Mobile app idea #2: Make it a game

By Marc Hummel

August 20, 2015

It's mobile time here on the Monetate blog. So far we've covered the future of mobile retail apps, Android vs. iOS, and how to make a retail app they'll actually use.

Today we're covering a fun one: Retail mobile apps that make shopping a game. As we put it in recently released guide to retail mobile apps:

"You can use games to incentivize the things you want your customers to do.

"Create a points system that unlocks rewards after a certain tier is achieved. i.e. 'Share 5 items with your social network and receive free shipping on your next order.' You could even incentivize your customers to write reviews, upload photos, refer a friend, or visit a nearby store."

This is technically called retail gamification. But we're not really into technical terms here.

Here's how scholars Victoria Insley and Daniel Nunan defined retail gamification in their 2013 paper, Gamification and the online retail experience. (Yes, although we're not big on technical terms, we're very much into doing our homework.)

"Unlike price and product factors transferring customer experience from an offline to an online context creates challenges, especially when many of the factors that create a successful physical shopping experience do not translate into the online world. One way in which retailers have begun to enhance the online customer experience is through the application of game mechanics to online shopping, a process known as 'gamification' (Zichermann and Linder, 2010). For example, popular web services such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Ebay all incorporate game elements to increase customer engagement with their sites."

OK, but why would I bother making a retail experience that resembles a game?

Lots of reasons:

  1. Engagement. Retail experiences that resemble games are more memorable and "sticky" than their non-game counterparts.
  2. Get a bigger share of their time. Respondents to the aforementioned paper said that they viewed "online shopping as a replacement for other entertainment options." One respondent said: "In the evenings, where some people might watch a film, I shop." (To which we respond: Why not do both?)
  3. To get ahead of your competition. The report also recommends to "[u]se gamification to manage price-comparison behavior. Retailers could integrate game elements into shopping carts, and make them a more persistent element of the shopping experience to more effectively respond to cross-retailer pricing differences."

So how can you turn the mobile shopping experience into a game?

Two ways:

1. Make the actual shopping experience like a game

2. Create a game-like mobile experience that complements your product

Next, we'll explore these two types of mobile gamification and what retailers are doing with these ideas today.

Shake to undo iPhone

1. Gamify the shopping experience

Smartphones have a ton of built-in sensors you can use to create a unique shopping experience. You’re probably familiar with Amazon’s use of haptic feedback to confirm that you’ve added an item to your cart.

Try implementing a version of the “shake to undo” iPhone feature in your own app. Maybe it’s shake to check out, or to add something to your cart. You could also utilize on-screen gestures, such as swipe and release to instantly order an item for pickup at a nearby store.

Polyvore does an awesome job of gamifying the mobile shopping experience. Shoppers can build custom outfits—including shoes, tops, pants, dresses, skirts, and accessories—and purchase the collection right there in-app with just a tap or two.

Polyvore screenshot

For more about Polyvore, check out this great piece from the New York Times.

2. Create a mobile experience that complements your products.

Let's explore a few quick examples.

First: Build-a-Bear's new Promise Pets collection, which features a full-featured companion app. MarketWatch reports:

"The Promise Pets line features a complementary mobile app families can download to bring the experience of pet care to life, teaching children about animal care through an interactive play experience. [...] App users will start as 'Pet Care Rookies' and work their way up through five levels of certification to earn the ultimate 'Pet Care Pro' status. Through fun, engaging games, users will be able to collect Paw Points, earn certificates, and give their pet all the affection and care he or she deserves."

Next up: Nike.

The Nike running app fosters an intimate relationship with the Nike brand. It's more than a simple fitness tracker; the Nike app enables runners to compete against themselves, establish challenges, and more. It even integrates with Spotify. Not only is it a cool, motivating resource for runners, it also establishes Nike as a partner in fitness that truly gets the needs and desires of its customers. It connects each and every run with the Nike brand. (For more on Nike's data capture efforts, check out page 17 of the L2 Personalization Report.)

What interesting mobile service can augment the products you sell? 

Let us know on Twitter. And check out our recently released guide to mobile apps for more ways to make a game out of the mobile retail experience.

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[Tweet "How retailers are killing it with mobile apps that make shopping a game."]

Marc Hummel is a former Content Marketing Associate for Monetate. He's also a part-time grad student at the University of Pennsylvania. He enjoys biking to work, reading, listening to podcasts/music, and eating ice cream. Usually not all at once. For more about Marc, go here.

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