A lot of people can’t hear the word gamification without thinking about games. That makes a lot of sense when you consider that according to Forbes’ 2015 State of Marketing Survey, 34% of marketers around the world will launch a mobile app this year. Creating a branded game in a world where the best mobile processors for gaming are cheap can feel like a slam dunk for online retailers but consider that plenty of branded mobile games have come and gone without having much of an impact on those brands’ bottom lines.
Gamification, on the other hand, is less about building brand awareness through entertainment and more about motivating customers to take specific actions. It’s a data-driven approach to increasing revenue and, while it may be entertaining for those who participate, the end goal is always to keep customers engaged enough to promote and purchase. To be clear, the game (in so far as there is one) is wholly tied to the retail experience.
Consider the Urban On app from Urban Outfitters. Shopping via the app lets users earn rewards like access to exclusive items and giveaways. Sharing photos via the app means a chance to be featured on Urban Outfitters’ own social streams and the opportunity to earn badges – what you might call fake internet points. Every step of the way Urban On users feel like they are working their way into an exclusive club of cool kids and that is not only highly motivational, but also loyalty inducing.
Gamification works because it uses our natural desire to compete and be a part of something exclusive to push us to meet brands’ business objectives. People are eager to earn highly visible public proof of status like points, badges and levels and will typically do the work necessary to get a progress bar all the way to its end point. We interact with virtual currency (like Facebook’s ‘likes’ and Twitter’s ‘favorites’) the same way we interact with real currency, doing what it takes to accrue more. And most of us are eager to buy into something that makes us feel like one of the elite.
Shopping on its own activates areas of the brain responsible for boosting our moods because every ka-ching of the cash register is like a little win. Snagging a great deal on a perfect pair of shoes can actually trigger the release of the feel good brain chemical dopamine. The gamification of the online shopping experience – whether buying or browsing – increases the frequency of those little wins and makes everything about a brand seem more exciting.
eBay was one of the original sites to tap into the power of gamification – in this case, the auction. eBay’s users didn’t just buy items, they won them, and to avoid losing they needed to come back to the site again and again to monitor their bids. Woot’s original model pitted buyers against each other by offering limited quantities of the day’s single daily deal item, no doubt inspiring many to make purchases in the heat of the moment and motivating many more to visit the site every single day in the hope of getting that win.
The takeaway for ecommerce marketers is this: build an app if that feels right but also consider partnering with a company like BigDoor to turn the mechanics that are already there in a store’s website into a game. On their face, these two strategies don’t look that different. The Victoria’s Secret Pink Nation app, for instance, gives users access to exclusive offers, invitations and sneak previews in return for Tinder-style curation of their content – but what’s missing are rewards for clear revenue-generators like signups and buys.
The true power of gamification? Lies in being able to reward users and customers for not just engaging with your site but rather for doing exactly what you want them to do.