Currently one of the hottest buzz words in the web development space, Gamification, is beginning to supplant old favourites like social media in mindshare. Gamification, as its name implies, typically involves bringing the mechanics and innovations of game design into web design. The purpose of this is to improve the users’ experience and increase their engagement – to make a website have the enveloping effect of the latest gaming hit. Gamifying a website doesn’t necessarily mean to create a game but to apply the ideas games have of dynamics, mechanics and design in an appropriate way.

Seeds were planted for Gamification to become one of the next big things when social media websites like Facebook partnered with companies such as Zynga – famous for Farmville – who sought ways to increase the engagement of users with the use of points, levels, badges and more to capture interest. The benefit for Facebook was users kept coming back to the site for more, each looking for gratification by increasing their scores and piles of virtual goods. Other companies have boarded the bandwagon early and introduced their own game elements. Foursquare, for instance, challenges people to earn badges and status amongst their peers by ‘checking in’ at locations and events.

While a relatively new term the concepts behind Gamification have been around for a long time in the e-commerce space. Auctions websites such as eBay use a form of Gamification wherein goods are placed for sale and customers ‘compete’ to win the offer. Amazon has extended this thinking to ‘Black Friday’ deals whereby the first set number of customers will win the offer and gives hints and clues as to what the potential deal may be so you can be first in line.

The success of social gaming lies not with avatars or virtual goods and farms, but with the communication between users. This is where a positive feedback loop can be introduced. By personalising the site to the needs of the customer you can create relevance and interest. By giving your customers choices you can improve the chances of them taking positive action – adding items to their basket or purchasing those items – which leads to further collection of data to better improve the personalisation. By providing a great feedback loop you can improve the chances of successful interaction between the customer and website.

Of course it is clear that there has to be a reason for your customers to be playing, beyond just handing out an achievement badge or adding points for the sake of it. These are elements that cannot just be introduced because it is the hot new thing. It may well be that your customer base is not appropriate and more sober approaches should be taken.

In this case a more appropriate response may be the introduction of personalised elements to the site. The idea that the homepage and layout of the site should be the same for every visitor is archaic. If you think of Amazon you will note that when you return and are identified by the site you are directed to items that may be of interest to you rather than the standard ‘our selected items’ that are presented to each visitor.

In addition further recommendations and related products can be tailored to the behaviour of the customer. Why be showing samples of everything you stock when the customer only sticks to one particular category of item? The potential for improvement in conversion and user engagement by targeting customer behaviour is huge. In an increasingly crowded marketplace of e-commerce stores, the ideas Gamification brings to the table can help distinguish you from the competition and make your website hugely enjoyable for your customers.

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