Key takeaways

  • Gamification is not new and occurs regularly across various customer experiences
  • A game mechanic and measurement of it, should always be aligned with initial business goals and objectives
  • Within retail there are multiple applications for gamification in terms of sales, loyalty and consumer-driven marketing opportunities

Often confused with games, the process of gamification is the utilisation of a game mechanic in order to reach a non-traditional outcome. For example creating a process that acts like a game, provides feedback and has a reward – but where the outcome is aligned to a business outcome.

Businesses need to think about what is really at stake and how their customers, social channels and digital mechanisms can be used to drive their goals and objectives. Gamification is a tool to increase engagement and potentially leverage behaviour that already exists but may not currently be measurable or have the ability to be harnessed for the direct benefit of the retailer.

Gamification is all around you

Take the simple act of tipping in a restaurant… an early form of gamification. Customers rate and provide a reward consummate with their customer experience. High performers are good for the business, in that they create a great impression for the business, along with gaining a personal reward (if they choose to participate). However, this gamification has dulled over time because even as the service level decreased the expectation for the reward remained.

Where tipping grew organically, there has been an increasing trend to ‘engineer’ these gamification experiences… enter Facebook Likes. Facebook wants and encourages its users to rate things. Content publishers also value the ‘Likes’ because they define and drive popularity of content, as well as broaden reach through a multitude of user networks. Due to this gamified rating system the display of Facebook Likes can be classed as a virtual reward. Users get a form of contextual cache by displaying a number of ‘Likes’ relative to other similar content.

However where some businesses are quite successful, others fail… so how can you successfully engineer gamification?

Engineering successful gamification

The best way to begin is to articulate business goals and work backwards.

Career networking site Linked In needed to emphasise value of professional networking. The company identified that the only way its user profiles would be of any value to members were if they were filled in and complete. Linked In utilised a visual device to indicate the completeness of user profiles. By showing these goals and allowing users to easily compare the percentage of completeness with others they gamified the drive for users to complete their profiles.

Although there was obvious benefit to Linked In through this gamification, it also offered the value to the end-user in being able to network with colleagues and passively find new job opportunities.

Once you have decided upon the goals that you want to drive then you must design a game mechanic that leverages the behaviours and motivations expressed by your consumers. The game mechanic will by necessity ask the consumer to participate in your gamified process so it cannot be one sided (e.g. yield obvious value for the enterprise while delivering non-tangible or nominal value to the consumer).

How to gamify an existing process

  1. Understand the current behaviour of people performing the task
  2. Identify at which point in the process they would engage if a game was offered
  3. Challenging whether your game mode represents a real challenge. Perhaps test your theory on a target audience member (e.g. If I was offered this type of game would you want to play it?)
  4. Evaluate whether the proposed game mechanic can be measured
  5. Implement mechanisms for facilitators and players to provide feedback. Consider whether the feedback is coming from someone that the players see as a professional in the context of this game
  6. Ensure that the prize is desirable

Determining the reward

Consumers are likely to be motivated by transactional rewards (e.g. discounts, loyalty points or vouchers). You may be interested in driving a temporal behaviour that is better suited to a transactional reward.

There are also forms of gamification where simply participating is the reward. Virtual rewards, such as digital cash/points and badges, must have a social cache – they recognise the user as an expert or give the user additional powers within the gaming environment. Badges are one of the simplest forms of gamification and as such may be reaching their use by date. However, due to the behaviours expressed in specific retail environments acknowledging a consumers level of taste or expertise may still be a viable strategy.

Bottom Line: The reward must be consummate with the outcome being driven.  Players will smell non-genuine attempts to create engagement. The numbers of failures to date vastly outweigh the successes.

Defining a retail game mechanic

The goal of using gamification in the retail environment would be to drive business objectives by utilising the audience’s behaviour and motivations within context of  ‘the store’. Some of these may include:

  • Increasing sales
  • Brand advocacy and loyalty
  • Provision of feedback
  • Indentification of new product lines
  • Reduced cost of sale
  • Facilitation of better customer service

Re-sellers have low margin and compete against other re-sellers, so keeping cost of sale low is all-important. Gamification that specifically addressed increasing distribution and reducing cost of sale is highly desirable. Additionally, this yielded benefits for brand advocacy that would be a great side benefit.

Consumers would compete to distribute the specific retailer’s offers. Offer their tips, hints and their specific take on the brand. Leaders would be those who got the maximum amount of exposure for ‘their’ offering and the highest amounts of referral purchases or direct sales depending on their chosen method of enablement.

A good example of retail gamification will attempt to engage both sales staff and consumers in one game mechanic.

The final word

Only genuine gamification will work. Like poorly focused advertising can actually work against a brand, the same applies to poorly executed gamification. At best it negatively impacts your brand and at worst it alienates consumers to the point where they assault your brand via social media channels.

There have been numerous cases recently in Australia where retail companies invited commentary from users and no matter what the question, consumers use the opportunity to vent about the companies poor customer service, products or services. Whenever you invite customer participation you invite the customer to have a voice. One must employ careful consideration and scenario planning when this type of approach is chosen in order to be prepared when and if things go wrong.

Gamification mechanics that enhance the customer-centric relationship will drive the goals of the enterprise and pay dividends in terms of brand advocacy, loyalty and low-cost awareness and acquisition of new consumers.


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Anthony Mittelmark

With over 20 years of enterprise grade digital and consulting experience, he possesses a combination of commercial acumen and technical know-how, to deliver projects from concept to delivery while maintaining the critical ability to evolve rapidly.

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