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GUEST COMMENT High street’s winning playbook must include mobile gamification

Can retailers of all stripes apply retail gamification techniques to transcend the brand engagement?

The past months and years have created new levels of competition on the High Street. Even mega-brands, such as Toys R Us, have been unable to adapt and have eventually disappeared, and smaller national and regional brands are following suit. Clearly, the rise of ecommerce and mcommerce, as well as a steep rise in tax rates for businesses are influencing these failures. But the primary driver, according to the 2018 Grimsey Review, is “retailers being forced to recognise that their bloated store portfolios are no longer sustainable in the current economic conditions.”


This has created a scenario where the difference between failing, or surviving and thriving, is often the product of marketing creativity and targeted digital engagement. One technique being liberally borrowed from outside the retail sphere is gamification—using concepts from mobile gaming to make the shopping experience more engaging.


With billions of pounds of annual revenue at stake, High Street retailers are turning to gamification models to create new experiences that engage and delight mobile consumers, in-app or otherwise. Typically, these experiences take the form of applying common game elements, like the ability to score points and compete with others.


But can retailers of all stripes apply retail gamification techniques to transcend the brand engagement and product discovery phases of the consumer journey and stand the test of time as a profitable method for driving actual transactions? To find out, let’s look at the ups and downs of retail shopping gamification and study the early returns of gamification campaigns run by Nike, Sephora, and others in the UK.


The game is already on


The best business lessons are learned from experienced teachers. Mobile gaming, which is in its tenth year of double-digit growth, may provide the ideal tutor to High Street retailers.


A few years ago, it felt like everyone was talking about gamification in the retail space, but there were fewer real-world examples then. Today, we use a variety of apps that incorporate mobile gaming elements without ever noticing. Ever been incentivised to make a trip to the gym by the opportunity to complete challenges? Have you seen that enterprise teams use productivity or client satisfaction leaderboards to gamify work objectives?


Consumers of basic utilities can be offered rate reductions, or even cash rewards, for reducing their power consumption. Of course, the concept of consumer rewards is nothing new in retail—many stores have popular loyalty schemes, for example. The problem is the clunky integration of gaming elements in the mobile shopping experience.


We can book a taxi or find a date with just a few taps, but not with mobile loyalty cards. Will users be forced to enter a card number or PIN each time they want to use the service? Can they see your special offers in-app? Will discounts and rewards automatically are applied at checkout, or will in-app offers be honoured via other shopping channels like a website, email, or social media?


The back and forth required to satisfy each of those questions is enough to make anyone give up on their shopping cart—it’s the opposite of fun and games. Challenges, points, and leaderboards can attract engagement, foster brand loyalty, and reduce shopping cart abandonment, but only if the mobile experience is slick.


The High Street retailers that will survive and thrive in the age of mobile natives are those who can deliver on a simple, trustworthy, and fun mobile shopping experience. Here are a few examples of retailers doing shopping gamification right.




Nike has been way ahead of the gamification curve compared to other retailers. One of its latest and biggest ideas is a three-minute game letting customers try shoes out on a treadmill. Shoppers could navigate a virtual world called Reactland where they could bounce on clouds and encounter pandas and frogs. This a great example of a brand using mobile gamification techniques to revive in-store offerings.


One of the foundations of Nike’s mobile strategy is NikeFuel, which gets users to log workouts, share progress via social media, and challenge their friends. To reward everyone’s hard work, Nike offers events, discounts on products, free shipping, customised workouts, and more.


Nike took the gamification concept from fitness apps and built upon it with a retail layer. You don’t have to have a great exercise app to sell a pair of sneakers, but it sure helps to keep consumers engaged and your brand at the top of their minds.



Build-A-Bear lets users create their own digital bears and take them on virtual adventures. For each task or level you and your bear complete, you earn points that add up to rewards, such as 30% off your purchase of a real teddy bear. By engaging through mobile gamification, the consumer journey to a real-world transaction is incentivised and shortened.


Always big on customer loyalty schemes and points, cosmetics retailer Sephora has gamified the shopping experience of its well-reviewed app even more with a “swipe it, shop it” feature that uses a quiz to provide personalised advice and product recommendations. The concept is similar to Tinder’s swipe gestures, which gamified the dating app experience. Engaging mobile natives in moments of utility is a winning strategy for retail gamification.

High Street can rally to win on this new playing field

While some dominant retail brands will undoubtedly emerge as the UK’s mobile shopping titans, the digital form of the High Street has plenty of space for competitors to thrive. National and regional brands can become leaders here as Rakuten did in Japan, or as Mobile did in Latin America.


In order to do so, all that needs to happen is for brands to open up their marketing playbooks and commit to gamification as a utilitarian strategy, as has already occurred in other app segments. The mobile marketing and advertising tools to engage and entertain UK consumers are already in play. High Street retailers simply need to step up their game and play to win.  


Author: Simon Spaull, managing director, EMEA at AppLovin

Image credit: Fotolia


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