Qisahn.com: the tricks of Singapore video game shops
Mary-Anne Lee | On October 25, 2013 at 3:00 pm
Video game retail is a tough business. And while Qisahn.com’s Soon Qishan is a savvy businessman, he has experienced his fair share of obstacles over the years.
Cheap is not always the best
Back when the store was just setting out, Soon’s store made people nervous. “I thought it was a scam,” said 22 year old Jonathan Gan, then a student. Qisahn.com’s super affordable prices could sometimes be too good, and would make potential customers wonder if they were getting themselves into anything illegal. After all, that was a period where piracy was rife and PSP games were easily downloadable from the internet.
Soon also admitted to getting plenty of complaints then. “Distributors would get a lot of complaints about me, about my pricing and business,” he said. “There was a lot of chatter from everyone.”
Things died down after a while, mainly because Qisahn.com was surviving, even thriving. When Diablo III launched last year, the shop received 20,000 preorders – its highest numbers of orders ever for a game. Its preorder pricing had been just S$64.90 ($52.40) if customers purchased more than four copies, compared to the official price of S$89 ($71.80) from Asiasoft. When Pokemon X & Y came out two weeks back, it had a preorder price of S$48 ($38.80), the lowest on the island, and earned approximately 3,000 to 4,000 orders.
“Those who are still in the business with me, or who have been in the business longer than me, know that I’m actually out to make money,” Soon said of his fellow video game retailers. “They know these are just little tricks that I use to try and get customers.”
They understand that to compete with me, pricing is not exactly the best answer. If you want to look at pricing you first have to look at cost, and their cost will always be higher than me, because if you choose to launch in a shopping mall your cost will naturally be higher. So they focus more on their retail experience.
“They just do it differently, because shopping is not just price,” he said, citing Gamescore’s launch ‘trick’ for Pokemon X & Y. The video game retail veteran based in Singapore’s Funan Digitalife Mall snagged about 250 – 300 sales during the morning of launch day alone in spite of having a higher price than Qisahn.com. They did so by handing out homemade Lava Cookies (an edible in-game Pokemon item) and including a lucky draw with each game’s sale. “That was a very smart move,” Soon said, of the Lava Cookies. “I liked the move a lot. That’s how people survive.”
Tricks of the trade
There’s more to the retail business than just gimmicks, though. Soon is well aware of that. “Do people know that the advertised price might be lower, but the non-advertised price might not be the lowest?” he asked me as we were talking. I shook my head; I had absolutely no idea what he was even referring to.
“For a shop to draw crowds in, they might do an advertisement with low prices,” he explained. “But once you buy a PS3, you need a HDMI cable, you need another controller, you need accessories. That’s where we make our profit.” All this without even having to markup the price for profit, because Qisahn.com’s base costs are lower than its competitors in shopping malls.
While Soon does parallel import stocks when the opportunity arises, his goods usually come from the Singapore distributors. Prices at Qisahn.com are kept low because of volume, and a big volume can sometimes net you better prices from the same distributors everyone goes to.
Still, as mentioned earlier, the price point is not the biggest issue when it comes to selling video games. I asked Soon what he thought were factors that would keep customers coming back, and he said that it was important to first identify the crowd you wanted to target.
For the Qisahn.com crowd, Soon and his crew “know that the priority is price” with the second priority being service. “The last thing to offer is range,” he said. You had to “make it convenient for them to buy everything from one stop.”
With piracy and then digital sales affecting the brick-and-mortar video game retail business, it takes a smart retailer to keep his business afloat. It’s fortunate that in Singapore, Soon has found that “people like to be able to see and touch the stuff before buying.” The change in sales before and after he opened a physical store was “very significant” for Qisahn.com.
So what’s next?
Still, with gaming trends moving towards console and digital sales, Qisahn.com cannot sell physical video games forever, and Soon knows that.
“We’re trying to move into logistics,” he said, explaining how it would work. Instead of selling games in a future where games would be mostly digital, his team would help overseas retailers sell their products locally. For instance, should the iPhone 6 release in the US before Singapore, he would tie up with overseas retailers to sell their stock to locals.
Already? Yes. It’s a decision made with foresight, considering the video game market has only just whipped itself up into a frenzy over the next generation of consoles.
“I once thought that games would follow the mobile phone trend,” Soon said, as if remembering some long gone day where he sat and pondered the direction of his company. “That MyRepublic (Editor note: A local Internet Service Provider) would sell consoles, because [of] digital delivery of products.”
“But lucky for me, it won’t go that way with the PS4 era.”
Read the first part of our interview on how Qisahn.com started up here.