Video game mechanics have been slow to gain cache in the fashion industry, but that’s changing as shoppers compete for social capital and brands are eager to incentivize loyalty.
Four-year-old shopping app Dote is billed as “Gen Z’s dream mall,” and its similarities with the mall heyday of the late 1990s are striking: Shoppers discuss favorite tank tops and scrunchies while favoring a hyper-real aesthetic that is more “The Real World” than “The Real Housewives.” To tease its first exclusive clothing line — which became available late Tuesday afternoon and sold out in three hours — Dote even created a website with a design inspired by MySpace and AOL Instant Messenger.
But this is the influencer era, and the “brand” to which shoppers are forming an emotional attachment isn’t Abercrombie or Esprit, but rather a 17-year-old YouTuber named Emma Chamberlain, who wouldn’t know “AIM” as an acronym. And rather than incentivize shoppers with loyalty cards and “buy one, get one” deals, it’s driving frequent shopping visits using gaming mechanics.
When a customer checks in to the Dote app, for example, they receive “coins” that can be redeemed for coupons or the opportunity to be featured on the brand’s Instagram account. Even more coins can be exchanged for a pop-up photoshoot, which means Dote will send a photographer to take pictures of the customer. Shoppers can answer quizzes or participate in “The Price is Right”-style videos on Instagram Live, and those who have a “creator” badge, meaning the 80-or-so influencers with massive YouTube or Instagram followers, can integrate their content on the app — essentially making their images and videos shoppable — and host giveaways.
Fashion has been a bit latent in tapping into the potential of gaming elements, which are characterized by a sense of play, competition, recognition and rewards — but that may be starting to shift as brands learn that it’s not all just fun and games.
Gaming elements like those used by Dote can drive engagement, inspire loyalty and reward frequent use, while quizzes are seen as a smart and comparatively subtle way to collect customer opinions.
Dote founder Lauren Farleigh said the 140 brands on the platform love it (although the company doesn’t share its data yet), and Dote has a “huge” waitlist; for now, Dote prioritizes the brands Gen Z is interested in, Farleigh said — those featured include Forever 21, Brandy Melville and Urban Outfitters. For her users, “shopping is a sport,” and they visit on average four times a day.
Consumer research firm First Insight uses gamification to conduct consumer surveys for brands including Kohl’s, Vince Camuto, Vera Bradley and HSN. As an alternative to focus groups, it asks people to select what they’d buy and how much they’d pay for it through online quizzes.
“Traditional surveys are time-consuming and sometimes daunting to the consumer. By positioning something as a game, it makes providing feedback way more relaxed and fun,” said First Insight chief commercial officer Jim Shea, who predicts gaming elements will “gain traction” within the fashion industry as the competition for attention spans heats up. He pointed to Stitch Fix, which in July introduced a way of getting feedback that simply asks users to rate apparel with a simple thumbs up or down; Trendage, which uses a “Style Challenge” that helps brands personalize product pages and marketing campaigns; and Amazon’s Echo Look, which has a “Style Check” feature.
In her 2017 Internet Trends Report, venture capitalist Mary Meeker called interactive games “the motherlode of tech product innovation” and said the industry was still in its early days. “Gen X and Millennials have been gamified since birth,” Meeker pointed out, adding that women often approach gaming differently than men and the average age of gamers is 35.
This is certainly true for five-year-old fashion app Covet Fashion, which senior director Sarah Fuchs said is not strictly billed as a game or as an app, partially because women have a stigma against the concept of gaming, she said.
Covet Fashion challenges users to dress up models in digitized designer clothing and accessories to be voted on. Users are rewarded for entering and winning challenges, and they can pay (real) money to “unlock” additional styling options.
Screenshot from the Covet app
Fuchs, who previously worked on SIMs games, said that most of Covet’s users are 35 or older; and she has found that both games for women and the older female market, which tend to have a higher disposable income, have been “completely untapped.”
According to research from influencer marketing firm Mediakix, 63 percent of mobile gamers are female and 60 percent of female gamers play mobile gamers daily. It also found that 50 percent of women younger than 30 play video games, but the average age of a female gamer is 37.
“There is always a drive to compete and win, and people want to be seen. They want recognition,” said Fuchs, who sees great potential for fashion if brands can find a way to introduce those elements. “The market could explode for fashion.”
The ubiquity of social media has certainly helped to offer a formative entrée into gaming mechanics: Instagram users, for example, compete for recognition through clever hashtags, and the reward comes in the form of “likes” and follows.
Some brands are even beginning to explore beyond the digital realm.
In July, Tommy Hilfiger partnered with Israel-based Awear Solutions on a clothing and accessories collection that rewards people when they wear the products. Called Tommy Jeans Xplore, the pieces are imbedded with tags that connect to an app to give points that go toward “personalized rewards and experiences,” and help the brand personalize marketing and advertising based on when and where the item is being worn.
In other words, the brand is tracking the customer after the purchase is made, and rather than merely rewarding them with looking cool on social media, it’s using gaming to reward them — get this — in the real world.