Game On! Why Video Games Point to the Future of Black Friday

Despite more customers feeling less inclined to shop in stores on Black Friday each year, and online specials eating into holiday sales, brick-and-mortar stores still saw more than 124 million Americans come into stores the day after Thanksgiving in 2019. But as we enter the third Corona spike, in-store shopping has become an anxiety inducing, hazardous venture. Add to that a strained economy, 7% unemployment, and a population growing increasingly fatigued from both quarantine and politics, and the idea of navigating an enclosed, crowded store for a single day of sales becomes completely unappealing. So as retailers adapt to digitizing their Black Friday sales, there is a need for novelty to differentiate themselves from the pack and draw customers in.

The State of Black Friday

While it’s easy to blame the demise of Black Friday on the Coronavirus, realize that this is only an acceleration of an already present trend. 64% of Americans feel less inclined to shop on Black Friday, both rising from previous years. Add to this online events like Amazon’s Prime Day, which saw $10.4 billion in sales in 2020, and the question consumers begin to ask is “why would I bother spending hours in a store when I could just get shopping done in minutes at home?”

As more retailers rush to provide more convenient digital sales, this also creates a flood of digital experiences, making it harder for anyone to stand out. Having an online sale is just table stakes now. isn’t enough. To attract more customers and keep them coming back, retailers need to provide novel ways shoppers can shop digitally, and there’s no better teacher than the video game industry. 

Gaming Alternatives

While certain industries have been hard hit by the pandemic, gaming has thrived. Worth ~$60 billion, the games industry has seen unparalleled sales and adoption during the pandemic, with Microsoft reporting that their multiplayer population rose 130% between March and April. This is because of two factors. First, video games are well suited for staying at home and second, gaming has spent the last 20 years transforming from being a physical industry to a digital one.

Sales have been transformed into entirely digital events, eliminating the need for physical locations. Nintendo has been doing their game announcements via their Nintendo Directs since 2011, saving them the need to go to big game conferences to market new titles. And no platform has perfected this digital sales model better than PC game store, Steam, which has a long history of experimenting with new sales models and boasted 20 million online concurrent users as the pandemic hit its stride.

Steam hosts mini events called “Steam Sales” that provide sales for a particular game genre or developer, which has been shown to increase store visits by tenfold. The kicker: the size of the sale has no impact on the number of visits. By simply being a part of one of these sales, games see a rise in visits to their sales page and ergo more sales. These events are also gamified via Steam’s “trading cards.” These are earned by users exploring and playing games, and can be used to either customize profiles, or be sold for cash, creating a micro stock market within the platform

The most recent sales experiment that the platform has played with is the Steam Game Festival. Starting in 2019, the festival would give independent game makers time to shine while letting gamers have fun while shopping. Players have access to dozens of game demos, can listen to creator interviews, and shoot questions to the game developers. This changes what is traditionally a sales event into a community festival, where players have a sample menu of experiences. The Steam Game Festivals have proven popular enough that they spiritually replaced the largest gaming conference, E3, which was canceled this year due to Covid.

Paths Forward

When we look at Steam, we learn two lessons:

  • Find ways to make the experience of participating both fun and rewarding. In 2011 Bonobo’s had a digital scavenger hunt where if customers found paisley pants on the digital store, they got $100 off their purchase. NikeFuel builds off the brand’s competitive audience, rewarding best times and completing goals by giving special access to new products and events. Firstborn worked with Foot Locker to create an AR scavenger hunt for the highly anticipated LeBron 16 King “Court Purple” sneaker launch.
  • Inspire shoppers to test run your goods. Cosmetic companies like McGirl and Sephora release Snapchat filters that let customers try on and show off different looks, allowing them to get immediate feedback if the product is worth it or not. Bestbuy’s mobile app recently got an AR tool that lets you see if a TV is the right size for your living room, and if you can squeeze in a bigger one.

What this means is that there shouldn’t be a focus on the sale, but on the experience. With online sales growing in availability, getting x% off on something isn’t engaging to consumers. Instead, novel digital sales need to borrow a page from video game sales, where people are drawn in for the chance to socialize, share, and compete. 

Give people content, advice, and ways to participate, rather than just a big sales sticker.

Parting Thoughts

The coronavirus has expedited a transition to digital that has been taking place for years, and as more customers experience convenience, it will replace the mad dash for sales. When any business needs to make a quick transition to future proof itself, the best teachers are other industries who’ve gone through decades of trial and error to create a strong model. Video games have gone through 20+ years of figuring out how a digital sales model would work and have become more successful for it. As such, video games can provide a solid model for how other retail businesses can optimize for a digital sales future. 

At Isobar, we believe experiences are everything. Contact us for help setting up your brand’s digital experiences for the holidays and beyond.