earlier this year, GameStop showcased some of the new ways in which it is using Microsoft technologies to revolutionise the in-store experience. Taking advantage of the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform, the retailer demonstrated how it can stream video game and promotional content direct to customer and store associate mobile devices.
When they’re in store, customers with the GameStop mobile app will be able to view exclusive content, such as trailers and promotional materials from GameStop’s catalogue of video games, on their smartphones and tablets. They can also choose what video game trailers they would like to see on the new 4K ultra HD TVs that GameStop is rolling out across its stores over the coming months. And when they want to make a purchase, they will be able to skip the queues and buy products in store via their mobile device.
For GameStop’s store associates, the technology gives them a tool to provide an even more personalised shopping experience. On their devices they will be able to access information for those customers who have opted in to receive and share information as part of the app, such as their unique shopping history. This gives them an opportunity to learn more about each individual they’re serving and provide them with personalised recommendations and offers.
“What we’re aiming to do is take what a shopper does naturally outside the store and connect it with the in-store shopping experience,” says Donaldson. “In effect, the store responds to them every time they visit and rewards them, giving them a reason to come back time and again, and access the content they want to see in an easy and enjoyable manner. The thing is, we love video games – they’re part of our DNA. And we want to make sure our customers really understand that and get the chance to experience exactly what it means to play an AAA title.”
The GameStop Technology Institute worked with Microsoft partners Confiz and Xomni to create this new in-store experience. Confiz served as the system integrator, allowing the retailer to connect Azure Media Services with the app on customers' mobile devices. Xomni, meanwhile, delivered the entire product catalogue, which allows customers to browse available products in real time and make purchases via their phones in store.
Over the coming months, GameStop intends to go live on the technology in a number of test stores across the US.
This latest endeavour is not the first time GameStop has worked with Microsoft. “Our partnership goes back almost two decades, so we’ve come to know each other well over the years. Since we work on so many things together, both as a reseller and a customer, it was easy to establish the potential in this latest development. One real advantage of working with Microsoft is its partner ecosystem – it has a network we can plug into to find the best solutions and companies to work with.”
With a keen eye on the future, GameStop is betting big on its in-store experiences. “We want to be the first to show our customers how the gaming industry is evolving and the stores will be the first place they can come to see those developments,” says Donaldson. “We think that 4K gaming will happen and we want our customers to see just how awesome that will be. The same goes for augmented reality. At some point in the future, we’re looking to bring that to our in-store experience too. As long as the experience is contextual, relevant and personal – without being too intrusive – then customers will want to interact and shop with us.”