I've never experienced anything close to this kind of bad customer service at any comics shop I've ever visited. Add in the store's many other disadvantages (really poor selection, cramped quarters, cardboard displays blocking part of the used section, new games placed behind the counter so that you couldn't really make out what the store had in stock, employee ignoring not only us but the kid (possibly his own) who had been left there for him to babysit), and it makes for as bad a shopping experience as I've ever had in any comics shop anywhere. In fact, I think the problems associated with the "bad comics shop" of 20 years ago most closely resemble those routinely encountered in video game shops today. Consider my biggest complaints about video games stores:
- Unnecessarily large staffs who still manage to spend more time talking amongst themselves about disliked customers than actually doing any work
- Clerks more interested in playing game demos than ringing up customers
- A brazenly anti-kid attitude in a business with a huge juvenile traffic (not really a problem for a lot of comic shops these days; see below)
- Open partisanship for particular consoles which puts similar attitudes in comics shops to shame**
- Constant pressure to preorder games
- Contempt/fear of those whose preferences in video games differ from their own--for some employees, the Wii is basically equivalent to Cancer Comics
- Complete lack of knowledge about upcoming releases, ordering obscure titles, etc.
- Extra, unwanted attention paid to any female customers
I rarely experience these things in comics shops, mostly because I think the 90s bust kind of weeded out the most ineptly, unprofessionally-run stores (and those remaining stores fitting this description all but chase off any non-regular unfortunate enough to wander through the doors). It also helps that comics shops are usually locally-owned, with the proprietor taking special interest in the store's day-to-day operations. In contrast, video game stores are, by and large, operated by young men with no vested interest in the longterm success of the store. There's a tradeoff with this kind of absentee corporate ownership though; I think these stores have a much better stock of games because inventory decisions are in the hands of bean-counters rather than guys who think Big Brain Academy is ruining the video game industry. Maybe the comics industry would have been better off with a few EB/Gamestop-type chains. If nothing else, it would encourage independent stores to compete with the chain stores by offering a better selection or better service.***
And I should add that not every video game store is plagued by the problems I've outlined here. The store where I do most of my shopping is way too busy to allow its employees to sit around playing game demos. It does have a couple of part-time employees, neither of whom I see in there on a regular basis, who are far less helpful. But the main guys (yes, they're all guys) do a good job. I'll be sad to leave that store behind.
*Yeah, I know--most of these stores suck. But we had a discount card, so we tried to hit it up as often as possible. This, of course, begs the question "why on earth would anyone pay for a Game Crazy discount card?" We actually have a couple of decent reasons. There's a pretty good branch in Columbia, SC, where I bought a copy of the somewhat hard to find original Digital Devil Saga for PS2. The promise of a 10% discount, combined with a subscription to Nintendo Power (which my wife had been wanting to get for a while), compelled me to sign up for the card. We managed to buy enough games to pay for it in discounts, so it wasn't a bad decision in the long run.
**Admittedly, open PS3/360 partisanship makes more sense than open DC/Marvel partisanship. If you (foolishly) invested $500+ in a console at launch, you have a legitimate stake in seeing that it actually succeeds; otherwise, you blew half a grand on a machine that will mostly gather dust for the next 5 years. Still, that doesn't justify clerks talking up one machine at another's expense, especially if the customer owns the competing console. Incidentally, this happened to my wife recently--a somewhat delusional PS3 fanboy/clerk tried to convince her that we had wasted money in buying an X-Box 360, that developers were about to stop supporting it in favor of the Sony machine, etc. I think this might have been a Game Crazy employee, actually.
***My current store kind of does this, actually, but that's a rather complex tale which I'd prefer to save for another time.
-On the subject of kid-friendly stores: I don't think it really matters anymore for most stores I visit. I mean, it would be nice if it did matter; I'd feel better about the industry if I saw more kids shopping in comics specialty stores. But really, there's not a whole lot that most DM stores can offer to offset the tremendous advantages held by chain stores (most notably location and parental interest). People argue that comics shops should do more to ensure the future health of the industry, but I've never thought it reasonable that a small, marginal business like a comics shop should have to alter its (presumably) successful strategy in order to satisfy pundits.
I mean, there's probably a lot more money to be made by catering to kids, but these situations seem to exist only on a case-by-case basis. In other words, a shop based in a strip mall full of parent-friendly stores with no interest to children (like clothing stores, nail salons, office supply stores, etc.) are likely making a mistake by failing to appeal to kids. Ditto for shops located near schools or subdivisions with lots of kids. However, stores located on college campuses or in inconvenient, nonresidential neighborhoods probably aren't going to get as much juvenile foot traffic. It's silly to expect these stores to invest time and money into appealing to a hypothetical (and quite possibly non-existent) patronage.