It's a game.

04. October 2021, MAXFIVE

Life’s a game. Or is it? Playing games is no longer simply a way for little kids to pass the time of day. These days, there’s much to it than that. Giants like Microsoft and Domino’s Pizza are showing exactly how to keep customers happy with apps and games, while driving sales through the roof.


customer loyalty

In this time of digitalisation, attention spans are dwindling. Customer loyalty is waning and bricks-and-mortar retail is ailing, while the online giants are booming. Statista’s research department has the numbers to prove it: during the pandemic in 2020, B2C e-commerce sales in Germany advanced to some EUR 72.8 billion. Which represents a year-on-year increase of 23%.

But is it simply a pandemic blip? Well, not quite.

The fact is that online retail is very much in the ascendancy, while bricks-and-mortar stores are struggling to keep up. Less convenient, less digitalisation, less to attract the attention of a younger demographic that has grown up with – and loves – the always-on nature of the online world. The same study revealed that online retailers racked up sales of just EUR 12.6 billion in 2008. By 2015, they were closing in fast on the 40 billion mark, before going on to report sales of EUR 59.2 billion in pre-pandemic 2019 in Germany. A runaway success whichever way you look at it – with or without the virus.

The solution to the problem

Satisfied – and engaged – customers that pour into your store every day. Happy, ready to spend and keen to return. Sounds good? That’s better. And what’s more, it’s actually possible. The watchword? Gamification: the use of gaming elements in the retail arena.

Contrary to popular belief, this trend is not some construct to come out of our contemporary computer-driven society. In fact, the first examples hit our screens back in the 2000s in the form of a staff loyalty scheme. But these days the focus has shifted slightly: now, the customer is king. Gamification elements are designed to bring new customers on board and help keep existing ones coming back for more – leaving the competition green with envy.


Yet another of these fancy marketing terms that trips off the tongue. Just as likely to trip people up, it was coined by the writer and programmer Nick Pelling. As you’ve probably worked out already, gamification comes from the word game. According to business lexicon Gartner , it “is the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.” Which is another way of saying that an element of fun is deployed to keep customers spending, increase engagement and boost sales.

The whole thing is about tapping into the idea that people have an ingrained compulsion to better themselves, show what they are capable of and learn new things. And this is precisely where games enter the picture. Whether it’s internal gamification for the purposes of employee motivation or its external counterpart which aims to reach out to and build relationships with customers (while encouraging them to put their hands in their pockets), it is always about creating a positive feeling and activating ambition. One of the positive outcomes is that information picked up through this particular media tends to stay fresher in the memory for longer: from onboarding sessions for new Saturday staff to inspiring someone to buy that hip t-shirt from a fledgling Viennese store.

The important thing is to get the balance just right. Make it too playful and your credibility takes a hit. But if it’s too sober, the fun goes out of it, engagement drops and people simply disconnect. As with so many things in life, you’ve got to find the sweet spot.

Best practice

Global pizza chain Domino’s achieved its big gamification breakthrough more or less by accident. Originally planned as a bit of marketing fun, the campaign ended up as the driving force behind a staggering 30% jump in sales. How? Thanks to an app that turned users into pizza makers. All they had to do was come up with the perfect pizza, before ordering it for home delivery. As  the saying goes, we’ve saved the best till last: the players that exhibited the best pizza making skills were offered jobs at the company right from the game!

Starbucks is one of the best examples of gamification in action anywhere in the retail and hospitality trade. Its custom-built app combines pretty much every example of retailtainment and customer loyalty. Collect points, complete menu challenges, mobile ordering  and leaving tips for staff.

From Audi, SAP, Domino’s Pizza and Microsoft to Starbucks: gamification has taken the corporate world by storm, with more than a little fanfare.


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