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Blog / Jul. 20

Is Pokémon Go About to Level-Up Gamification in Retail?

Dave Bruno

Even if your store doesn’t have a Pokémon gym or a PokeStop inside, you have most likely seen “them” in or around your stores. You know who I mean. The countless  teenagers and adults alike, their heads buried in their phones, all on the relentless prowl for Pokémon and other treasures that will earn them more Pokeballs, bonus XP or added Stardust. They are virtually (get it – virtually?) everywhere, and if you pay attention, you really can’t miss them—especially when they crash into you, their faces turned intently toward their screens!

My introduction to the mobile augmented reality phenomenon came when my 12-year-old nephew, Drew, showed me the game the week it launched. My initial curiosity quickly intensified as I saw how he and all of his friends were consumed by this game. Watching them, I quickly realized that, as a professional marketer, this was something I needed to understand. So, after some gentle prodding from his 52-year-old uncle, Drew relented and agreed to become my own personal Pokémon Trainer IRL.*

Lessons in (Virtual) Life

First, he helped me download the app and helped me begin to understand the language of the game. He patiently explained the difference between a Poke “mon” and a Poke “stop.” He taught me not to “power up” my monsters, but rather to save my precious CP (Pokémon Go currency) and spend it to “evolve” the monsters instead.  And he taught me how to do battle in the legendary Pokémon gyms.

Soon, I was ready to hit the streets. Together, Drew and I walked the blocks surrounding his home, he narrating as we walked, all the while using vocabulary I still barely grasped. But I enjoyed participating, because I had found common ground with him, despite our 40-year age difference. As I gradually learned the vocabulary, I realized that I could have a meaningful and sustained conversation with him, on his turf, on his terms, and we were having real fun together.

And in turn, I began to understand the magic of the game (and I don’t mean the Stardust magic): this damn thing is downright addicting.

I quickly evolved (pun intended) from curious game observer to avid Pokémon Trainer. Soon, though, I ran out of new monsters to capture and new PokeStops to visit – in both his neighborhood and mine. To my surprise (and embarrassment) I was positively thirsting for more monsters, more treasures, more status. I needed to level up!

As it turns out, so did Drew: we both wanted to strike out on new adventures that would help us elevate our game. So we headed to Del Mar, a small beachside community 20 minutes north of downtown San Diego, where we spent several hours (yes, several hours) combing streets, perusing parks and browsing beaches for new monsters and treasures. And Del Mar is loaded with treasures (Niantic, the game creators, I have since learned, place special emphasis on locating higher quantities of desired game assets in highly trafficked public areas – but more to come on that in a moment).

At one point in the afternoon, our quest took us to Del Mar Plaza, an outdoor shopping mall overlooking the beach and populated by high-end boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. As we unearthed a couple new monsters (water types – which can be hard to come by if not near the ocean, apparently) while we stood in front of a local boutique, it hit me: the possibilities within this experience for retail are incredible.

A Boon for Business

Imagine the potential for deeper engagement and more effective promotion simply by advertising within the game? Imagine the traffic increases and interaction potential for retailers with branded PokeStops (and perhaps – gasp! – unique, proprietary treasures) located near (or even inside) their stores! The possibilities within the experience for creative marketers are seemingly endless.

Then, this morning I woke up to the news that the 462 GameStop locations with PokeStops located inside or near their stores saw their weekend sales double versus last year. Yes, you read that correctly: their sales had doubled.

Right then and there I knew I needed to write this post.

Now, clearly, I am not the only one to imagine the inherent possibilities for our industry. Already, many thought leaders and influencers have commented on the phenomenon, and each has added their own point of view to the collective thinking around the impact of Pokémon Go in retail.

Nikki Baird of Retail Systems Research wrote a very thought-provoking article encouraging retailers to pay close attention as she enumerated several lessons to be learned from this phenomenon. She shared several excellent lessons, including one lesson that may not yet be garnering as much airtime as the other pundits who are  suggesting new ways to leverage Pokemon itself to drive traffic and engagement.

In her article, Nikki explains that she believes the success of Pokémon Go stands as evidence that gamification works: “Retailers have many places in their business where the power of gamification can be leveraged – in employee training, in customer loyalty programs,” she wrote.

And I couldn’t agree more. Sure, the possibilities for retail within Pokémon Go are awesome, and they can be lots of fun to ponder, but what I really get excited about is the long-term potential for the popularity of the game to motivate retailers to – finally— get serious about gamification. As Nikki also notes, there are numerous opportunities to put gamification to work to increase customer engagement, to drive traffic, to increase associate engagement, to enhance associate training and learning programs. I would suggest that gamification could even play a role in analytics and planning processes. Perhaps now, at last, we will see retailers Level Up their game and get serious about putting gamification to work in their organizations.

Only time will tell if Pokémon Go will become the trigger for the mainstream adoption of gamification in retail, or not. What I do know, however, is that the future of customer engagement just got a little bit more exciting. And today got a little bit more exciting for me, too, as I just laid eyes on a Jigglypuff lurking around the corner.

See you at the local gym?

*IRL – Social media shorthand for “in real life”