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Gamification of Ecommerce

Posted on the 09 August 2012 by Onlinere @onretailblog

gamification of ecommerce

Gamification has been a much talked about topic over the last year and even made it onto the shortlist for Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2011. In a nut-shell, gamification is the application of gaming theory, concepts and techniques, in to a non-gaming context. For the most part this normally involves setting a series of challenges for your users, and rewarding them once they’ve completed them. A good example of where gamification has been utilised well is the location based service Foursquare, where users unlock badges, discounts and other special offers by “checking in” to specific places. When someone registers with the online file sync/backup service Dropbox, they are given a series of tasks they can complete in order to earn more storage space for their data. Of all the websites and applications that are utilising gamification, there are few (if any) ecommerce sites that have explored the idea. After all I’ve read on the topic, I wanted to throw in my two cents on how gamification might be utilised for standard ecommerce sites. I haven’t put any of these thoughts in to practice myself; they are simply ideas for ecommerce specific implementation.

Why do we need to gamify?

The first thing we should be asking is how do we stand to benefit from adopting gaming principles in to our online stores, and is it a good avenue to explore.

I think the answer to this question lies in the type of tasks that would be appropriate to set for your main customer base, and how much value you can draw from those tasks. Broadly speaking, gamification can be a fun way for customers to engage with your brand, in their own time, on an (ideally) ongoing basis. By picking the right gaming style challenges to present to customers, there are many opportunities for us to boost our key business metrics in a measurable way.

Possible Challenges, Tasks and Goals

There are a variety of things we could ask our customers to do in return for a reward. Here’s a quick ideas list of the types of challenges that can benefit our key areas of business.

  • Refer a Friend
    Customer referrals is hardly a ground breaking customer recruitment tool, but in my experience very few companies offer a tempting enough reward to warrant the effort. To return to my earlier example, this is where Dropbox is best suited. People use Dropbox for one reason; they want to store their files online. So every challenge they give rewards a user with the only commodity they’re interested in; more space. Where Dropbox really hit the nail on the head is that most of their challenges give you 125MB – 250MB of extra storage, but a referral gains you 500mb. Considering most users will opt for a free account that has 2GB of storage, the prospect of an extra 25% space is a significant and generous offering. Having used the service, I found myself selling the idea of Dropbox to my friends who hadn’t heard of it, just so that I could get the extra space that I wanted.
  • Number of Purchases
    At a base level this is equivalent to a “Buy One Get One Free” special offer. Gamifying that concept turns the idea into an obvious challenge to your visitors. By stating the target number of products they need to purchase and offering a tempting enough reward, you could have yourself a great tool for either a short term boost in sales, or building loyalty and customer retention over time. This kind of challenge has to be handled carefully, in terms of how it’s worded and put across to the customer, as it could easily come across as a very pushy and aggressive selling technique. However, when branded as a “reward for loyal customers” it presents itself as a more long term goal rather than you attempting to force them in to buying x-amount of products right now.
  • Total Order Value
    Offering a reward when customers spend over a specified amount is not new, and is a good average sale booster. It does normally eat into profit margins however. So if we wanted to gamify it successfully, we could incorporate it in to a combination of tasks that must be completed in order to gain the reward. If the other tasks in the set don’t involve a loss of margin but offer other benefits to us, in terms of brand exposure for example, then some of those losses can be redeemed.
  • Completing a Site Feedback Form
    This is a simple challenge that could be completed after a customer finishes payment for an order. Since this challenge could earn them a reward every time they purchase, the value of the reward would obviously need to be lower, and probably not monetary in nature. Ask questions related to how they found the site navigation, prices, checkout process etc. The danger in offering a reward for filling in a form is that it’s all too easy for users just to complete it at random, rendering the feedback fairly useless. The more a user has to think about what they would like to say, the more likely they are to opt for the random response route. So keep it simple, and limit it to say 3 quick snappy questions with radio button answers. Open text field questions should just be an optional addition, not required to complete the challenge. That way people aren’t forced to enter garbage, and it’s more likely that only people who genuinely have something to say will fill it in.[Rant Alert] On a related note, avoid surveys that popup as soon as a visitor hits your site. They haven’t had time to see your website yet, so how can they give you any meaningful feedback. And do you really want their first impression of your company to be an aggravating popup survey?[Rant Over]
  • Product Reviews
    Getting customer reviews can often be hard work, simply because it requires time and effort on the customer’s part. The reviews we do get are often at the opposite extremes, provided by buyers who either loved or hated the product and want to make themselves heard. It would be nice to get a full spread of reviews, from those folks who sit in the middle ground and have both positive and negative points to talk about. Much like website feedback forms, incentivising reviews can be damaging if reviewers just provide random information in order to reap the reward. So it might be better to challenge customers to write a specified number of reviews to complete the task. Again, a monetary reward probably isn’t a great idea here, but medals, badges and titles like “Expert Reviewer” could be a viable option. This would work well if you have a community behind your site, and can encourage a bit of healthy competition to be the best contributor.
  • Mentions on Social Media
    Offer a small reward for a Twitter follow or tweet, a Facebook Like, etc, and this could be an effective way to boost your exposure and presence across your social media channels.

What rewards can we offer?

Let’s not beat around the bush, the unfortunate truth is that when it come to an online store, what a customer really wants is discount; and therein lies a limiting factor for gamification of ecommerce. Our initial options for rewards to offer are fairly orthodox, and are along the lines of:

  • Voucher codes
  • Redeemable loyalty points
  • Free products
  • Free merchandise/gifts

Then, depending on your business, the products you sell, and if you have an appropriate customer base, you could try:

  • Access to exclusive content/site features
  • Titles or badges in recognition or their contribution to product reviews.

With these kinds of rewards at our disposal, we need to find that balance point between the following factors in order to make gamification viable:

  • Task Difficulty – Make it difficult enough so as to avoid spamming/abuse, but not so difficult as to deter customers entirely
  • Reward Value – Make it high enough for customer to want to take on the challenge. If it’s a monetary reward then it must not be so high as to damage your margins.

Execution is the Key

Ultimately we would be utilising gamification as a tool to boost sales, average sale value, customer count etc. The point of gamification is to achieve this by adding a layer of fun for customers to engage with on their own terms, rather than us aggressively up selling them and spamming all their friends with messages about how fantastic our business is. So we have to be very careful about how it is presented, branded and marketed to our customers.

Integration into your site should be organic and natural; it shouldn’t feel like you’re just bolting something on. How you phrase things is very important and will depend on your core user base. For instance, if you have an inherently geeky user base you might want to use the word “Quests” instead of “Challenges”. We all know geeks love a good quest right?

The wording of the challenges themselves must be in line with the feel and style of your website. If we take a gift based online store as an example, and a challenge based on a number of purchases. Although the basic premise may be “place 5 orders to receive a free product”. Think of a suitable way to word it so that it fits your site, and appeals to your customers. Perhaps something akin to:

Spread the Smiles – Send 5 gifts to your friends and family, and we’ll treat you to a special gift.

I’m not a marketer, but I imagine that’s all fairly standard stuff. The important thing is to deploy these gaming ideas in such a way as to not cheapen or negatively affect your brand, keeping them inline with who you are and what you do.

When embarking down the route of setting challenges for customers to complete, it’s a good idea to have a mix of short and long terms tasks in order to give some longevity to the customer engagement. By offering customer some initial tasks that provide a sense of achievement, earn them a nice reward and leave them with a positive memory of your site, you stand a good chance of them returning to complete the longer challenges.

One Final Point of Note

If you’re thinking about how you could use some gamification techniques on your site then be very careful not to clutter or complicate your ordering and checkout process. These techniques shouldn’t get in the way of good site design or have negative effects on your conversion!

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