GameStop’s Technology Institute Explores Future of Retail

By Patricia Riedman Yeager |  September 15, 2014

Starting this month, shoppers who browse the aisles of 36 GameStop stores in Austin and College Station, Texas, can use a smartphone app to guide them to the section with their favorite games, and then read user reviews, watch trailers, and be wooed with special offers as they mull purchases.

The new retail experience is one of the first projects from the GameStop Technology Institute, an initiative the $9 billion videogame retailer unveiled in March through a partnership with IBM, the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, and several tech startups. GTI, according to the launch announcement, is “a new business unit focused on creating affiliations with leading technology corporations and academic institutions to…better address the needs of today’s empowered consumer.”

The new GameStop smartphone app was built by BestFit Mobile, an Austin development firm, and interacts with technology from Shelfbucks, a startup that uses Bluetooth wireless beacons placed in GameStop stores to communicate with shoppers’ smartphones. The beacons can relay different messages based on a shopper’s location in the store. “We were looking at how we were going to address emerging technology and the needs of consumers,” says Charlie Larkin, right, senior director of technology innovation at GameStop, adding that the general retail landscape has been rather unimaginative.

Some retailers hide beacons, which they use to send unsolicited promotions to customers’ smartphones as they pass through stores. GameStop wanted to clearly differentiate itself, Larkin says, by identifying its beacons with signage. “We want you to pull your phone out and engage with the beacon,” he says. “It’s sort of another level of consent.” (At left is an example of one of the ShelfBucks beacons. A video overview of the technology is here.)

In doing so, Larkin adds, “Customers will see all the promotions that apply to that section of the store.” Also, he says, the added content, such as user reviews, can help close the sale right there in the store. “If you’re on the fence about a title,” he says, “it can reinforce whether it’s the right product for you.” Depending on the level of customer adoption and return on investment of the promotions, GameStop is considering expanding the Shelfbucks capabilities to another 60 stores by year-end. One hope is that the project will cut down on “showrooming,” when shoppers learn about and experience products in retail stores, but then eventually purchase them online.

Here are some of the companies GTI has partnered with so far:

  •  IBM provides GameStop with its open cloud development platform, Bluemix, to enable GameStop’s in-house developers to more easily create mobile and cloud applications, as well as support the GameStop in-store and online customer interactions.
  •  Texas A&M’s May Business School provides GTI with the retail research and measurement, Larkin says. In addition, Texas A&M will offer its advisory services, statistical analysis, and publication of results.
  •  BestFit Mobile creates the mobile apps for GTI, including its new consumer GameStop app, as well an iPad app for sales associates.
  •  Dynamic Signal’s VoiceStream technology supports GTI’s social media strategy. It helps GameStop leverage store employees, who are dedicated gamers themselves, to promote retail news and events via Facebook, Twitter, and other approved social media outlets. For instance, if a store is doing a midnight launch party with live music, competitions and prizes, employees can customize GameStop’s corporate branded content via Dynamic Signal, and then broadcast a message to their friends and contacts. “They can take the things that are exciting to them and share it further on social media,” Larkin says. “It’s giving your employees a voice in social media,” he says, but also to have it in a way “that’s approved and supported by our partners.”

While only a handful of GameStop employees are dedicated to the GameStop Technology Institute, Larkin says he is trying to make everyone a partner: “Everyone is an extension of the GTI cause, and that cause is to accelerate the rate of change in retail and to empower those customer experiences.”