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I’ve spent the last week or so conducting an email based argument with one of my oldest friends – yes I do have friends. You see this friend of mine works for an independent video game retailer and I asked him if he would be getting any Xbox 360s in for the launch date. He told me that he was getting some consoles in, but that they weren’t being sold in the shop, and would instead be put on ebay in order to “make some margin”. I was completely appalled by his response and instantly hiked my way up to the moral high ground from where much hurling of emails ensued.

I think that you and I – the consumer – deserve to be able to buy the products we want at the correct retail price. If Microsoft supplies a retailer with hardware, that hardware should be sold to the customers that come through the front door, it shouldn’t be flogged out the back door at an inflated price! Of course I understand the theory of supply and demand, but that shouldn’t be a license to rip off your customers.

To be fair though, my friend’s behaviour is no worse than that of the big video game chains on the high street. These guys may not be flogging their gear on ebay, but they’re still in the habit of ripping the customer off. Want an Xbox 360? No problem, but you’ll have to buy it as part of a bundle with loads of games and peripherals that you don’t really want, but will help improve the shop’s margin!

Of course I know that there isn’t a lot of margin in gaming hardware and software for the retailers, but that’s no reason for the consumer to lose out.

Despite remaining firmly on my high horse, and not backing down one bit while arguing with my friend, I do sympathise with independent retailers and accept that a chance to make a little extra margin can mean the difference between profit and loss that month. You see there aren’t too many independent retailers anymore, and the blame for this situation lies at the feet of us, the consumers.

If you’ve got a few years under your belt like me, think back to when you were a child and visualise your high street. You’ll probably recall a string of independent shops, all run by individuals who, quite probably had the business handed down to them by their parents. You’ll probably remember a butcher, a baker, a greengrocer, a chemist, a newsagent, a dry cleaner, a fish and chips shop and a toy shop, just to name a few. Now picture your high street today, how many, if any of those shops still exist, and if they do I’ll bet that most of them are part of a big corporate chain.

Unfortunately the independent retailer has a very tough time competing with the big chains. Imagine that you’re a greengrocer and you’re trying to compete with the big supermarkets – what chance do you really have? The massive buying power of the supermarkets means that they can buy stock cheaper and therefore sell it cheaper than you, while they also offer the convenience of having everything under one roof – something that’s going to affect your mates the baker and butcher too, not to mention the poor old milkman.

The only way that an independent shop can stay afloat is through customer loyalty, but you’d be amazed how hard that is to find. You see much as most of us will lament the loss of our friendly high street traders, we’re the reason for their demise. We all complain about today’s customer service and the attitude of staff in big retail chains, but given the choice of buying something from an independent retailer or buying it a bit cheaper from a big chain, most of us will go for the latter without a second thought.

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