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Commerce gamification

Game mechanics have been a hot topic for some time now and the interest in properly applying game mechanics to create a loyal and expanding community continues to increase. Gamification, or applying game mechanics and game thinking to engage and grow an audience, isn’t only taking place in the online community. In Sweden, where speed cameras are used to nab speeders and fine them according to their income level, game mechanics were applied to get drivers to lighten the load on the accelerator. The game?  Entering drivers who are not exceeding the speed limit into a lottery to share proceeds from the fines of the speeders. The effect? A 20% reduction in average speed.

It’s more than obvious from that example that gamification truly motivates people and can have a drastic and nearly immediate effect on behavior. Choosing not to apply some level of gamification to an eCommerce site is not only remiss, it’s so last decade. In addition to the popular loyalty programs based on points, some approaches to gamification are engaging audiences with brands. Awarding points for passing along content to friends, giving discounts to loyalty program members that purchase a certain dollar amount of product in a period of time, and giving vouchers to shoppers when a new customer they recommended buys from your site for the first time are all examples of proven gamification techniques for eCommerce sites. An approach being employed in the fashion industry invites customers to design an outfit, a shoe, a hat, a purse — whatever — and pass it along to their friends and invite them to do the same. The end result is getting a new customer engaged with the site.

Gamification goes far beyond eCommerce and has been being used in other areas of life for years. This past week, my wife and I attended parent/student college orientation with our son. While attending a parents forum to ask questions to second year students, one guy claimed that every time he took a cool class, it unlocked more cool classes. I’d never really thought of course prerequisites as an example of game progression, but he was right. It’s all in how you look at things. With that in mind, most social commerce shoppers today have come to expect some sort of gamification to be a part of the experience. Since the customers are expecting it, embrace it. You don’t have to force the idea of gamification on anyone these days.

There are any number of possibilities for gamification and a lot of them depend on how you want your audience to interact with your site. Here are just a few ideas:

  • If your site experiences a slow-down in the mid-afternoon, create an opportunity for folks to log in to the site and purchase items at a discount, provided the entire shopping journey takes place during the specified time frame.
  • Have a low rate of repeat purchases?  Award frequent buyers with a badge that gives them a discount for being a loyal customer and encourage your badge holders to post their achievement to Facebook or other social networks.
  • Engage groups of friends in a contest, perhaps a contest to collaboratively design an outfit that is judged by industry experts or perhaps the community itself. The prize?  Give the winning group of friends their award-winning outfit for free.

It’s been estimated that marketing driven gamification efforts will grow by 150% over the next two years.  The companies employing online gamification most often are the entertainment, publishing and consumer goods markets. Other industries from financial services to education are quickly following this trend. Healthcare companies have also found that applying game mechanics to health and wellness programs lead to increased participation and program completion.

The challenges that occur most often with gamification involve figuring out the best way to tie the given game mechanics into technology infrastructure and organizational process.  It’s important to understand what type of feedback can be generated by users participating in a game and how that data can be gathered and analyzed to help both the customer and the company. The process of technology integration can also be tricky so utilizing experts to help integrate gamification with existing IT assets is essential. Using the outfit design contest mentioned above as an example for integration tasks, this could potentially require integration between the game and inventory data, product catalog info (price), digital assets (photos), cross-selling logic (to match complementary products as part of the design), and the like.  Having a completely disconnected game won’t drive much interest in the long run when compared to gamification that integrates other aspects of what a brand offers to customers.

What are your thoughts on gamification?