5 min read

Gamification in retail stores works, says science

Written by
Katherine Bruen
Published on
February 7, 2023

Often viewed as fun and entertaining, gamification in retail can be so much more – if done right. We turned towards science to learn more and show you how it can help you create a positive store attitude and increase purchases and overall spending.

An introduction to gamification

Games have been around ever since. Based on archaeological evidence, some historians believe that the oldest game dates back to as far as 6,000 BCE.

Around the globe, games have always been a popular source of entertainment. And rightfully so, they are widely associated with amusement, fun, and joy.

Though these associations feel out of place whenever we hear the term gamification in a business context. After all, we’ve been conditioned to business as a rather formal environment.

RetailDive defines gamification as a practice to combine “elements of play and common game mechanics such as points, badges, and other incentives in nontraditional contexts in order to affect behaviour.”

In short, gamification is a subtle way to engage people by providing common game mechanics as incentives for specific behaviour.

In retail, gamification has gained a lot of attention. According to Boston Retail Partners, almost 90% of retailers turned to gamification, while every second claimed to make it a priority to deliver loyalty programs with a gaming experience.

At this point, you might find yourself asking: if business and gamification didn’t go well together, why are so many retailers focussing on it? Great question, let’s dive into it!

Stereotypes – and why they’re wrong

Any adult who has downloaded Candy Crush or Angry Birds can attest, mobile games aren’t just for children and teenagers. Today, the average mobile gamer is 36 years old compared to 27 years back in 2014.

Mobile gamers are more likely to be middle-aged moms than their teenage sons.

According to MMA Global, teenagers between 16 and 24 years only represent 14% of mobile gamers – while people older than 45 years make up almost a third.

Furthermore, studies have found that over 46% of gaming enthusiasts are women.

Stereotypes in gaming are changing as it becomes clear how misunderstood the subject actually is.

And for businesses, these insights open a set of new tactics to engage their customers more holistically.

The science behind gamification in retail

As many will argue, a tactic is only as good as its outcome. So even if games increase engagement, how do they impact revenue, retention, and customer satisfaction?

Discounts obtained from promotional games generate a greater likelihood of purchase and overall spending

Conducted in 2019, a study by Stefan H. Hock published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that discounts obtained from promotional games always generated a greater likelihood of purchase and overall spending, ranging from a 42% to 213% increase.

Hock concluded that shoppers got a confidence boost from performing well in a game of chance which, in turn, gave them greater buying confidence. That was particularly true when looking to buy a self-indulgent item rather than a necessity.

Winning a discount leads to a positive store attitude

The positive feeling of scoring a discount seems to also develop a better association with a retail brand. 

Another study found that shoppers are more willing to go father to buy an identical item from the store they had made the association with, rather than buying from a closer competitor.

Promotional games at retail stores increased consumer spending even when the discount won from a promotional game is smaller than a traditional discount – say only 10% vs 20%.

Surprisingly, even when the discount won from a promotional game was less than the traditional discount, the researchers came to the same conclusion. It didn’t affect a shoppers’ perception nor their good association with the retailer.

The do’s and don’ts for gamification in retail

Gamification in retail requires a strategic approach. We recommend 4 things you should consider before implementing gamification and bringing games to your retail store.

Don’t add gamification for the sake of adding gamification

Know your audience and be aware of how they perceive your brand. Gamification and in-store entertainment isn’t suitable for every retail brand and that’s okay.

For example, if you’re selling luxury wedding dresses, gamification might not be for you. The truth is, awarding shoppers with a coupon for their next purchase might even be seen as offensive.

So before implementing gamification, make sure to understand your target audience, the context within which they are purchasing in your store, and the existing associations they have with your brand.

But be aware of stereotypes. If you decide against gamification because you think women in their 50s don’t play mobile games, you might miss an excellent opportunity.

Align gamification and strategic objectives

Think of your desired outcome first, then implement a strategy on how to achieve it. If your goal is to incentivise store visitors to return, award them coupons for a future date.

If you’re planning to increase cross-selling, use discounts valid for popular item bundles.

Make sure to think carefully about the action you’d like to encourage your store visitors to take and look for ways that support your case.

Create a seamless brand experience

Consumers nowadays are overwhelmed by apps. According to Statista, there are around 480,000 mobile gaming apps in Google Play alone.

Focus on building a frictionless experience and create associations with your brand, for instance, by promoting your brand or products inside of your games. Don’t become yet another mobile gaming app with hardly any association to your brand.

Your content needs to resonate clearly with who you are and what you stand for and strengthen the positive association a visitor has created when scoring discounts or perks.

Be brave, experiment, and learn

There’s no blueprint for gamification in retail. So be brave and explore various ways to engage your store visitors. Be open to feedback and pay attention to their experience.

Make sure to choose a provider that delivers a measurable gamification experience. Ask yourself questions like: how many visitors engage? How many visitors play, win, and redeem discounts? And what impact is it making on visitor retention?

Follow a greater purpose

When implementing gamification, make sure it serves a greater purpose than bringing joy to your store visitors.

One way to do this is to collect email addresses or prompt visitors to sign up before receiving their reward.

This way, you can gather valuable visitor information for your marketing strategy. After all, email addresses are essential for great retail marketing.

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