Forget boring things like products, price and service. The fate of physical retail is becoming linked to the virtual world, with strange-but-true happenings like mass hunts of online cartoon characters from Japan.
Indeed, some in the retail industry see a savior of sorts in “Pokémon Go,” the mobile game rapidly spreading across the world.
The app, in which players use their device’s camera and GPS to capture digital creatures called Pokémon, has prompted people to actually leave the house and walk around. Some retailers, especially those dangling special offers to lure players, have seen a surge in store visits.
Yes, the game can drive traffic to stores, but will people actually buy anything? For retailers, the limitations of “Pokémon Go” are similar to the challenges of trying to get people to purchase something through Facebook or Twitter. People go to social media for entertainment and communication, not necessarily to purchase clothing or laundry detergent.
Pokémon Go, a popular new app that uses augmented reality and a user's smartphone camera, has been downloaded over 15 million times in the U.S., according to a data research firm. San Franciscans share their experiences with the addictive game.
The same goes for “Pokémon Go.” Players just want to play. What good are store visits if people don’t actually, you know, shop?
“I’m excited that people are getting out into the real world,” said Maya Mikhailov, founder and chief marketing officer for GPShopper in Chicago, which designs mobile apps for retailers like Best Buy, Lane Bryant and Bebe. “With that said, ‘Pokémon Go’ is not going to save retail.”
“Customer intent is the key,” Mikhailov said. As a “Pokémon” player, “am I going to shell out money to buy a shirt? That’s a tough question.”
In the end, retailers exist to sell things, through compelling merchandise and a strong brand, she said — so the game won’t rescue a store that’s already struggling to attract visitors. In the quest to chase visitors and eyeballs, retailers risk losing sight of what makes them successful in the first place. They are running businesses, not playgrounds.