At one point or another, we’ve heard the future of retail discussed in progressively urgent tones, an unintended but apparent side effect of the death knell that has sounded with increasing frequency across the landscape in recent years. In the raised decibels of these discussions, the plight of struggling retailers has come to light, placing attention on profit lines that are taking a nosedive towards the bottom of the chart. While there are many factors singled out as the cause behind the industry’s weakening performance, with e-Commerce often painting a less than optimistic David vs. Goliath scene, the demise of retail is not a destined one.
Fundamentally, the relationship between retailer and consumer is straightforward and provides sufficient room for the coexistence of both parties. Whether in the dissection of macroeconomic conditions or the consideration of e-Commerce as an alternative competitive track, these should not be viewed as the factors pushing the retail industry over the edge, but instead a reasoned response befitting the changing 21st-century consumer.
The Age Of Consent
While prevailing logic points to the consternation surrounding the critical need to evolve and uplift the retail experience, a recent survey offers up an alternative spin on the model of consumer behavior, with shoppers voting against futuristic technology in favor of an interactive and frictionless retail experience. By refocusing their attention on the consumer in the push-and-pull dialogue that underscores any sustainable relationship, the retail industry is anchored against the many disruptive energies entering the space. While not ignoring the ongoing spiel of digital transformation, the traditional retail industry can certainly be in the driver’s seat when it comes to the restoration and illumination of its future.
Data, often viewed as the currency of the 21st century, has the potential to map greater, richer human relationships, but only if they exist in the first place. The human connection, however tenuous, holds unique potential in creating resonance across retail’s oft-fickle audience. Indeed, by zooming in to key elements of the human psyche — the innate desire for fun, the natural instinct for exploration, the streak of competitiveness — digital engagement, for the audience disenchanted with its surgical precision, can find opportunity again in acquiring a more meaningful and personal touch. The name for this? Gamification.
When well-appropriated, data provides the opening lines for the retail industry to enter and streamline the forthcoming conversation between brand and buyer. By nature, the character of the retail consumer will be separated across distinctly different demographic sets, dictating purchase behavior and consumer patterns. By drawing together these heterogeneous points to form a single, trusted view, the industry is free to propose and establish the rules of engagement that serve the common interests of both the providers and users within the ecosystem. Gamification, in such a scenario, will allow the retail industry to broach the digital acceptance for consumers to enroll and participate in the digital economy, one that commends data beyond the merit of its transactional value.
At once more subtle and powerful than the obvious overtures of traditional advertising tactics, gamification is the soft tool wielding power over the modern day consumer. While incentivization of the loyalty framework is not an entirely new paradigm, by appealing to the psychological profile crafted across the panels of ease, convenience and fun, this marks a definitive departure from consumers being viewed only as an acquiescent part in the brand-consumer relationship.
With the enviable task of seeking out this delicate balance, retailers have to be persuaded that the equilibrium can play out to their favor when negotiated on equal terms. One need not look further than the case of Starbucks, having developed a rewards application that curates consumer experience in tiered levels and scoreboards measured on the platform. Awarding consumers with rewards points, giveaways and personalized recommendations effectively aids the conversion of consumers towards a “sticky” state, shaped by the growing data usage of the application. Such a sticky state was found to be conducive to enabling same-store sales growth due to the valuable digital relationships formed via the program.
In the evergreen tussle between encouraging consumers’ participation and funding said participation by retailers, gamification has more than proved its adeptness at navigating the tug-of-war by very simply recognizing the relationship in its interpersonal, human nature.
Something Old, Something New
To move the needle on revenue, the retail industry does not have to search far and wide. While the disruptive model of change that has swept across traditional industries is not without its merits, the future is charted and mapped out by retailers and businesses that have the foresight to leverage existing relationships already built today. Where data can very much be considered the uncovered treasure trove on the digital map for many companies, the path to it does not have to be a convoluted one. The beauty of gamification is in its invisibility, as it taps into qualities inherent to us as people, leading to natural synergies that aid in its efficacy. Even as gamification infers and grows robust relationships for a data-led consumer journey, the game score will be contingent on retailers that can bring both something old — and something new — to the table, as the future fast approaches behind the digital frontier.
Nithinan Boonyawattanapisut is the CEO and co-founder of HotNow, a location-based retail marketing solution. A serial entrepreneur with a successful career in the video games industry, Boonyawattanapisut is also the co-founder of Axion Games, one of the leading AAA independent video game studio in China. She oversaw record-breaking games such as Gears of War, one of the most successful Xbox games, Infinity Blade, the fastest-selling iOS app in history at launch, and Rising Fire, selected as Tencent’s headline shooting game for 2018.