Discussion forums, comment threads and social platforms are alive with online retail marketers figuring out how to build legitimate links to commercial sites. It’s difficult, no doubt about it, and the headaches don’t stop there.
Encouraging people to engage with the brand and talk about your products, like them, tweet them, +1 them is easier said than done, particularly if a site is no different to countless others in terms of inventories, product images, descriptions, site layout, site content etc.
The fact that Google takes into account a site’s on-site metrics (such as average time on site, # of page views, bounce rate etc.) when determining its rank in comparison to competing sites is also an area of concern while the suggestion that continuous, positive reviews boost rankings means retailers have their work cut out.
In order to succeed in the online marketplace you have to be special. If only there was a magic bullet that could help positively impact all of these areas…
How about Gamification?
The idea of gamification is nothing particularly new and has been used to great effect throughout the web but it has been slow to catch on within the realms of e-commerce. This intuitive concept looks to make mundane tasks (in this case shopping) engaging and rewarding. By integrating award schemes for completing small manageable tasks such as leaving a review, progress bars to encourage your customers to complete their personal profiles or simply “liking” a product, you are influencing them to do things they may not necessarily do otherwise – and this can be used to impact some of the newer ranking metrics that we know Google takes into account.
LinkedIn’s progress bar subtly promotes user profile completion.
Gamification for e-Commerce
From hereon in I discuss how you can gamify your online store, whilst increasing customer loyalty, satisfaction, and indirectly, sales which in the dog-eat-dog world of online commerce this is no easy task. Remember what I said about being special? This is special.
The following ideas use a points-based reward scheme as digital currency to be used in your store as and when customers want to cash-in against purchases. Obviously the amount of points awarded per task depends on your own generosity, as does the monetary value of the points accrued.
#ProTip: The success of this scheme will be dependent on how simple accruing and spending points is right from the start. I would suggest that conversion of points is kept as simple as possible (for example; 1 point = 1p).
1. Increase your registered customers
When a new customer hits you site they should immediately be able to start accruing points. Maybe even the mere fact that they stumbled upon your site earns them a 10-point bonus for instance which goes into a temporary account. If they wish to keep the points they have received during a new session they must register an account and you may want to remind them that they will lose any points they have gained if they leave without setting up an account. Of course you can throw in sign-up bonuses to sweeten the deal.
Once registered, you new customer is reminded that they can refer friends and any subsequent sign-ups will result in… you guessed it, bonus points! This will also increase your number of unique visitors in Analytics from the inquisitive friends. With their friends involved, generating interest in forums, content sharing and general light competition between registered users will be all the more appealing – this is talked about more later.
3. Make registered customers more marketable
Facebook’s success in paid advertising is a product of how much marketable information they have been able to subtly wean out of registered users. Using this data, ads can be targeted to only the most appropriate of users and this principle can be adopted to some extent with your own customers. For instance, if you are able to collect information on interests, favourite products, age and sex, you can send out marketing material that will be tailored to the interests of the recipient rather than the usual throw-away guff.
Best practices for closing a sale or signing up a new user dictates that you should only ask of them the bare minimum information for risk of overwhelming and possibly losing the customer. However, once they have placed an order, set up an account or signed up to a newsletter, does this still apply?
By using LinkedIn’s progress bar idea, we can now ask for further information purely at the customer’s discretion. Maybe the hint of bonus points for a 100% completion could be enough to get all the marketable information you need from them!
4. Acquiring points
Sales – The most obvious way customers can accrue points would be through purchases. Based on purchase value (to encourage higher spend), customers can accumulate points with every purchase.
In prestige marketplaces (such as premium cosmetics or designer goods) often the manufacturer will set a retail price that must be mirrored through all stores both online and offline so as not to damage their reputation through discounted goods. In order to win the sale, competing stores might offer free postage, free gifts or indeed a loyalty program such as this in order to get one-up on their competitors.
Reviews – We all know (positive) reviews influence a buying decision and where to buy from but in my experience, not enough customers are inclined to write them. A couple of points per review might be enough to persuade them though, resulting in nice fresh content, a juicy SERP entry (if marked-up with schema) and a better conversion rate.
While on the subject of user-generated content, why not encourage them with points to upload their own images of the product (a lá Amazon.com) for points. Now you offer more than just the standard manufacturer’s image.
Forum Participation – Host a forum linked to your store? Forums have long used a form of gamification to promote more discussion and value by allowing other members to award or take away points based on answers which contributes to a ranking or status. Most people in niche forums want to look like an expert in their field so this scoring mechanism promotes the best responses which impact the overall value of the forum itself. Building on this, spendable points can be accrued in the forums following a similar methodology.
Social Participation – From a social point of view, “like/recommend”, “+1” and “tweet” buttons on products could have on-click tracking applied to add points. Let your customers scream out to the world about your brand and products for you. You could also offer follower-only incentives such as notifications of promotions (“double points in May!” or “build your points this month and we donate the same value to charity!”).
If you have pages of products per category you could consider sequencing based on aggregated likes/tweets/+1’s. Each click gets them a point and you find out your customer’s favourite products/types and fondness for new products.
On-page Engagement – To boost positive user metrics, you could even incorporate point scoring in the general navigation of the site, so for every page/product they view or for every minute they are on the site, they win a point. Google Analytics won’t know what hit ‘em! As this is open to abuse, capping these types of points might be worthwhile.
Further points could be awarded throughout the checkout phase. Perhaps used in conjunction with a progress bar, you can gently push the customer along by incentivising the separate stages. This could reduce cart abandonment and dropouts.
5. Spending the points
Redeeming the points against purchases should be as easy as accumulating them. An option at checkout should allow the customer to redeem however many points they wish against their purchases, or they can opt to save them for another day.
6. Cultivate brand evangelists
The customer’s account homepage should be a friendly and interactive area displaying their point totals to date with a breakdown of how they have attained them, how many they have spent etc. You could even integrate an internal leader board to encourage friendly competition between registered customers, or award digital trophies for reaching milestones (500 points reached, 10 Facebook likes, refer-a-friend sign-up etc.)
Squidoo is a great example of such an environment that heavily encourages communication and interaction between users with points awarded for anything from writing or receiving a comment to completing periodic “quests” or tasks.
Win trophies by hitting milestones or completing one-off challenge & level-up with point accumulation.
To reward customers you could pay a monthly “interest” on points sitting in an account. This will not only make the customer feel valued, but also keep your brand at the forefront of their mind and keep them coming back. It is difficult to forget a company who constantly sends you free stuff! By awarding interest based on a tiered structure, this will further encourage them to build up their points through purchases or site interaction.
Gamification is an extension to loyalty programs offered of some 65% of today’s e-commerce stores and is designed to boost your site’s visibility, brand awareness and social media reach while a by-product is an increased bottom line. This idea is not meant as a gimmick, but to fundamentally improve areas of marketing and SEO that are sometimes difficult to penetrate for an e-commerce store.
To become a market leader or to naturally attract links or interest, one must become something special, something unique. I hope this has got your brain juices flowing and you have found this idea as interesting as I have if nothing else. If you are able to take some ideas away from this, then all the better.
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