What Ecommerce Can Learn from iGaming

It doesn’t always pay to play it safe. iGaming provides several compelling scenarios that ecommerce businesses can use to up their ante. Hooking your customers for habit-forming retention starts here …

Aaron Orendorff
June 15 2017

On the surface, ecommerce and iGaming sound like unlikely companions. After all, the forces that drive each industry couldn’t be further apart.

Ecommerce majors on risk avoidance. Customer reviews, money-back guarantees, and “freemium” pricing are all meant to build confidence and reduce friction.

iGaming, on the other hand, centers on risk. Whether it’s fantasy football, online casinos, or even Pokémon Go – the thrill of winning comes alive beneath the threat of loss.

And yet, ecommerce has a lot to learn from iGaming. Not despite their difference, but because of them.

If there’s one thing iGaming knows, it’s how to create habits. After all, iGaming stands for interactive and comes to life in two forms: first, digital gambling and second, multi-user apps that pull players from an isolated, purely virtual experience into the physical world. In both forms, risk, competition, and community underlie its success.

So, what can ecommerce learn?

Let’s take a look at three ecommerce industries ripe for iGaming’s insights along with some universal applications.

Hungry for Competition

From Blue Apron to Terra’s Kitchen, subscription meal services are taking kitchens by storm. Likewise, food and beverage are set to become a $100 billion online market by 2025.

While gamifying food is already a huge draw at places like the Hard Rock Cafe and The Port Royal Grille, its digital application has barely been touched.

The lowest hanging fruit (pun intended) is health … with a social twist.

Take FitBit for example. One of the few wearable winners, FitBit’s rise to stardom isn’t due to tracking calories, weight loss, and footsteps in isolation, but sharing those stats with FitBit’s community. Users set goals, compare points, cheer on friends, and compete. Leaderboards and badges — basically, digital awards people can add to their profiles — along with social media integration create triggers that pull users back to the app until the habit is self-sustaining.

So enthusiastic are FitBit’s users to share and compete that their online community page has leaderboards for categories like “Most Helpful Authors” and “Top Solution Authors”:

Any online food service could easily implement this tactic.

By allowing users to track, compare, and compete in a host of categories — caloric intake, nutrient sufficiency, and weight loss — you build a community around your product and invite them to take risks. Even if they’re not monetary, simply staying accountable to shared goals through notifications, leaderboards, and badges are powerful motivators.

What’s even more hook-worthy than that?

Taking inspiration from popular shows like Chopped or MasterChef and turning your food service into a full-blown interactive game.

Start by creating a monthly mystery box that’s either a regular part of each user’s subscription or positioned as a unique upsell.

After announcing prizes for one or more categories — i.e., healthiest meal, most photogenic, fan favorite, most romantic, biggest “bang for your buck” for whoever can make the most portions, etc. — invite contestants to a live-stream event where they can cook alongside a company rep.

Using branded hashtags, encourage participants to post their own videos and photos, which will be judged by the wider community.

Not only does this create a public spectacle of what’s often a private affair, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity to:

  • Collect user-generated content for new marketing campaigns
  • Build your social media following and engagement
  • Expose your brand to the friends and family of existing customers
  • And give your own customers an interactive reason to come back

As we’ll see in the next point, that last benefit might just be the most powerful.

Playing Dress-Up

We all love a compliment. Especially when it’s about how fashionable, unique, or good we look.

Smart marketers have known this for years and although it looks a bit different from selling clothes, the billion-dollar rise of obstacle course racing was built on compliments. Early providers like Spartan Race and Tough Mudder sprinkled their courses with photographers and — unlike amusement parks — gave out all those gritty, “Look at me!” pictures for free.

As Outside Magazine put it: “The primary catalyst for the industry’s growth has been social media, a tool that obstacle racing seems uniquely qualified to harness. Few things attract as many likes from Facebook friends as a photo of you looking like a Navy SEAL, hurdling over burning bales of hay.”

Why? Because likes have a profound effect on the brain. Social approval triggers the opioid system which causes us to feel pleasure. Once a connection between happiness and digital notifications is established, dopamine — the “wanting” chemical — kicks in to draw us back to over and over again.

This habit-forming loop is why brands like Pura Vida Bracelets depend on user-generated content (UGC) for viral marketing:

Where does iGaming fit in? By layering on competition.

For instance, Covet Fashion’s app allows users to dress up avatars, post their creations, compete in challenges, and win physical or virtual prizes. In other words, they gamify what Pura Vida uses as social proof.

Naturally, Covet allows users to shop the looks that they’ve created, turning the game into profit.

Already, social media comes with its own inherent grading scale. By adding a leaderboard that aggregates social media interactions, badges, and challenges, you can take those habit-forming payoffs into overdrive. Categories like hottest looks, who wore it best, and most creative transforms fashion into an interactive game.

While Covet’s avatar app applies to the top of the funnel, a far more lucrative approach would be to integrate your competition post purchase. By encouraging customers via email, social, or Messenger chatbots to participate immediately after delivery, you not only feed their egos … you prime them for repeat purchases as well.

The point in all of this is to associate both ordering and receiving your products with the thrill of asking, “Does this look good on me?”

Fun with Friends and Family

Articles like We are Living in a Board Game Renaissance and It’s Official, Everyone: Board Games Are Cool Now make one thing is clear: despite all expectations, the sale of old-school, table-top games is exploding. Hilarious entries like Exploding Kittens and even NSFW options like Cards Against Humanity are some of the top picks.

And it’s no surprise.

The reason such products hold appeal goes right back to the core of iGaming itself: competition, measured risk, and relationships. Those feelings become more pronounced when they involve friends and family.

As evidence, consider the driving reason behind Pokémon Go’s success. Most often, the power of augmented reality is held up as the game’s defining feature. Data from EEDAR’s PlayerPulse, however, reports that the number one factor in player motivation was relationships:

Even more interesting, the number one referral source was the same:

Many ecommerce companies are taking advantage of this truth.

Disney recently created Appisodes, an interactive game that overlaps with “create your own adventure” episodes for young children. Not surprisingly, in-app purchases are part of the equation. Jackbox Games marries the physical board game with digital convenience, allowing users to connect to board-game-style competitions using smartphones and a video game console.

Perhaps most ripe of all, however, is something like Shopify’s Unity Buy SDK (software development kit), which allows ecommerce merchants to integrate physical product purchases directly into games — like Alto’s Adventure (shown below) — or through “customized purchases, such as the player buying a t-shirt that shows the total distance they’ve traveled, or ordering prints of photos that they’ve taken of scenes in the game.” In the case of the second, the leverage point for retention essentially means letting players turn memories into memorabilia.

If there’s one thing people are loyal to, it’s their friends and family. If your product creates memories to bond them, they’ll be just as committed to you as they are to each other.

Don’t Play it Safe

When making a purchase, most people want a safety net.

But too much safety makes it hard to keep them coming back.

Even if you’re not in the niches mentioned above, the lessons still apply. Find a healthy gaming pattern that works for you. Build an ongoing challenge and reward people with prizes, social accolades, or just the right to brag through leaderboards and badges.

The reality is human nature loves competition, risk, and relationships. Allow these three desires to inform your habit-building customer retention methods and not only will you have fun doing it, but customers will find it next to impossible to resist returning.


Aaron Orendorff

Previous the Editor in Chief of Shopify Plus, Aaron Orendorff is now the founder of iconiContent, where he’s busy “saving the world from bad content.” He’s also a regular contributor at Mashable, Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, Business Insider, Content Marketing Institute, and more. Connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

Be the first to comment on this post:


Let's Get Acquainted

Chars: 0

Get your free print edition!

Fill out your complete details below

Chars: 0
Chars: 0
Chars: 0
Chars: 0
Chars: 0
Chars: 0
Chars: 0
Chars: 0