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13 Button-Mashing Facts About GameStop

Formerly the property of Barnes & Noble, GameStop struck out on its own in 2004 and has gone on to become a fixture of shopping malls across the world, attracting consumers away from big-box chains by offering trade-ins or cash on used titles. Despite some negative forecasts about the future of physical stores when many consoles now allow users to download games, the company's shares are up 39 percent this year and more than 6700 stores dot the globe. Check out some details on how the company profits, proper etiquette for robberies, and how a former vice-president wound up in a federal courtroom.

1. THEY STARTED OUT SELLING ATARI TITLES.

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In 1983, Texas entrepreneurs James McCurry and Gary Kusin opened a software store named Babbage’s (after 19th century computer pioneer Charles Babbage) in a Dallas shopping mall. While Atari and the video game industry in general was about to suffer a steep decline in interest, Babbage’s was also trafficking in personal computer programs: The diverse inventory allowed them to tread water before Nintendo reinvigorated the industry. In 1994, the company merged with Software Etc. before being acquired by Barnes & Noble in 1999 and changing its name to GameStop. Executive Dan DeMatteo took the name after BookStop, a chain he remembered from the 1980s.

2. THEY DON’T ALWAYS GET ALONG WITH GAME PUBLISHERS.

GameStop’s lifeline is the buying and selling of used game titles. Rather than spend full retail on a new game, buyers can often find a used copy for significantly less. One estimate puts the "used" section as the source of 44 percent of their profits thanks to healthy mark-ups: A $15 trade-in like LEGO Hobbit can be resold for $38. The game developer, naturally, doesn’t see any money from those secondhand sales, which has historically led to friction: Microsoft was once rumored to be working on lockout chips that would prevent games from being resold.

3. THE USED GAMES YOU SELL BACK DON’T STAY IN THE STORE.

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Used titles that are purchased by GameStop don’t get plopped right onto store shelves. Instead, they’re sent to the company’s refurbishment center near its Grapevine, Texas headquarters. The games are “buffed” and inspected to make sure they're still playable before being shipped back out. The facility processes more than 400,000 games every week.

4. EMPLOYEES CAN CHECK OUT GAMES.

GameStop allows staffers to borrow game titles for up to four days. There are a few caveats, though: the game can’t be a new, popular title, and it can’t be the only copy in the store.

5. MICROSOFT’S “RED RING OF DEATH” WAS THEIR GAIN.

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Microsoft’s highly-anticipated release of the Xbox 360 in 2005 was hampered by what gamers called the “Red Ring of Death,” an internal failure on the console’s motherboard that manifested itself months or years after purchase. (The error caused three flashing lights to appear around the power button and prevented gamers from playing their purchases.) In 2009, GameStop figured out a soldering technique that would easily resolve the issue. They bought damaged systems cheap, repaired them, and resold the newly-refurbished systems at a significant mark-up.

6. THEY GOT NABBED FOR “GUTTING” GAMES.

Typically, a manufacturer’s in-box incentives (coupons, freebies) are developed and distributed without requiring input from a retailer. In the case of Square Enix’s 2011 PC release, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, GameStop was irritated the developer had inserted a promotional flyer for OnLive, a cloud gaming service. According to CBS News, GameStop had employees open new copies of the title, retrieve the coupon, and throw it away. Customers were so enraged that the company later offered a $50 gift card to anyone who had pre-ordered the game or purchased it using the store’s rewards program.

7. PEOPLE LIKE TO DIVE INTO THE COMPANY'S TRASH.

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GameStop does such a brisk business with its used inventory—12 million titles passed through its refurbishment center in 2012—that stores often don’t have enough room to carry as many as they have in stock. As a result, the company tends to throw away games and other items that take space away from profitable inventory. Once discarded, titles, accessories, and guidebooks can be retrieved by enterprising gamers willing to paw through the dumpsters. When GameStop caught wind of the practice, they issued a new policy, “Field Destroy,” that calls for employees to damage anything that could be resold by the trash-picking opportunists.

8. A ROBBER ONCE CALLED AHEAD TO MAKE SURE A GAME WAS IN STOCK.

It wasn’t exactly a heist worthy of Danny Ocean, but it was certainly unique: a Nashville, Tennessee thief who stormed a GameStop at gunpoint in January 2014 actually called ahead and asked the clerk to gather an “order” of an Xbox One and several games so he could swing by and pick it up—per his story, he was on his way to work and in a hurry. (Both technically true.) The man then entered wearing a mask and made off with the goods, which the employee had dutifully gotten together near the counter. There were no subsequent reports of the thief being caught.

9. STORES IN PHILLY ONCE REQUIRED SELLERS' FINGERPRINTS.

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According to a CBS affiliate, Philadelphia-area GameStop locations began requiring customers to have their fingerprint scanned if they were selling or trading in a used game: The prints were checked against a database operated by law enforcement that tracked stolen goods. Not surprisingly, customers were slightly offended by the measure. Riding a wave of negative publicity, the Philly-area stores abandoned the policy in August 2014, just a month after it had been enacted.

10. THEY BOUGHT OUT THINKGEEK.

Novelty ice-cube trays are about to become a lot more convenient to purchase. In June, GameStop announced their acquisition of Geeknet, parent company of ThinkGeek, the online resource for plush bacteria and monkey-related business. As part of the arrangement, GameStop plans to open a series of retail ThinkGeek stores. The first location opened in Orlando last month. 

11. A FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DEFRAUDED THEM OUT OF MILLIONS.

The FBI issued a press release in 2012 detailing a large and convoluted scheme by former GameStop vice president of communications Frank Olivera to defraud the company out of millions of dollars. From 2009 to 2011, Olivera billed GameStop using invoices for a fictitious vendor called Cloud Communications. When they paid, Olivera would have the money transferred from the fake business account to his own. He cost GameStop nearly $2 million before being caught; the resulting mail fraud charge netted him four years in prison.

12. DIGITAL GAMING A PROBLEM? IT’S OK. THEY HAVE WHALES.

With investor forecasts consistently predicting bad times ahead as a result of cloud-based and downloadable gaming, GameStop thinks they’ll stay afloat. Speaking with Fast Company in 2013, president Tony Bartel expressed confidence in their “hybrid gamer” consumer base, which he refers to as “whales.” Hybrids, Bartel said, buy both physical and digital copies of games. Thanks to their PowerUp Rewards Pro Card program, the company can track spending habits and recommend games in a way similar to Netflix’s suggestions.  

13. THEY’RE ALSO COUNTING ON RETRO GAMING.

Stuart Conner, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

GameStop is hoping nostalgia will help keep their bottom line intact. In April, the company announced a new trade-in program for classic consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, and their massive cartridge-based game libraries. It’s expected that all of their stores will be buying and selling retro merchandise by year’s end.

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20 Random Facts About Shopping
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Shopping on Black Friday—or, really, any time during the holiday season—is a good news/bad news kind of endeavor. The good news? The deals are killer! The bad news? So are the lines. If you find yourself standing behind 200 other people who braved the crowds and sacrificed sleep in order to hit the stores early today, here's one way to pass the time: check out these fascinating facts about shopping through the ages.

1. The oldest customer service complaint was written on a clay cuneiform tablet in Mesopotamia 4000 years ago. (In it, a customer named Nanni complains that he was sold inferior copper ingots.)

2. Before battles, some Roman gladiators read product endorsements. The makers of the film Gladiator planned to show this, but they nixed the idea out of fear that audiences wouldn’t believe it.

3. Like casinos, shopping malls are intentionally designed to make people lose track of time, removing clocks and windows to prevent views of the outside world. This kind of “scripted disorientation” has a name: It’s called the Gruen Transfer.

4. According to a study in Social Influence, people who shopped at or stood near luxury stores were less likely to help people in need.

5. A shopper who first purchases something on his or her shopping list is more likely to buy unrelated items later as a kind of reward.

6. On the Pacific island of Vanuatu, some villages still use pigs and seashells as currency. In fact, the indigenous bank there uses a unit of currency called the Livatu. Its value is equivalent to a boar’s tusk. 

7. Sears used to sell build-your-own homes in its mail order catalogs.

8. The first shopping catalog appeared way back in the 1400s, when an Italian publisher named Aldus Manutius compiled a handprinted catalog of the books that he produced for sale and passed it out at town fairs.

9. The first product ever sold by mail order? Welsh flannel.

10. The first shopping cart was a folding chair with a basket on the seat and wheels on the legs.

11. In the late 1800s in Corinne, Utah, you could buy legal divorce papers from a vending machine for $2.50.

12. Some of the oldest known writing in the world includes a 5000-year-old receipt inscribed on a clay tablet. (It was for clothing that was sent by boat from Ancient Mesopotamia to Dilmun, or current day Bahrain.)

13. Beginning in 112 CE, Emperor Trajan began construction on the largest of Rome's imperial forums, which housed a variety of shops and services and two libraries. Today, Trajan’s Market is regarded as the oldest shopping mall in the world.

14. The Chinese invented paper money. For a time, there was a warning written right on the currency that all counterfeiters would be decapitated.

15. Halle Berry was named after Cleveland, Ohio's Halle Building, which was home to the Halle Brothers department store.

16. At Boston University, students can sign up for a class on the history of shopping. (Technically, it’s called “The Modern American Consumer”)

17. Barbra Streisand had a mini-mall installed in her basement. “Instead of just storing my things in the basement, I can make a street of shops and display them,” she told Harper's Bazaar. (There are photos of it here.)

18. Shopping online is not necessarily greener. A 2016 study at the University of Delaware concluded that “home shopping has a greater impact on the transportation sector than the public might suspect.”

19. Don’t want to waste too much money shopping? Go to the mall in high heels. A 2013 Brigham Young University study discovered that shoppers in high heels made more balanced buying decisions while balancing in pumps.

20. Cyber Monday is not the biggest day for online shopping. The title belongs to November 11, or Singles Day, a holiday in China that encourages singles to send themselves gifts. According to Fortune, this year's event smashed all previous records with more than $38 million in sales.

A heaping handful of these facts came from John Lloyd, John Mitchinson, and James Harkin's delightful book, 1,234 Quite Interesting Facts to Leave You Speechless.

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A Brief History of Black Friday
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The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.

HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?

It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.

In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.

SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?

You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.

BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?

Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.

By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.

WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?

If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.

According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.

SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?

Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.

DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?

Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.

IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?

It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.

Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.

DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?

Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.

In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.

In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.

In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Times reported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”

HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?

In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.

So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.

Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.

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