Outform’s Simon Hathaway shares some of the findings and implications from a recent study into gaming, gamers’ habits, and what it means for brands.

Gaming is one of the few sectors in entertainment that didn’t have its revenue taps turned off during the pandemic. In fact, they completely overflowed. Virtual escapism became a multi-generational lifeline and even as a more ‘normal’ reality resumes, it’s kept a tight grip on early adopters. It’s even picked up newcomers along the way.

Unsurprisingly, the resulting opportunities here haven’t gone unnoticed by brands and retailers. Netflix is moving into the space to curb a drop in subscriptions, and Selfridges has opened a 200 sqm space dedicated to immersive gaming.

Clearly, it’s smart money to invest in this. But brands and retailers capitalising on the gaming mania would have to diversify their offerings to make it sustainable – the world of gaming has gone beyond being wired up to a TV with a headset. Users are playing on-the-go, browsing for products through new channels; they want to see themselves represented, and contrary to stereotypes, they’re gaming to stimulate their brains. It’s time for brands and in-store layouts to reflect this shift.

Appealing to the masses

Outform’s recent research found that 20% more women are gaming now than pre-pandemic. As the demographic make-up of gamers continues to shift, gaming brands have been forced to shake off the masculine aesthetic they’re often associated with. A key factor is that those outside of the ecosystem are catching up: just look at NYX Cosmetics, which is bringing gaming influencers on board to test sample products.

But the real challenge lies with the in-store shopping experience.

While the main priority of traditional bricks and mortar outlets is ensuring they look and feel inclusive for a new generation of gamers – having minority group characters showcased front-and-centre, for example – a primary consideration is also how audiences are now playing.

It’s not as you’d expect. Baby Boomers are using iOS and Android devices to play mobile games designed for commuting, while digitally native Gen Zs stick to traditional consoles like XBox and PlayStation. So while retro gaming might be enjoying a renaissance, retailers can’t afford to look backwards if they’re to fully reap its benefits. Gaming now encompasses hardcore and casual users across all generations, within a plethora of devices.

This gives retailers the chance to unify commerce, online and off

If you’re looking at the large proportion of Boomers using their mobile devices to play games, it stands to reason that they’d probably be using the same devices when browsing in-store. They are, and on the whole, more so than any other generation – 51% are actually on their phones comparing prices with other retailers and brands, while 40% are frequenting price comparison sites. To riposte that, while Boomers are scanning and using QR codes to request samples and demos more than any other demographic, they’re the least likely to use their mobile to pay.

Insights like this suggest that the retail journey is still fragmented – neither offline nor online are being used to their full potential. If Boomers are the most mobile-savvy gamers, it makes sense for their browsing and purchase habits to include elements of a web-based journey. So, how do retailers accommodate that?

Head back to the Future: Traditional consoles in tech-led environments

Some 31% of Boomers mainly want to use in-store tech to browse gaming paraphernalia – again, they’re looking for something that complements the mobile-led experience they prefer when gaming.

Meanwhile, younger generations are less inclined to use this tech to inform a purchase, but still want the immediate gratification that comes with pulling a product directly from a shelf. In fact, 45% of Gen Zs browse in-store for the simple reason that they can receive products immediately.

To cater to each of these demographics, retailers can look into the emerging technologies that are becoming commonplace in shops. Although 94% of customers want to get hold of the latest gaming tech, they’re heavily into researching the kit before committing to purchase. Interactive displays, QR codes and AR functionalities are all worthy considerations for creating fast, immersive learning tools for shoppers.

‘Fast’ is the operative word here: retailers now have to account for shoppers browsing for different purposes, at different times and on different devices. But it makes business sense to be flexible with these preferences: 49% of Boomers consider themselves loyal to their favourite gaming brands, while women are vocal advocates for the sector, with 44% recommending products they like to friends and family.

Why an offline-online approach makes business sense

For traditional retailers, gaming habits provide yet more proof that ‘online as the competition’ is no longer a valid argument. Consumers certainly don’t see the two as mutually exclusive, and by adopting interactive tech in-store, there’s an opportunity for traditional retailers to use these as touchpoints that collate data in offline environments. Combined with online browsing habits, retailers can use data to gauge what their audiences are looking for, offer targeted recommendations, and even bespoke discounts to their most loyal base.

We can assume there’ll be other major players leveraging gaming to attract new audiences, or even to regain former ones. But longevity will come with reimagining the shopping experience to represent new audiences, and catering to the ways they now want to shop, even beyond gaming.