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Fashion retail gets its game on

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Drapers analyses whether gamification apps are a digital fad or a game changer in customer engagement and conversion. 

Today’s shoppers can journey through Love Island contestants’ clothing options, find exclusive Burberry items on social media and receive dating advice via Topshop. 

The new wave of gamification apps has hit the UK, giving smartphone users the opportunity to digitally engage with brands through games, competitions and virtual experiences. The big brands are jumping on the bandwagon. But does this represent a step change in how fashion will be marketed to new generations of shoppers, or is it a faddish flash in the digital pan?

Gamification in fashion has traditionally been the playground for luxury brands keen to cash in on the growing dominance of online gaming. 

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At the end of 2017, for example, Burberry launched a Christmas game on Chinese social and payment app WeChat, which allowed users to shake, tilt, or swipe their phone to complete a game with six levels, each linked to a different product. Players could compare their ranking with others.


The rise of gaming

In 2018 a reported 2.2 billion people worldwide played video games, representing a third of the global population.

Digital media and content service provider Limelight Network’s 2019 report on the state of online gaming found adults between the ages of 26 and 35 spent the longest amount of time playing video games on their phones, averaging at 2.26 hours per week, compared with 1.31 hours for those over 60.

Chanel rolled out a series of Coco Game Center beauty pop-up arcades last year in cities throughout the world. DKNY, meanwhile, was one of the first fashion brands to partner with online avatar game Stardoll in 2007 which allows users to dress their dolls up in looks from the catwalk.

Multiple exposure

High street retailers are now starting to get in on the action in a bid to engage shoppers and increase conversion. This summer Manchester-based etailer I Saw It First followed in Missguided’s footsteps and teamed up with reality TV show Love Island. Customers can take a “Which islander are you?” quiz, and shop from the clothing that contestant has worn on the show.

Date Dash touches on the essence of reality TV through a medium that’s second nature to our audience

Jason Griffiths, Topshop Topman

Last week Topshop became the latest retailer to delve into gamification with the launch of Date Dash: a six-episode online series where contestants race against the clock to assemble an outfit in store to impress an eligible date.

Jason Griffiths, brand and communications director for Topshop Topman, says it wanted to recreate the reality TV experience: “We wanted to tap into a world where real people can explore fashion and relationships in an unscripted and raw way.

“We stand for democratising fashion and inclusivity, so it’s been exciting launching a marketing campaign that touches on the essence of reality TV through a medium that’s second nature to our audience.”

The experience economy is growing and is a game changer

Anusha Couttigane, Kantar Retail

Topshop partnered with Virtue, media outlet Vice’s creative agency, to develop the campaign, which is aimed at the Topshop’s Generation Z and millennial audience. Griffiths says the launch was a way of keeping up with a new generation and their expectations of how a brand would interact with them as consumers.

“For us, this project really encapsulates how our younger customers engage with media and consume. In today’s fast-paced, socially networked climate, traditional marketing techniques are not resonating with the younger generation. Date Dash was created to allow everyone to view our clothing in a new, fun digestible format.”

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Topshop’s Date Dash

Anusha Couttigane, principal analyst, fashion EMEA at Kantar Retail, believes high street retailers are now moving into the space as technology has improved and the use of smartphones is ubiquitous.

“Compared with 2011, when some of these initiatives took off, the tech has come a long way, and phone usership has become more universal. The way the technology has developed and made [games] more user friendly has elevated the adoption of them, and improved the execution.”

Pay and play

Yet one of the biggest challenges with gamification for many retailers is showing its return on investment. Founder of fashion technology consultancy Coded Futures Daniel Bobroff says any game costs a minimum of £100,000 to develop, and more advanced ideas come with “film star budgets”.

Gamification is an art form and the retail world is at the very start of this path

Daniel Bobroff, Coded Futures

The managing director of one footwear retailer says: “We have looked at it for a couple of years. People have suggested treasure hunts in stores, but we didn’t think it would work for us. It only works when people shop frequently with you. When you come in to buy a pair of shoes, it’s hard to get people to buy a second pair.”

However, he believes it may work in other areas of the business: “Where gamification does resonate is in the back end. We’ve looked at ways of gaming up our warehouse environment. If we could show a staff member’s picking rate compared with another staff member. You are getting a bit of fun; a bit of competitiveness and a bit of productivity pick up.”

One luxury brand that has launched a social media gamification app tells Drapers that justifying return on investment had not been a problem: “The fact our items are selling out is always the biggest measure of success, but we’ve also seen more engagement broadly on social media.

“If a consumer understands that they may have a chance of attaining a product that is only available for a limited time, they monitor our channels more closely.”

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Coco Game Center

Bobroff agrees that creating a sense of urgency is often the key to success for gamification concepts:

“One of the big reasons Ebay was successful was its countdown clock: it created a sense of scarcity, which is a gamification technique.

“Gamification is an art form and the retail world is at the very start of this path. However, fashion is about story-telling and leisure as much as it is commerce, having that know-how is going to be good for the winners.”

Couttigane predicts that gamification will grow in importance as part of experiential retail: “The experience economy is growing and is a game changer. Fashion tends to be an early adopter of technology, but shopping is a very small part of what people spend their time doing.

“Gamification can grow the share of time people spend with you. Retailers have to think more broadly. Focusing only on sales is a very narrow way of looking at your business.”

The Drapers Verdict

Many retailers are already wrestling with falling revenues, so finding resources to even consider new innovations, of which gamification is certainly one, can be difficult.

However, a new engagement-hungry generation of consumers show that, if done right, the concept can be a huge driver of brand recognition and sales. Any strategy that takes gamification on board needs to take into account the risks, and the difficulty in measuring success.

For those such as Topshop who willing to try it, gamification could allow them to stand out in the crowded marketplace.



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