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3 Reasons Why Gamification Is Everything in Retail Technology

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Gamification applies common game elements to non-game situations. Think competition, rules, points, and rewards. Gamification also brings out humans’ natural impulses to socialize, achieve tasks, and express themselves.

Maybe you’re a retail business owner who uses customer loyalty programs, flash sales, and other reward-based practices to build your customer base. You’re already utilizing retail gamification on the customer side.

Now, employee-based gamification is also getting its share of attention. Let’s say you operate an apparel boutique, and you run monthly sales contests to encourage your team to meet or beat their sales targets. Here, you’re using gamification to motivate your associates to achieve specific goals.

If you’re not applying this concept to your staffing and operations, it may be time to consider it. Current indications show that retail gamification isn’t just an emerging trend – it will likely become an integral part of your retail business toolkit. 

Here are three reasons why you should incorporate retail gamification into your business strategy.

1. It can drive intrinsic motivation   

Finding ways to motivate your employees is among your retail business’ biggest challenges. Motivated employees play a valuable role in showcasing your products and providing service to your customers. The converse is also true: unmotivated employees do just enough to get by and negatively impact your shoppers’ experience.

So, how can you motivate your associates to be active partners rather than passive bystanders? One idea is to incorporate the concept of intrinsic motivation into your efforts. 

The basis for this argument lies in Daniel Pink’s 2009 book “Drive.”

In this often-referenced work, Pink stated that humans (including retail associates) have traditionally been motivated by “stick and carrot” drivers. So, if you perform a task well, you’ll receive a reward. If you execute the task poorly, you’ll get a reprimand and other negative fallout. 

However, “Drive” frames motivational stimuli in an entirely different light. Pink describes how people are in fact motivated by three intrinsic (or internal) factors that subconsciously drive their actions.

First, humans crave a sense of autonomy, or the ability to control their everyday life and work activities. Second, humans want to strive for mastery, or continuous skills improvement at specific tasks. Third, people want to feel a sense of purpose, that their actions are contributing to a bigger-picture goal. 

Let’s look at these factors in more detail. 

Autonomy

From a retail gamification perspective, increasing your store employees’ autonomy means giving them substantial control over their in-store activities. Consider relaxing customer scripts, decreasing rigid regulations, and simplifying processes. In other words, give your teams the flexibility to do their jobs, and resist the urge to micromanage them.

One retailer that gives its employees enough autonomy is Trader Joe’s. The staff at TJ’s are encouraged to be themselves and are even empowered to do things their way. 

As former Trader Joe’s employee, Hayley Benham-Archdeacon, wrote:

“They [managers] expected us to take ownership of our success and mistakes, but happily responded to requests for help or guidance. Mates maintained an attitude of ‘there’s 1,000 right ways to do something’ which made both new employees and crew veterans feel safe about making suggestions or changing up methods without worrying that our managers’ egos would be threatened.”

See if you can incorporate something similar in your employee engagement efforts. Challenge and empower your team to bring forth their own ideas. And in true gamification fashion, when you see your staff doing well, recognize them for their efforts.

You could also incorporate gamification and autonomy in the technology that you use to train your team members. Retailers are increasingly using gaming elements like quizzes, challenges, achievements, and rewards to make employee education and development more exciting. 

You can layer autonomy into these games by giving learners more control over certain elements—such as their character’s appearance, the achievements they can unlock, and more. Take a leaf out of games like Candy Crush or Words with Friends which allow you to choose an avatar, select rewards, or take certain paths to success.

By giving your team more autonomy and control over their learning (and gaming) activities, you can make training exciting and entice your team to participate.

Mastery

Provide your employees with opportunities to continuously challenge themselves. You could, for example, come up with competitions that have varying levels of difficulty. Once employees mastered a particular skill or area, they can move up to new challenges.

This helps your staff to continuously develop their skills, which then gives them more confidence and motivation to work harder. 

For best results, leverage technology to facilitate such activities. Use software that helps employees visualize their path as they level up. This can be particularly effective when associates know their successes are being shared with managers and HQ.     

Purpose

If your employees feel that their work supports a bigger-picture effort, their motivation levels may increase accordingly. 

A good way to apply this is to tie your gamification efforts to a larger and more meaningful goal. Let’s say you’re looking to motivate your cashiers to get new customers to join your loyalty program. Rather than focusing solely on the number of sign-ups, you could make your team see the bigger picture by telling them the impact that your loyalty program has on the business’ as a whole.

More than that, you can show them how their individual contributions—or, perhaps their store’s contributions—contributed to the whole. When your cashiers realize that what they’re doing directly contributes to the business’ bottom line, they’ll be much more motivated to mention your rewards program. 

Once again, you want to incorporate technology into such efforts. Rather than manually tracking and rewarding your cashiers, implement a program that can track loyalty program sign-ups or other wins you’re seeking for you and your team. It also helps to have a visual dashboard that shows and communicates the latest successes to HQ. This streamlines that communication process, and your cashiers will feel know that their efforts are being re by the corporate office. 

2. It alleviates escalating labor costs

In today’s tight labor market, most retailers face escalating labor costs. Wages typically comprise over 15 percent of typical store sales, the result of a tight labor market and workers’ increasing participation in the gig economy.

Some states, along with major retailers such as Walmart and Target, have also raised their minimum wages. To minimize the drain on the bottom line, many stores have cut employees’ work hours, and some retailers have been forced to lay off staff members.

The remaining associates must work more efficiently, performing higher-value tasks faster and minimizing downtime. Suffice it to say, retail employees need extra doses of motivation and empowerment. 

This is where gamification comes in, as the practice can make employee training and development more exciting. 

Let’s look at the case of Deloitte, which incorporated missions, badges, and leaderboards in its Deloitte Leadership Academy (DLA) training program. DLA participants were tasked to complete various missions and were given badges to mark their achievements. Most badges were pretty straightforward and were awarded to users whenever they completed a mission. 

Deloitte also got creative and came up with “secret” badges whenever members unlocked certain goals. For instance, if all participants from one department watched the same video in the same week, they received a special award.

Gamification did wonders for DLA. The program saw a 37% increase in the number users going back to the site each week, and according to the Harvard Business Review, participants who spent increased amounts of time in the program “showed almost addictive behavior.” 

3. It can improve communication within your organization

Running a brick-and-mortar retail store brings some inherent communication challenges. First, you’ve likely staffed your business with associates who work varied schedules. This makes it difficult to communicate store-related news and establish a beneficial storewide camaraderie.

In addition, your retail business’ often-chaotic sales environment means store associates are often jumping from task to task. This contrasts with your business’ corporate office, staffed by managers who administer their stores’ policies under more controlled conditions.

This “us vs them” perception can cause distrust on both sides. Some store associates consider corporate management oversight a form of “Big Brother” surveillance, and would simply rather be left alone. Other store employees feel completely neglected by the same managers, and are looking for signs of validation. On the flip side, corporate managers may overlook some of the realities of retail store operations.

You can combat these issues by coming up with gamified programs that encourage team members to work and communicate with each other. You can, for example, launch competitions which partner employees with team members they wouldn’t normally work with. Such initiatives may bring your employees together and break down the “us vs them” mentality they may have.

The best way to make this work is to ensure that your gamification efforts are powered by technology.  Add in a gamified portal that creates a single engaging destination for HQ and the field to come together, without the burden of formal emails and long conference calls that take associates away from their floors and their shoppers.

Retail gamification for the win

The things we tackled above—i.e., intrinsic motivation, higher labor costs, and communication challenges—aren’t passing trends. These are retail issues that aren’t going away. You need to be creative and cultivate a winning environment that fosters internal harmony and continued growth.

To that end, consider weaving retail gamification into different aspects of your business. Doing so could be just the thing that keeps you employees excited and prods them to perform better. 

That being said, you will increase the chances of success by leveraging technology in your gamification initiatives. From designing cool interfaces that make games more attractive to using software to track and communicate progress, the right tech will streamline your gamification efforts and ensure that everyone has a fun and productive experience. More than that, gamified technology frees up an otherwise burdensome and time-intensive task for your field managers. 

CB4 uses elements of play to inspire store associates with extremely effective but insanely easy recommendations that capture critical selling opportunities. Learn more here.

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