PS Store revamp: Sony and the stay-at-home shopper

By Stace Harman, Saturday, 3 November 2012 09:33 GMT

As Sony rolls out its new-look PS Store, Stace Harman speaks to those involved with its redesign to find out how it’s going to help rather than hinder those that want to spend money.

“The reality of the store is that it has such breadth, with over 1,000 full games, 8,000 add-ons and 20,000 pieces of game content, that we got to the point where consumers would turn up at the old store and feel, like, ‘Well, where do I get stuff?’”

The PlayStation Store has never boasted the most inviting of shop fronts, nor provided the most intuitive shopping experience. Were it a bricks and mortar high street store, it would be shunned by many passers-by who would wonder aloud at how such a shop could remain in business. Certainly, with its minimalist window display, curious pricing, inconsistent stock policies and baffling catalogue system, the PS Store can feel more like a perverse sociological experiment than a place designed to help you spend money.

The redesigned PS Store, which has now finally launched in both the US and Europe after being delayed from original October release dates, aims to address two of these issues straight out of the gate. Both the aesthetic layout and the search and filtering tools have been given a much needed overhaul, details of which can be found in an extended news piece from last week, when VG247 was amongst a handful of press outlets to be invited to Sony’s London offices for a sneak peak.

The redesign is the result of extensive consumer insight studies, which have seen Sony submit numerous design materials, work-in-progress code changes and iterative store updates to shoppers and consumers in order to obtain feedback during the two-year redevelopment process. As VP for Sony Entertainment Network operations in Europe, Gordon Thornton, acknowledges it was high time that changes were made.

“The reality of the store is that it has such breadth, with over 1,000 full games, 8,000 add-ons and 20,000 pieces of game content, that we got to the point where consumers would turn up at the old store and feel, like, ‘Well, where do I get stuff?’” admits Thornton.

“So, for this iteration of the store, that was the primary driving force and the key issue we’re attempting to solve. Hopefully, when people feel that we’ve got that right, we can look at adding more features on a rolling basis and solving other potential issues.”

Thornton is keen to highlight that the job is not done and dusted once the new store is rolled out. Additional design elements and functional improvements will be added on an ongoing basis every one or two months, but the initial splash is aimed at improving the basics.

“We’ve got a lot of features that we want to deliver but we need to get the fundamentals covered first,” confirms Elliot Dumville, product development manager for PS Store Europe. “We definitely wanted to make the store more browsable, which involved talking to all different kinds of consumers to find out how they went about shopping, why were they visiting the store in the first place, how they wanted to go about finding content and how were we making them go about it.”

Entering a couple of popular search terms into the old store highlights just how necessary an overhaul of the search engine logic is: “CoD” returns 283 items, including Resident Evil Code Veronica X, a smattering of items for PS Home (including a Shark Mask and a Mummy Suit) and then, if you scroll down far enough, a handful of CoD4 wallpapers and Call of Duty game content.

Meanwhile, having the gall to search for Dishonored by way of a British-English spelling returns no results at all; thankfully, both abbreviations and misspellings are accommodated by the new search logic, alongside the facility to have search results returned as you’re typing.

The sum of its parts

Going forward, it is PS3 owners who will benefit most from the redesigned PS Store. There are separate, dedicated content sections for both PS Vita and PSP owners but this is primarily to ensure that PS3 owners who are browsing for PS3 content will not be bamboozled by irrelevant offerings. It’s a bold move and one that, at first glance, appears to push Vita owners to the outskirts of the party. However, with the handheld’s own dedicated store accessed via the console itself, it makes sense to focus on the likely interests of consumers that have arrived at the store via PS3.

“Vita is an important thing for us, but it’s also important that we don’t have Vita products getting in the way of the PS3 content and experience,” explains Dumville. “The Vita store is going great guns and for people that use the PS3 store for Vita content, we’ve tried to make it as easy as possible and give them the quickest route that we can straight to all the stuff that is Vita specific.

“However, the lion’s share of consumers that use the PS Store at the moment are looking for PS3 content, so we’ve tried to create a dedicated sub-section of the store for PS Vita users, but the real focus of Vita content will be on the Vita store.”

Unfortunately, the arrival of the new-look PS Store cannot cure all the ills currently ailing European PS3 owners. To wit: while the search and filter functions have been significantly improved, they cannot locate content that simply isn’t there. In recent months, unexplained discrepancies between the US and EU stores have seen PS3 owners forced to wait for highly anticipated titles including Counter-Strike and The Walking Dead. This has been made all the more galling by Europe-based 360 and PC owners not experiencing the same delays, suggesting the problem lies not with the localisation process but with Sony.

“On individual games there are different reasons for why it happens … but we’d like to assure people that we do listen and we are aware of the discussion on Twitter and on message boards and we are working with publishers to try to get that solved,” assures Thornton.

“The reality of this new store is that we’ve been working very closely with publishers and they’ve been very excited by it. I think because of that, we’re able to work much closer with the publishers to get the same experience for the European consumers as for the US.”

With its redesigned PS Store, Sony is making a commitment to PS3 owners in the here and now, with both Thornton and Dumville adamant that the store has been designed to best serve its customers in the present, rather than preparing them for the PS4-powered future.

The redesign, alongside the recent launch of the 500Gb PS3 SKU, suggests Sony now appreciates that while physical retailers still play an integral part in the retail landscape, an increasing number of consumers desire an intelligently designed, digitally-delivered shopping experience that they can enjoy from the comfort of their sofa.

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