How Mobile Apps Gameify In-Store Shopping

Instead of searching for products, they find me!

I’ve never been much of a shopper. My usual shopping behavior has been: acquire a target, get in, and get out.

In fact, the only real reason I’ve had much of anything at all over the past few years is because I bought it online and had it delivered directly to my door. (Ain’t the 21st century grand?)

But lately, I’ve been getting into the shopping spirit – hard. It could be because I recently bought my first house. It could also be that my fiancé inspired me to love holidays again.

I’m certain, though, that a big part of my newfound love for shopping is a recent innovation in consumer marketing: gameifying shopping.

Instead of searching for products, they find me!The subject of my gamed shopping lately has been Target, through their Cartwheel app. If you haven’t tried it, it works like this: you use the app to select a limited number of items from a list of discount offers (mostly just 5% off), and the cashier scans a code on your phone to apply the discount at checkout. You may only save $1.35 off a large purchase, but seeing the dollars and cents add up on your receipt feels oh-so-wonderful. The kicker is you actually have to do this in Target stores (not at Target.com), which means I usually find myself scanning product barcodes with the app just to see if I can get something on sale.

(Incidentally, my father designed the Target logo shortly before I was born, so I’ve always had a warm place in my heart for that particular store. Cartwheel only deepens my fondness for Target.)

Amazon.com and other online retailers have been collecting data on me and selling it to others for years, but gameifying in-store shopping allows companies to pick up even more interesting information about me as I wander through the physical store aisles.

Turning shopping into a game taps into the deepest recesses of my psyche, tricking me in every way to believe I’m saving money when I’m actually spending it. Perhaps the even larger genius of the whole thing is Target getting to know my buying habits better and better each time I select a discount on the Cartwheel app – regardless of whether I actually make a purchase.

Target not only gets to know me better, but also has more valuable data to sell others so they can better market their products and services to me.

Far from creeping me out, this makes my life simpler and more interesting – instead of searching for products, they find me!

I know some might feel this sort of consumer data-gathering and -mining process can violate privacy. And they’re right. But it doesn’t bother me because each time I enter Target, I know I’m going to leave feeling as though I’ve just gotten a great deal.

More by Richard N. Lorenc