Consumer Confidence

Picture it ("Sicily, 1932," as Sofia from the Golden Girls would say): it's the end of the week and you've got an extra $50 to blow from your paycheck, so you head on down to your favorite liquor store (hopefully one of ours) to treat yourself on a Friday night. What to get, what to buy? It's been a while since you've purchased a bottle of whisky, so you've done a little online research on your lunch break. You originally wanted to get a bottle of Bruichladdich 10, but after persuing the blogosphere you've noticed the reviews weren't all that strong. Maybe you don't want it? Now you're unsure. After browsing around for a bit on the insider blogs, you notice that the new Kilchoman Machir Bay has an excellent review from the experts, although you weren't really in the mood for something smoky. But now you're at the store, both bottles are staring you in the face, and you need to decide which one it's going to be. You know you love Bruichladdich. You've enjoyed every one of their expressions in the past. It's what you were planning on getting originally, however your confidence was weakened by a lackluster review from one of the internet's experts. Now that you're in the store, that mid-90 point review of the Kilchoman is flashing in your mind. You cave. Hopefully, the Machir Bay will be as good as everyone said it is, you think as you head back to your car, bag in hand.

You can't wait to get home. Red light again?! Come on! How can the next one turn red right after the last one turns green?! Doesn't anyone understand how the flow of traffic works? You get the parking spot right in front of your place (woo hoo!) and you speed walk up the steps. The key slides easily into the door and you're in, right to the bar to grab yourself a glass. Glop, glop, glop goes the single malt; the golden color of the Machir Bay glistening in the late evening sun. You smell. Hmmm. You sip. Pause. Then it hits you. It's just OK. After all that anticipation this is kind of a bummer. It's not that you don't like it, it's that you know you'll never really finish it. It wasn't really even what you wanted, and you knew that from the beginning, but the opinions of others had you thinking that you might. Now you're wishing you'd bought the Bruichladdich instead, but it's too late because the bottle is open. It's just too smoky – exactly what you didn't want. Oh well. There's always next time.

Sound familiar? While I've never really had the above experience with whisky (only because I have the luxury of tasting everything first), I've had numerous scenarios throughout my life that played out similarly with video games. I was a pretty big gamer from the first Nintendo I got back in 1986 all the way throughout college. I slowed down a bit in my early twenties and then completely got out of it in 2007 when I purchased the Wii and just couldn't justify the expense. Now that I'm married, settled down, working all the time, and finding myself with about two to three hours of much-needed down time during the week, I decided to buy an Xbox 360 yesterday. I probably blow at least four nights a week just drinking cocktails while mindlessly surfing the internet with the TV on in the background. I've been watching the first fifteen minutes of Ski School, Bloodsport, and other favorite flicks, but then I don't really feel like committing, so I end up zoning out, answering emails instead or doing more work as a result. It's not helping to lower my anxiety levels, so I'm hoping that a few hours to destress with the old joystick will solve my issue.

Now - to the problem at hand! Which games do I buy for my new Xbox? I've missed out on so many new classics, it appears! Red Dead Redemption, Fall Out 3, Bioshock, where do I even start? After not having even looked at a game for almost five years, I needed to get a semblance for where the market was at. While on my lunch break at work I began to revisit my old haunts, logging into IGN for some detailed game reviews. Wow, they've really updated that site over the last half-decade! What are the highly-rated games right now? Halo 4!! That doesn't come out until tomorrow, so I'll pick that up before work Tuesday. What about now, however? I just saw the commercial for Assassin's Creed III and that game looks insane! You can fight the English during the Revolutionary War as a colonist or a native American! It also got great reviews. However, even with all that hype, I know myself. I know that I don't have the patience to sit down and figure these games out anymore. I need something I can turn on for twenty minutes and then turn off without too much commitment. There it is! WWE 13! As a huge wrestling fan this is just what I need. I think I gained at least 25 pounds in college eating Jack in the Box while smoking Marlboro reds and playing WWE No Mercy for the Nintendo 64. That's what I really want. Let's check the review. Oh no, it's good but not great. At first I thought that was perfect, but now this review has me second guessing myself. What should I do?

I used to let the reviews for a video game completely dictate my purchasing because I liked the idea of playing what other people thought was good. I didn't want to make a mistake. $50 was a big chunk of change for something I wouldn't end up playing. That being said, I wasn't confident enough back then to admit that I didn't like long, puzzling, drawn-out adventures that required high levels of skill. Nevertheless, I would buy them, play them for two days, then give up out of frustration (yet, tell my friends that they were awesome just to fit in). I have become even less patient as I've gotten older and now I really don't have the attention span to play these intensely realistic adventures.

However, even after my five years of experience at K&L, where I watch some customers follow ratings and reviews like biblical scripture, I still allowed myself back into that same frame of mind. "Buy what you like!" I constantly preach to customers, but yet there I was – standing at the Redwood City Target, looking at both Assassin's Creed III and WWE 13, knowing that it was going to be a battle between my own personal desire and wanting to play what the experts like best. Even after everything I've learned, after all the posts I've written about the terrbile point systems, I still caved to the high score review. I bought the Assassin's Creed game. This is what everyone else likes, right? Hopefully it will be good. I had to head to work from there so I put the bag of gear in my office and walked down to the sales floor. After a few hours of helping customers, it was time for lunch and time to head back over to Target. Who was I kidding? I wasn't going to let this happen yet again – another game that I spend $50 on just to get home and realize I'm never going to play it. Being at K&L, helping customers to make confident wine decisions, helped me to realize that I need to get what I like no matter how good someone else said the other game was. Who cares what the review said? I know I like wrestling games (as does my expanding waistline!).  I walked in with my receipt, swapped the game for WWE 13, and went back to K&L to finish my lunch.

I've been playing wrestling all morning and I couldn't be happier. I can play as Shawn Michaels and do a cage match with Steve Austin, battle for about ten minutes, hit the super kick for my finisher, and then move on to my grown-up responsibilities. It's important to try new things and be open to suggestion, but it's also important to know your personal preferences and comfort levels. It was an interesting experience to be put back into a position where I needed some consumer guidance. It helped to remind me of what my customers experience every day while shopping through the liquor aisles. As someone who wants drinkers to constantly expand their horizons, it was an important lesson in retail sales. As a retailer, I need to make sure that the customer is ultimately getting a bottle they're comfortable with. As customers, we need to make sure that we're honest with ourselves about what's going to make us happy.

I remember trying my hardest to like George T. Stagg Bourbon because I knew everyone thought it was amazing. I finally admitted to myself that I just don't like it and I was so happy to say it. Other people love it and that's great! Forcing yourself to drink whiskey you don't like is the same as playing a video game you don't enjoy. I personally don't like George T. Stagg Bourbon. I also don't like super-long, intensive video games. No matter how badly I want to fit in with the rest of the whiskey and gaming world, to understand the pleasure they seem to derive from something, it's just not what satisfies me in the end. Being honest with yourself will ultimately allow you to avoid these disappointments.

I just saved myself another $50 letdown. Thank goodness I rediscovered my confidence.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll