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A game store owner takes on e-commerce, reluctantly
Dec 22, 2020

A game store owner takes on e-commerce, reluctantly

Labyrinth Games used to be a neighborhood gathering spot. It's now trying to replicate that online.

This week, we’re looking at how small businesses have moved online during the pandemic. Monday we talked about all the ways a business can get into e-commerce. Today, we hear from one business owner navigating that world.

Kathleen Donahue is the owner of Labyrinth Games & Puzzles, an independent store in the Eastern Market neighborhood of Washington, D.C. She only sells analog games and puzzles — no electronics — so it might not be surprising that she was reluctant to sell online. Prior to the pandemic, the store was a real community hub, holding events such as kids’ birthday parties, team-building sessions and game tournaments.

The store didn’t have any e-commerce presence prior to the pandemic, and when it closed on March 23, it started getting hundreds of phone calls and emails.

“They had shut down schools, so everybody wanted games and puzzles at that point,” Donahue said. “It was just a madhouse.”

Donahue knew she needed an easier way to transact with customers, but that meant getting each of the store’s more than 3,000 games and puzzles online.

“We didn’t have pictures. We didn’t have write-ups. We didn’t have anything like that,” she said. “We had all of our staff working from home, getting inventory up as fast as possible.”

Kathleen Donahue, the owner of Labyrinth Games & Puzzles. (Photo courtesy of Donahue)

Labyrinth had already been using Lightspeed as their in-store point-of-sale system, so Donahue paid $250 extra per month to enable its e-commerce features. Labyrinth’s website was up by mid-April. She considered other options: The store sold some items on eBay, and she looked at Shopify, though it would have taken longer to get up and running. But she didn’t even think about selling on Amazon Marketplace.

“I really dislike the entire concept of Amazon,” Donahue said. “I don’t like what they’re doing to small businesses, and I don’t like what they’re doing to the global economy.”

Labyrinth had a social media presence prior to the pandemic, and Donahue has expanded that, using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Twitch to promote the store’s products. But she hasn’t linked that to purchasing, partly because it’s hard to integrate everything.

“It would be really nice if, when I added a brand-new product, if there was a button that I could pop,” she said. “And write a little Facebook message or an Instagram message and say, ‘Hey, look what we got new.’ And then it would just print it with a link back to buy it. That would be fantastic.”

Donahue said that the store is now open to a limited number of shoppers, and that in November and December, about half of the purchases have been made online. She said e-commerce has been crucial in bringing money in this year.

“It’s been great, because we’re shipping all over the country now, and being D.C., it’s a very transient location,” Donahue said. “So we’ve had people that used to come in eight or nine years ago that are now ordering from South Africa.”

But she still doesn’t love it.

“It’s still not fun to me,” Donahue said. “It’s not the way I want to interact with our customer base. I want to still have that old-timey feel, even using modern technology, if I can figure out how to do that.”

Customers at the door of Labyrinth Games & Puzzles in Washington. The store started selling online this year. (Photo courtesy of Kathleen Donahue)

Related links: Insight from Molly Wood

In addition to Labyrinth’s Twitch channel, its videos are archived on YouTube. I mean, you have to admit, for someone who didn’t really want to go this route, Donahue got after it in some really creative ways.

Earlier this month, Adobe Analytics reported that moving online has been huge for small businesses. Those shops saw a 304% increase in sales the day after Thanksgiving and a 501% increase over last year on Cyber Monday. More than $10 billion was spent online on that day alone, per Adobe.

There’s actually an interesting read on Adweek about Shopify and how it’s becoming a bit of an anti-Amazon juggernaut. Earlier this year, it pivoted to a new consumer-facing Shop app that collects merchants and recommends them to users. It’s expanding its payment network and offers services to stores like we’ve been talking about this week. It’s gotten big enough this year that — remember back in June? I know, no one does. But back in June we were talking about how Facebook was trying to kill them. Facebook literally rolled out a service called Shops — basically the exact same name, at almost exactly the same time — and started ramping up its own small business marketplace features. But, I don’t know. Here we are in December and Shopify is on a roll.

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The team

Molly Wood Host
Michael Lipkin Senior Producer
Stephanie Hughes Producer
Daniel Shin Daniel Shin
Jesus Alvarado Assistant Producer