Using Gamification to Engage Customers and Employees

Blue-Light Specials and Muzak worked decently enough before shoppers got into the habit of checking their smartphones more often than they checked out items on a store’s shelves.

With technology everywhere you look, retailers know they have to take new and inventive approaches to hang on to your attention. Ones that call for going beyond games and music. But, oddly enough, still use many of the same principles.

Welcome to the brave new retailing world of Gamification, where the fun doesn’t just begin and end with the customer. Retailers as diverse as Nike, Whole Foods and New York-area drug store chain Duane Reade are taking a long, hard look at how gamification can help them improve the bottom line while keeping customers — and employees – entertained. And, the retailers hope, loyal.

“Come on down…”

The overall idea, reports online publisher Retail TouchPoints (RTP), is to take advantage of “gamified mechanics” in ways that tap into other parts of people’s lives, such as social networks – thereby upping a retailer’s profile through shares and likes. According to RTP, the strategy looks to be paying off in the following ways:

  • By using a mobile app called Ingress, Duane Reade encourages customers to collect game resources by visiting brick-and-mortar locations — and then compete with one another as they would in any other game. The partnership with the app developer, Duane Reade says, has resulted in a major increase in web presence. “It is important for us to be where our consumers are, including the virtual world,” says a customer spokesman. That includes a reported increase of 1,500 likes and shares, as of March 2013.
  • Whole Foods, on the other hand, has taken a different approach. Instead of using gamification to drive a marketing campaign, the grocer uses aspects of game mechanics to enhance a campaign’s social media component. Liking a Facebook prize contest, for instance, can end up rewarding a customer with a sizeable gift card. Another campaign challenged customers to complete a two week quest to better health by completing one “mission” per day. “Instead of just putting information out there in an article or blog, the campaign allows you to create those missions and really make it more fun and engaging,” says the food chain’s VP of Innovation.
  • Nike keeps it even simpler, offering customers an app that can be used in conjunction with the Nike+ Fuel Band, a fitness gadget that monitors a user’s physical activity and transmits the data to an online home. The concept? Allow users to compare their data with others, and a natural competition will break out, engaging users with one another as well as the Nike brand.

Work that’s fun doesn’t feel like work

So where does employee engagement figure in?

Apparently working off the age-old concept that work is more fun if it feels like a game, companies have begun to use gamification to train staff. In fact, some seem to believe that, by gamifying the workplace first, businesses stand a far better chance of making games work for their customers.

Aaron Patton, a manager with Deloitte Strategy & Operations Practice, tells RTP,

Using gamification, we can track our people, see what requisite training they’ve taken and how they’re performing. Document creation, proposals and community engagement through leaderboards have been immensely helpful.

For employees, gamification mostly boils down to news they can use: A CMS Wire article quotes technology research firm Gartner, which predicted that “Gamification will be the primary mechanism to transform business operations for 70 percent of Global 2000 firms by 2014 and 40 percent of Global 1000 companies by 2015.”

Another reason gamification works for employees? The programs can be customized to provide incentives for better performance – especially for workers under 25, who supposedly crave feedback on a daily basis. According to another researcher interviewed by CMS, when employees were asked to put a price tag on the kind of recognition they wanted most from their bosses, 57% said that the best praise cost…nothing.

As yet another consultant says to CMS,

Gamification is, at its core, an actionable strategy which analyzes customer and employee behavior across your organization and then creates sophisticated programs to actually change this behavior to benefit the business.

In other words, by using games, businesses can extract what they want from customers and employees alike – for little or next to no cost.

Cue the flashing blue light, please. And the Muzak.

Image via Buster Benson / CC BY-SA 2.0

Pierce Mattie

Pierce Mattie is a full-service marketing agency that interacts with consumers and key stakeholders at every stage of the journey. With a focus in beauty, health and wellness, we are immersed in the marketing landscape, able to powerfully communicate a brand’s point of difference to acquire and maintaining customers. The content team is obsessed with what's trending in the digital world, and how it intersects with consumer behavior. We are passionate about the changing landscape of the world, including how emergent technologies affect brand attachment, how diversity and inclusivity are critical to success, and where humans fit into the equation.

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