The GameStop Expo opened yesterday to GameStop store managers, and today it’s being flooded with consumers checking out the very latest games and hardware from all of the top companies in the console game business. The show has been packed this year, and GameStop’s director of merchandising Eric Bright took some time to speak with [a]listdaily about the news from the show and what the retail front looks like for the fall and holiday season ahead.

Eric Bright

What’s the exciting news from GameStop Expo?

As it has been in prior years, this is really the kickoff as we bring in our store managers and fill them with all the great information about all the great new releases that are going to be coming out for the fall and holiday seasons. Everyone from Activision to EA to Ubisoft to Disney have done a great job at unveiling first-at-GameStop presentation of information. Activision unveiled a brand-new zombie level here at the show, and managers got to see it for the first time. Ubisoft unveiled a brand-new trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. There a lots of bits of new information that store managers are going to be armed with to be able to go back and evangelize not only their employees, but also all of the customers that are going to be pouring into our stores during the holiday season.

The other big news coming out at the Expo is around our collectibles business. Not too long ago we acquired ThinkGeek and GeekNet. Today at the Expo we announced the opening in Orlando of our new ThinkGeek store. The store managers are thrilled and excited about that.

What are the biggest game launches for GameStop from a merchandising perspective leading up to the holidays?

You have to start the title which has always been the largest from a historical perspective, Call of Duty: Black Ops III is going to be an absolute phenomenon for the back half of the year. Then there’s tremendous buzz around Star Wars Battlefront and Fallout. An absolutely excited customer base — and excited associates — interested in getting all the news about it.

What’s going to be happening in the stores — displays, standups, stacks of games?

It’s really going to be more around what I would call lifestyle merchandising. Instead of just focusing in on the Call of Duty game or the Halo game or the Star Wars game, with our focus on collectibles or Loot, you’re going to see us not only selling the game but all of the collectible merchandise that goes around it. For Call of Duty we’ll have a full assortment of T-shirts and hats and posters and keychains for that customer. You can imagine the merchandising possibilities that exist with such a strong property like Star Wars that we’ll be able to really maximize. Then there’s other titles like Halo and Assassin’s Creed that really have strong merchandise, that our associates are thrilled about and our customers are thrilled as well. We opened up a ThinkGeek store within the Expo to see how a store devoted to this type of merchandise would do, and it looks like they’re going to sell out today.

The individual booths brought so much excitement as well. For Warner Bros., they brought in Stan Lee who was doing signings. Sony brought in the first way for consumers to experience Morpheus. Store managers are able to play Overwatch, the new title from Blizzard, for the first time. So there are lots of experience that store managers and consumers are having today that aren’t experiences that exist outside of E3.

There will now be four major contenders in the toy/game hybrid space: Skylanders, Disney Infinity, Nintendo’s Amiibo, and LEGO Dimensions. Is GameStop increasing the shelf space devoted to this category, or will they have to compete in the current space?

I’m really glad that you brought that up. It’s something that we’ve been discussing inside GameStop for quite some time. When we had just Skylanders it was a business that GameStop was able to get in and talk about with consumers. Then we had Disney Infinity come in, and this year Amiibo and LEGO Dimensions. What we have found with each new iteration that comes out is that overall, the pie grows. Each one is adding incremental business to the overall ecosystem. There’s definitely room for all four properties, and each one is completely unique.

This year you’re starting to see some crossover — Activision announced they are doing a crossover with Nintendo, where you’ll have Skylanders that also function as Amiibos. It is exciting, especially when you’re talking about characters like Donkey Kong and Bowser having those in the Skylanders universe and in the Skylanders universe is fantastic. Each of these properties is adding something new this year. Skylanders adding vehicles is taking it to another dimension. Disney with Star Wars, you can’t get better timing for that than with the film coming out this year. You have Amiibo and the passion around the Nintendo characters as strong as ever. With LEGO Dimensions, I don’t have to tell you how strong that is at retail. They are incorporating all the DC characters like Superman and Batman and the Lord of the Rings characters and Wizard of Oz, all existing in the same universe — that’s very powerful.

GameStop’s CEO said in the last earnings call “we will continue to remodel GameStop stores to give more linear footage to Loot merchandise and less to video games.” What sort of Loot do you expect to do well?

We’re seeing tremendous success in trading cards, tremendous success in plush, and we’re also seeing tremendous success in what I would call niche collectible items. Things from Minecraft swords to Pokemon toys to true collectible statues and figurines.

What sort of merchandising do you expect for consoles this holiday? Will there be changes as the market for the latest consoles is maturing?

There’s been several exciting announcements about hardware. With Sony, you’re looking at the excitment around the Star Wars bundle, and there’s Destiny bundle that’s coming out. Sony definitely believes in the value add of a bundle. At GameStop we’ll be having bundles with physical games in them, we believe that adds and extra value than just giving a customer a digital code. You’re going to see exciting bundles from Microsoft as well. We had a great program on the Xbox side with a Madden soft bundle that did very well. Microsoft is also introducing the Xbox Elite bundle, and that’s absolutely fantastic. GameStop will have an exclusive Elite controller to sell separately for a limited time. We’re also getting a special Optic White controller that will also be a GameStop exclusive.