Anime Boston held its annual three-day convention — which typically draws more than 25,000 manga, anime and Japanese popular culture fans — last month. Cosplayers likely spent months busily crafting their costumes, but vendors were just as busy crafting their sales strategies.
Conventions present critical business opportunities for vendors selling everything from plush toys to Japanese graphic novels and apparel. Vendors can reach new customers, interact with existing ones, test products and more. They must thus be able to make the sales process quick and convenient if they want to get the most out of these events, otherwise they risk customers abandoning their purchases to instead check out the next booth.
PYMNTS recently caught up with vendors Crunchyroll and New England Comics, both of which showcased their wares at Anime Boston, to discuss how they strategized for optimum sales and the mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) capabilities they needed to best support their very different operations.
Convention attendance is a must for Crunchyroll, according to Director of Commerce Kristin Parcell, who relies on them to gain vital sales insights. The company sells anime merchandise online and provides content streaming to more than 45 million registered global users.
Crunchyroll attends approximately 10 U.S.-based conventions and a dozen international ones each year, including some that draw 150,000-plus attendees, Parcell said. While it has a significant online operation, on-the-ground presence is key for more deeply connecting with its customer base. These events enable Crunchyroll to test offerings and gain a deeper conversion- and data-based understanding of customers’ needs and wants.
“I view [each convention] as a very critical touchpoint,” she said.
Sales information can reflect which events are popular enough to carry related merchandise, for example, as well as which clothing sizes or styles to stock, the mix of products to bring to the next convention and which to feature on its eCommerce store.
“Our business is completely and entirely run on licensed anime series, [so] it’s a constant popularity contest,” Parcell said. “[Conventions help us to] better learn and understand [which] different anime series — and characters from those series — are popular and resonating with the fans, [and] even [learn about] fashion trends.”
Payments and Pacing
Crunchyroll has to manage a few key goals to ensure convention sales run smoothly, including keeping payments fast and accepting cash. Parcell has found that customers aged 30 and up typically pay by credit card, while the company’s sizeable high school and college audience more often arrives with cash in hand. The average purchase is $45, with items like exclusive figurines costing $150 or more.
Crunchyroll advertises items for sale ahead of time, though, meaning its cash-favoring younger customers typically arrive prepared with the right amounts. ATMs are not an issue, then, but the ability to quickly make change is. The company deploys two tools — a tabletop cash register-style POS for handling cash and a portable mPOS device for taking rapid card payments — to streamline such processes and keep lines moving.
“I took inspiration from being in retail environments like Nordstrom or Nordstrom Rack and seeing how fluid [their processes were] and [what] a great feature it was to have sales people on the floor who could quickly check [customers] out,” Parcell said.
The company only began receiving requests for mobile wallet payment last year, she added, and it now plans to introduce Apple Pay later this year.
Customer preference isn’t the only reason the company must be able to accept cash, however: A loss of internet service would force the firm to fall back on paper currency. Each convention center has its own setup and technical accommodations, Parcell noted, and Crunchyroll must always be prepared should anything go wrong.
New England Comics’ Paper Preference
Conventions are important for many retailers, but often play very different roles in their overall business strategies. Crunchyroll uses them to better understand its primary audience, but Boston-based New England Comics looks to such events to supplement revenue through sales outside its standard customer base. The comic book retail chain and publisher primarily sells American comics at its eight brick-and-mortar locations, but it does travel to a handful of anime conventions each year where, according to General Manager Tom Yee, it offers low-priced manga that can sell for $1 a piece.
“We don’t get as many [manga and anime fans] into our stores, so we don’t sell as much of that product mix in the store, volume-wise,” Yee said. “But, it’s worth our while to sell at the convention and purchase items specifically for that.”
The core business for New England Comics is its brick-and-mortar sales, meaning the company needed to make the process of attending conventions as simple as possible. Its top sales technology goals were that its mPOS required minimal setup, was affordable and enabled secure credit card acceptance. Integration between that mPOS and its in-store POS or digital inventorying would therefore not be a convenience, but rather an unnecessary complication, Yee said.
“We’re using a device offered by the company we already use for … our in-store credit card processing,” he noted. “It’s [simpler] to just stay with [that firm], rather than go outside just for the few conventions [we do each] year.”
Since the company sells a different set of items at conventions than it does in-store, digital inventorying would require New England Comics to first input many new products into the system — one more tedious task in the already complex work of convention preparation, Yee said. Instead, the retailer prefers to lean on manual, paper-based inventory tracking.
“The work we already do to set up for conventions is pretty mindboggling,” he explained.
Whether regional operations like New England Comics or international players like Crunchyroll, conventions can be significant elements of any retail strategy. Equipping firms with the right mPOS solutions helps vendors meet their intended business goals, expose them to new customers and grant new insight into existing relationships.