April 1st 2020
Studying the corporate reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic can be viewed as an exercise in clear messaging when talking to your community. GameStop had the chance to show some leadership in the face of a crisis, to lead the way in supporting digital downloads and provide much-needed entertainment during this time of social distancing — but they chose to support their brick-and-mortar stores instead, instructing employees to keep the retail outlets open even if police come to shut them down.
So why did GameStop get it so very wrong? And what will it mean for the company in the long run?
Remaining Consistently Behind the Curve
We can expect corporations to look for ways to make money, even during a crisis — if they can do so honestly and safely.
On March 13, GameStop spokespeople announced that customers are their top priority and they are complying with the WHO to keep customers and associates safe.
On March 19, Jason Schreier of Kotaku reported: “The struggling video game retail chain GameStop told all of its stores this afternoon to stay open even in the event of state or city lockdowns to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing that it is “essential retail” alongside groceries and pharmacies and should, therefore, be exempt from enforced closures.
Comments on Twitter demonstrated the outrage of the public — if GameStop was hoping for a groundswell of customers saying the stores are essential because they NEED their video games in this time of isolation, it just didn’t happen.
In fact, 4,200 people responded to the tweet and the overall tone of comments was less than supportive.
wasn’t just banking on the strength of new upcoming titles. YouTuber Camelot331 published a video on March 17 that leaked internal memos sent to him by GameStop employees indicating that company leadership planned to capitalize on the advantage of still being open for business during the pandemic while competitors have closed.
On March 19, GameStop revised its position with more specifics:
Unfortunately, Twitter user remained unimpressed:
The power of bad faith
I often advise clients that messaging needs to be based on facts. It usually gets a laugh, but I think it’s important to bear in mind. I believe it’s bad business to make promises, like stating that you will provide new disinfecting measures for your retail stores, when, in fact, you have no plan for following through.
And the backlash wasn’t just born from leaked memos. Concerned store managers and employees spoke out on social media.
“District manager here… I can tell you this company is NOT taking the situation seriously.
Our regional call today was about taking more tech trades and “taking advantage” of the situation…
They will not shut down a store if they can avoid it. Even if an associate has come down with the virus, which has happened by the way. They expect associates from another location to come in, clean the location and re-open. This is mind-boggling.”
One employee said, “My colleagues and I are sharing a small bottle of hand sanitizer that was purchased through our own pockets as well as making as much usage out of a depleting bottle of All Purpose Cleaner. We were only just given permission to turn off console demos yesterday and my cleaning supplies have been back ordered for two months. As far as more immediate measures go, the stores in my area have received nothing.”
Will GameStop respawn its reputation?
But what strikes me, from over 20 years of doing PR, is the lost opportunity here for this already troubled brand.