Retail has existed for thousands of years, says SCE Europe head Andrew House, because it’s so good at handling customers’ needs.
Digital distribution is becoming an increasingly important part of the videogame industry, but House says it’s got a lot of challenges to overcome before it stands a chance of rivalling bricks and mortar retailers.
House said that the reason that retail had existed for thousands of years was because it was it had a human component which was based on advising customers, and maybe even selling them extra items that they didn’t know they wanted. He contrasted that with the experience of buying something digitally, which he said was impersonal, overwhelming and confusing. He said that until the browsing experience could be made more user friendly, there would still be a need for physical retailers.
You might make the case a slightly more legitimate reason that retail has done so well for so long is that it hasn’t really had anything to challenge it until very recently, but that’s really beside the point. What House is describing isn’t a failure of digital distribution as a whole; it’s a failure of specific distributors.
It’s true you’re not going to get the same amount of assistance online as you do in physical retail, but the likes of Steam or Xbox Live do their best to make up for it with an abundance of useful information like videos, screenshots, and even links to reviews. Obviously, some people will be more comfortable with buying things online than others, but the design of a particular online store can go a long way towards making the experience better or worse. It’s in the interests of digital retailers to keep their stores as elegant as possible. If an online store is confusing or overwhelming, then it’s probably losing customers.