Digital Retail marketing – how can Pokemon Go entice shoppers into bricks and mortar stores?

26th July 2016

Regular readers of our blog will know that we like to keep abreast of the latest trends in digital retail marketing and retail technology. And unless you’ve been hiding in a cupboard then you’ll know that last week the UK was the latest country to be hit by the Pokemon Go game craze. As soon as we downloaded the free mobile game onto our phone and started playing we immediately thought about the implications of this type of technology for retail. The premise of the game is to get users moving and playing outside, using location tracking and augmented reality. These two technologies which have been catching retailer’s attention for a number of years as they have attempted to create personalised and immersive customer experiences to increase footfall in bricks and mortar stores.

Digital retail marketing - a Paras Pokemon rolling in the aisles in Sainsburys

Most Popular Game Ever

According to news reports, Pokemon Go is already the most popular game ever played in the US – with 21 million active users – but why is it so addictive? In case you haven’t played it yet, the game basically entails hunting for little Pokemon animal characters, collecting prizes and engaging with other users and their Pokemon at special ‘gyms.’ The game is available as a free download for smartphones and uses GPS to track a users location, showing them where they are on a map as they move around. Once they get a Pokemon in their sights then the game view switches to augmented reality with the Pokemon superimposed over a view of the users real-world environment. The phone vibrates when a Pokemon is nearby and also alerts users to the location of Pokéstops – places where they can collect extra points and prizes or even Pokemon eggs.

Location-based, VR mobile games have been around for as long as smartphones have, but the familiarity of the Pokemon characters and well-structured gameplay has captured the public imagination – which is big news for retailers.

Capitalising on Popularity

Speaking to Retail Week, EMEA general manager of location-based marketing specialist xAd; Theo Theodorou explained the implications of game’s popularity:

“There’s always a tipping point in any space when something brings technology that already exists to the forefront of everyone’s mind and for location tracking and augmented technology Pokemon Go is that watershed moment.”

“It’s great news for retailers as it’s really demonstrating how to harness the power of shoppers’ locations through the number one screen that shoppers are using every day.”

Luring Customers

Part of the games involves creating ‘lures’ which attract Pokemon to certain areas and it has been reported that some retailers in the US have been setting these to increase footfall, in the hopes that users might also make a purchase whilst in store.

Dan Calladine, Head of Media Futures at Carat Global explained how the location of game features such as Pokéstops can impact on sales:

“If a Pokéstop is near where you are you can advertise that on your Facebook and interact with people catching Pokemon nearby – it could be a really cost-efficient way of getting potential shoppers through retailers’ doors.

“It’s about how retailers get new sorts of customers to spend money they wouldn’t usually spend. People will be walking around with an open, exploratory mindset in areas of town they might not have been before and retailers could really take advantage of that increased customer traffic.”

But he does warn against leaping in to the trend without taking a proper look first:

“Retailers really need to ask the question of how valuable that trend is – would they rather drive new people into their bricks-and-mortar stores or ensure their existing customers have an undisrupted shopping experience?”

Ask yourself some questions: Will it enhance sales or distract shoppers? How are other retailers using it? Is there anything else they can do with the game to personalise or enhance the customer experience?

Enter the Game

According to Retail Week it won’t be long before retailers can get their store listed within the game, John Hanke, CEO of Pokemon Creator, Niantic has suggested that ‘sponsored locations’ including retail outlets could provide a new revenue stream for the game, which is currently free to download and relies on in-app purchases to generate a profit.

As this undoubtedly becomes a reality, the anticipated benefit to retailers could be huge, as Dan Calladine asserts:

“There will be opportunities for people to buy location-based advertising on it, Nintendo seem to be monetising it quite cleverly already.”

“There’s lots of scope for people to be quite creative around this location based and augmented reality technology and lots of way retailers could piggy back on it to disrupt and make it their own.”

Come and play

In addition to displaying retail locations and adverts, users could claim rewards from visiting stores or making specific purchases – and retailers don’t just have to use this technology within the confines of Pokemon Go – the potential uses for this kind of technology for digital retail marketing are endless. Although it has been around for a while, Pokemon has opened the floodgates and made using this kind of technology familiar to users. Imagine a Supermarket trip where children are kept occupied by augmented reality games in store – or personalised shopping experiences with animated characters guiding you around the store and answering questions about specific products.

Theo Theodorou concurs:

“Pokemon Go is one thing but we’ll see a lot of new ways that this technology can drive new traffic – it’s limitless and this app will really put it at the forefront of retailers’ mind,”

In our post-Brexit economic uncertainty, retail footfall has been declining as consumer confidence wanes – so we do hope that the normalisation of using this kind of technology in a retail environment can bring a much needed boon to bricks and mortar stores. Let us know below if you have been playing Pokemon Go – how would you apply this type of technology within a retail environment?


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