How Can Retail Businesses Use Gamification to Engage and Retain Customers


Even though it was published before the pandemic brought the world to a standstill, the Deloitte 2020 Retail Industry Outlook managed to highlight several relevant aspects about the retail industry, most of which have even become more pertinent thanks to the pandemic. 

For instance, the report emphasized the importance of convenience and that retailers need to meet customer expectations to survive. 

The report also discussed how an ailing economy might slow down the retail industry growth, which meant that the growth of consumer spending would slow down as well.

Therefore, to meet this slowdown, the report suggests that retailers need to turn to marketing to differentiate themselves from the competition. 

Rather than limiting the competition to price and product alone, brands need to market themselves better and offer their customers a superior experience

One way brands can achieve this is through gamification.

What is gamification?

Gamification is the art of turning ordinary activities into a game of sorts. It relies on basic game mechanics to motivate users to perform specific actions. 

Even though it’s not a new concept, the term “gamification” itself is a relatively new invention. It is only recently that people have started looking at more ways to leverage its powers.

Why does gamification work?

We all like games. They draw on several internal tendencies of ours, including our need to socialize, our enjoyment of learning, and our thirst for competition. 

This is not to mention how we all like achievement and the status that comes with it. 

Over and above, games give us a sense of control by telling us where we are, where we need to be, and how to get there. Games also stoke our desire for rewards, especially when we feel we’ve earned them.

When you take all of this into consideration, you realize that gamification is all about stirring the right emotions in the customers to entice them to take certain actions. In fact, right about now seems to be a good time as any to fully appreciate the benefits of gamification:

  • Games help engage the customers and give them positive experiences. This helps build the brand in the customer’s mind and enables the company to foster a relationship with said customer.
  • Games increase dwell times and keep customers longer both on the website and in brick-and-mortar stores.
  • Not only is the interaction offered by games memorable, but it also increases customer retention.
  • Rewards offered from participating in games lead to increased brand loyalty.

Let’s look at some core components of a gamification strategy.

What are the main elements of gamification in retail?

There are several important elements to take into consideration, yet the main ones are as follows:

1. Story

This gives the game a sense of purpose and convinces the players that they are doing something more important than just crossing X’s and circling O’s. The story also defines the stakes, aka what the player stands to win or lose from the game.

2. Challenge

The game has to be challenging at some level. It has to force players to be creative. When they win, they should feel like that is an accomplishment to be proud of, to even boast of, both online and offline.


3. Control

Part of the allure of games is their escapist element, but the other part has to do with the control they give the players. Games make it seem like the players are the master of the universe, which is why it becomes all the more possible for the players to own their achievements.

4. Achievement

Achievements are marked by progress bars, points, or rewards of any other kind. Regardless of the form, games need to mark the achievements of the players. 

After all, not only do these achievements reward the player’s efforts, but they give the game meaning and purpose.

Any other tips for retail gamification?

Before looking at specific ways retail stores can use gamification, it is worth looking over a few crucial tips that can improve the overall experience:

  • Retail stores should try to blend digital experiences with real live ones, especially if they also have a brick-and-mortar store where they would like to increase the footfall.
  • The games should have a way of marking progress so that players know how closer or far they are from a specific achievement.
  • There should be different ways of building a sense of community, such as having a leaderboard, a forum, and other community-building tools.
  • The rewards should offer the players some kind of exclusivity in the real world. For example, maybe the top ten players in the leaderboard get a certain discount so long as they maintain their ranking.
  • The games should have a loss element to them as well. For example, if customers fail to act quickly, they might miss out on or lose a certain opportunity.

All these tips ensure that you are creating a gamification strategy that your customers will gladly participate in.

How to use gamification for retail?

Having covered the broad strokes, we can now look at some of the techniques retailers can use to incorporate gamification into their customers’ experience.

The old forms of gamification

As mentioned earlier, retail stores have been using game mechanics long before gamification became the buzz word it is today.

For instance, loyalty programs and reward programs have been in use for decades, convincing shoppers that the more they spend, the more they have to gain. 

Retail stores have also used flash sales to give customers a sense of impending loss if they don’t take immediate action, which is another powerful game mechanic.

If we take a closer look at something as simple as a store’s rewards program, we will find the main elements of a game and more.

For starters, by collecting points, customers get closer to their reward. So, there is a clear sense of progress, one which the customer controls through their purchasing activity. 

Also, the stakes are crystal clear, and if a store creates a tiered reward system, then each tier acts as a certain level in the “game.”

Gamification in the digital age

Although gamification has been around for a while, it has certainly taken a boost thanks to recent technology advancements.

The internet has ushered in eCommerce stores, which have revolutionized the shopping experience for the customer. 

Each eCommerce store has several opportunities to use gaming mechanics on its site. A perfect case in point is how eBay changed the game when it introduced its bidding system.

However, even owners of brick-and-mortar stores have been able to benefit from digital technology. They have been able to create mobile games that kept the customers engaged.

Additionally, they have been able to create mobile applications to complement the shopping experience offered at their stores, and these apps have also offered in-app gaming.

Merging real-life games with digital technology

Today, countless technologies can help stores offer customers a gamified experience. For instance, AR and VR can help immerse customers in an imaginary world and help set them off on an epic adventure while never leaving the store. 


Also, mobile applications combined with geolocation technology can lead customers along a scavenger hunt, one with a pleasant reward at the end.

Where is the future of retail headed?

Now that the pandemic has made everything uncertain, there is plenty of speculation about the future of retail. 

Even though consumers’ purchasing habits were changing before this year, the corona pandemic expedited the change, pushing customers to opt for digital experiences and to purchase from the comfort of their own homes. 

However, while the role of brick-and-mortar stores is still uncertain, the one fact that will remain is that customer experience will be the main differentiator between retail stores. 

This is why stores want to offer multi-channel experiences, and a big part of providing exceptional experiences will always be gamification.