Pokémon Go!: gaming fad or retail saviour?

After consuming an unbelievable amount of feta cheese during my summer holiday last month and returning home to find my suit trousers a little snug; my feeble attempts at maintaining a healthy lifestyle have been kick-started and come rain or shine I have committed to run/walk/crawl along Salford Quays each evening. (NB. Not one digestive biscuit was eaten in the writing of this article – a Foundation Recruitment record!).

On Monday evening, my partner and I were at MediaCityUK  and quickly came to the realisation that despite a number of couples and large groups gathered there: 1. we were the only people speaking to each other, and 2. we were the only people not transfixed on our smartphones or, moreover, Pokémon Go!

You will no doubt be familiar with the overwhelming phenomenon that is Pokémon Go!; an augmented reality app based on the popular Japanese cartoon in which players or ‘trainers’ follow their avatar on an on-screen map as they move within their real world surroundings with the objective of finding, capturing and training creatures named Pokémon. Checkpoints within the game include Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms where players can collect useful items or ‘battle’ with other users.

With over 130 million users worldwide, this free-to-use gaming sensation has been cited as a contributing factor to a rise in activity and exercise in young people, an increase in frequency of visits from my teenage brother (who reliably informs me that there an enviable number of water Pokémon to be found near my home) and excitingly, a significant increase in footfall and dwell time within shopping centres and leisure destinations.

Against a background of uncertainty due to the threat of online shopping, it has been a challenging time for shopping centres and industry influencers are encouraging others to ’embrace the recent phenomenon of Pokémon Go! to bring potential shoppers back into malls’.

Shopping Centre Marketing Managers are now seeking out inventive ways to capitalise on this increased footfall, combining visitor interaction with their online and social media strategies.

Numerous shopping centres now run online competitions; encouraging visitors to share hotspots for characters with their friends or post pictures and relevant ‘hashtags’ to be exchanged for shopping vouchers redeemable in-store, which in turn is driving sales performance.

Similarly, Marketing Managers are delivering noteworthy events and features within their shopping centres; with this US mall utilising their Pokémon gym status and creating a dedicated area for gamers to socialise and play.

However, with a rise in footfall (and individuals contributing to that footfall not looking forward but down at a screen), Shopping Centre Managers have been presented with new customer demands and unique health and safety challenges to ensure that their shopping centres remain a safe and pleasant place for all. The Silverburn Shopping Centre in Glasgow has surprised shoppers with the introduction of dedicated lanes to ‘contain wandering players’ and Union Square Shopping Centre in Aberdeen is delighting players with ‘human chargers’ to ensure their devices are never short of battery for maximum gaming time!

Whilst Pokémon Go! may not last forever, retailers are sitting up to take note with many exploring opportunities to become sponsored locations within the app or combine the spikes in footfall that they are experiencing with tailored in-store events and promotions to maximise spending opportunity.

With an ever-increasing focus on creating a unique customer experience and experiential events, it will be interesting to monitor how the shift to augmented reality gaming and mobile interaction with visitors will influence the retail sector and shopping centre industry in the years to come.

I would be very keen to hear your thoughts on this – Pokémon Go!: gaming fad or retail saviour?

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