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The Man Behind KmartGamer

There were some negative feelings about his arrival. Many were skeptical of his position as a store “rep” on Cheap Ass Gamer and didn’t want that corporate influence coming into the community. Kmart and Sears were famously known among CAGs to systematically lower the prices on its video games through clearances, sometimes dropping them as low as a dollar. Those clearances dried up as Deane’s presence became more prevalent and disappeared for many months. Many didn’t seem too upset since the weekly deals more than made up for the loss in their minds.

Recently clearances made a return at Kmart and Sears, and customers have been able to buy games like Square Enix’s Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen and Sony Computer Entertainment’s Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time for only $6. An increase in sales with newer releases allowed Deane to bring back clearances. Deane said the older game catalogue is slowly being removed to make way for more changes with KmartGamer.

On the Rise

Typically, people went to shop for video games at brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy, GameStop or Wal-Mart. In recent years, online stores like Amazon have stepped up to be a contender.  Deane acknowledges that for most people, Kmart wasn’t even on the radar. When it was, the stores often didn’t have the right stock, employees were clueless about sale prices, the stores were disorganized and other negative circumstances drove people away. Even after its merger with Sears, Kmart struggled and lagged behind stores like Target and Wal-Mart.

Things are different now. Kmart has become a top competitor for game shopping. Many gamers are choosing Kmart as the only store they will buy video games from. Outlets like Amazon and Best Buy are now increasingly price-matching Kmart’s game sales, something that was unheard of only a year ago. Deane said that CAG members have played an essential role in KmartGamer’s success.

The best Kmart deal Deane has set up was for Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops in November 2010 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. When the customers purchased the game, they received more than $75 dollars in additional coupons and instant savings. “You’ll probably never see it again,” he said. “I don’t even think people understand how ridiculous that was!” The deal won the “Brick & Mortar Deal of the Year Award” in Cheap Ass Gamer’s 8th Annual Cheapy Awards.

One of this year’s best deals was for Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire, which released May 17 for the PS3 and Xbox 360. For Shop Your Way Reward members, the purchase came with a $20 gaming coupon and a free $19.99 and under game from any platform. The deal is a favorite among the community and Deane’s personal choice as one of the best KmartGamer deals.

When it comes to game shopping, Deane has shown an unprecedented outreach to the gaming community and shoppers. Deane works with each customer to improve their local Kmart. He personally responds to hundreds of customer emails a week. He even had to create a second email account for customer support because he was getting so many responses. He’s always posting on Cheap Ass Gamer and responding to customers’ Facebook messages.

“I take everybody’s voice very seriously,” Deane said. If someone has a problem with their store, he immediately tries to fix their situation. “I’m not in a store in Pennsylvania,” he said. “There’s another set of eyes that I would never have.”

While his position does include lots of involvement and stress, Deane said he enjoys the challenges and the work he’s able to accomplish. “I don’t think I’d have this type of feeling or even success buying socks,” he said, laughing.

Highs and Lows

Along with popular gaming deals, Deane has created a loyal group of passionate supporters. Chris Nelson from Schaumburg, Ill. said he never thought he would be encouraging people to go to Kmart to buy games, but Deane’s attention to his customers inspired him. “I want to support him, so I want to direct business to him if I can,” Nelson said. “I want companies to see that this level of commitment works, and I want there to be more like him.”

All the game deals earned Kmart and Deane recognition in the community. He and the company won five different awards in the 2010 Cheapy Awards. These awards were voted on by the CAG community and the results were given this April. In addition to the Call of Duty: Black Ops award, the “Best Brick & Mortar Retailer Award” was given to Kmart. The “Biggest CAG Shopping News Award” was Deane joining the CAG community and turning around Kmart shopping. The “Speedy1961 Deal Buster Award” for breaking the best game deals, was given to Deane. He also won the” CAG Community Award,” given to the person who contributed the most to the Web site. Deane said it was very humbling to win the awards since he has so much respect for Cheapy D and the CAG community.

However, there have been bumps along the road to success.

One of the first major deals Deane put together was for the $29.99 Final Fantasy 13 sale in May 2010. The Square Enix game released for $59.99 in March. People were actually lining up before Kmart opened; a rarity. “There was never a moment in time before where you lined up at Kmart for gaming, or many other things,” Deane said. The stores were not ready for the demand. Many stores didn’t recognize the KmartGamer blog, didn’t have the right stock, and registers failed to ring up the correct price. “To walk in and have the store completely unprepared, that’s a rude awakening,” he said.

Long hours and a heavy work load fill most of Deane’s days. He routinely works until midnight. “Going into this…I knew it was going to take two to three years of nose to the grindstone, long hours,” Deane said. “What keeps me going is the relationships. You want to work hard enough to show people that they matter. You can’t just do that nine to five,” he said.

Currently Kmart doesn’t stock every game release. Many niche titles like Atlus’ Catherine, Namco Bandai’s Dynasty Warriors Gundam 3 or the upcoming Disgaea 4 by Nippon Ichi Software aren’t available at Kmart. Traditionally these types of games are purchased mostly by hardcore gamers and usually don’t sell as well as more mainstream titles. Fans of these games have to purchase them from another retailer. Deane said that’s something that will change in the future as KmartGamer further expands.

Sadly Deane’s father passed away suddenly on May 30 at the age of 52. Deane stepped away from KmartGamer for most of June to be with his family. The response and support from CAGs and the gaming community was overwhelming. Deane said he never expected that kind of outpouring. The support was incredibly uplifting to Deane and his family’s emotional and spiritual well-being during this difficult time. Deane said it makes all his work more real and not just a job or a business. He believes it shows that there’s a real connection he’s created within the gaming community.

Building a Community

On the KmartGamer Web Site, Deane says that his goal is to “remove the wall between corporate and consumer.” How does he plan to do that?

He wants game shopping to be more than a soulless experience. Beyond handing the cashier money and leaving the store, Deane is striving to create a vibrant community. “There’s a missing element there. Some of my fondest memories growing up were in the arcades with my dad,” Deane said. “My brother and I would just get a bunch of quarters and go play After Burner. We’ve lost that sense of interaction.”

“I’d love to find the right balance between retail and really being a hub, where people want to congregate, instead of ‘go home as soon as you can,”’ Deane said. “The whole KmartGamer project is more than just a sales endeavor. It’s really for the entire industry. Really the end game is to make this a community industry. From the game creation and its sale, CAGers, our community, will have an impact on what happens there.”

Part of the plan involves remodeling the gaming sections in Kmart stores. Before, most of the games were stacked and cramped behind a glass case in one aisle of the electronics department. This made it hard for shoppers to look through the different titles and retrieve an employee to get their desired game. Recently the games were given a new area in the department, so now the titles are out in the open with personalized sections for each system. More store designs are coming in the future that will put an emphasis on the video game section.

To get the gaming community involved, Deane began several different outlets for them to get engaged on KmartGamer. He created a new feature for the Web site where players can ask developers questions about their games. He hopes this will give developers feedback on their creations and allow the community to shape some of the development. The first feature was this May with Tetsuya Mizuguchi, creator of Ubisoft’s Children of Eden. Deane wants to eventually do something similar for every game release.

The “KmartGamer Spotlight” highlights different Kmart shoppers, asking them various questions about gaming and their experiences. As part of a contest, KmartGamer sent three independent bloggers to this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles to cover the event for the KmartGamer Web site and their own blogs. Deane and other KmartGamer team members picked the three out of close to 80 entries and paid for all their expenses for the event.

Early this August, KmartGamer introduced its “League of One” blog team. The League of One is made up of six writers, three of whom were previously selected by KmartGamer to go to E3. The bloggers will contribute opinion pieces, reviews and other articles to the KmartGamer Web site. “The Daily Mark,” written by the new associate buyer Mark Korich, highlights the day’s top news stories in the game industry on the KmartGamer site. The Daily Mark also includes game trivia questions for prizes. The first person to answer correctly wins a game or accessories for their system.

Beyond KmartGamer

Deane’s worst personal game shopping experience happened at the now defunct Circuit City in November 2000. It was the launch of the PlayStation 2, and Deane waited more than a day at the store to get his hands on it. When it came time for Circuit City to sell it, the store only had 16 units; Deane was the 17th person in line. In an ironic twist, he went to Kmart and bought the system there.

When he is not setting up the latest deals or playing games himself, Deane is reading texts in philosophy and theology, fields he has been passionate about most of his life. Among his favorite thinkers: Søren Kierkegaard. He still uses that knowledge as a foundation for his life and career, which helps him look at situations through the eyes of others.

He has no current plans to leave Kmart, but does consider going back to school for an advanced degree and teaching philosophy at the collegiate level. Deane calls it his “retirement plan.” For now though, Deane has a community of gamers anxiously awaiting the next great deal, and an industry that is welcoming the transformation.

You can follow Deane and all the latest Kmart game deals on Twitter, Facebook and the official KmartGamer Web site.

He can also be found by email for help at KmartGamerHelpMe@searshc.com

Photos:

Logo and Deane by KmartGamer

Desk by Quarter Disorder

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