Makers of a game like Garden of Time get it out quickly and then improve it based on consumer testing.

: Don McClure, vice president of program management consulting, training, and corporate integration, Astound Commerce

Don McClure, vice president of program management consulting, training, and corporate integration, Astound Commerce

To decision makers in the world of retail, the pace of change might feel like a game of Mario Kart. There are ever-growing “must-have” features, tempting distractions and fast-moving competitors. You’re constantly faced with the re-evaluation of whether what was cutting edge yesterday is still good enough today. One minute you’re in first place, and the next you’re falling off the side of the track.

If that’s too much of a stretch, bear with me: There are more similarities between e-commerce and video games than you might think.

Just as e-commerce has evolved from the primitive days of online catalogues to the immersive, omnichannel experience it is today, video games have progressed from Atari’s Pong to at-home virtual reality gaming devices like Samsung’s Gear VR. In both cases, developments didn’t occur in a vacuum. Gaming and e-commerce are where they are today through bold experimentation, rapid advancements in new technology and customer expectations for better experiences.

So it’s no surprise that today’s retail leaders can take a few tips from the gaming industry. In fact, there are three key lessons you can apply from the world of gaming to your e-commerce strategy:


Follow the megahits

Every once in a while, a title is released that changes the expectations of what video games can do. Super Mario Bros launched maybe the most famous example of the side-scrolling template that became ubiquitous in arcades. Pokemon’s “gotta catch ‘em all” mantra spawned dozens of popular monster-hunting adventures, while games like Halo and Call of Duty re-invented the multiplayer first-person shooter genre.

So what does this have to do with retail?

When investing in new technology or experimenting with new capabilities, you can’t always go with the sure thing.

As cutting-edge video games introduced innovations that became the standard that players came to expect both in terms of production quality and functionality, other developers followed suit. Developers here drew from iconic titles like Tetris and Mario, and understanding what makes those games exciting enabled generations of video game developers to create better experiences with those lessons in mind.


In the same way, some retailers aren’t just copying from others when incorporating strategies that work, but are making the investments and taking the risks to innovate. If they hit the right note, they will create an iconic e-commerce experience. Options like in-store pickup, alternative payments, personalized marketing preferences and more were all new options at first, until innovators proved the value of each feature. Right now, Target is taking a leaf from Amazon’s book by testing a one-day delivery service, an option beloved by consumers for speed and convenience. Businesses should be looking at these megahits when deciding how to improve e-commerce experiences.

Learn from the market
When I worked with the Tetris development teams, they could spend more than a year developing and testing a new feature—for them, the game had to be perfect both because of the reputation of the title and because you couldn’t update a cartridge. Once the game shipped, it couldn’t be fixed. In the 1990s, that strategy was completely rational.

Today we have different constraints. We can try a feature out and adapt it later, using the market to judge its worth. This is both more efficient because you get to market faster and more effective because you can test the feature with your target audience.

Very few e-commerce companies understand this quite like freemium gaming companies. In my time at Playdom (makers of Garden of Time), developers would release games as minimum viable products, but no investment was spared in business intelligence data gathering and A/B testing. Games would be released in secondary, lower-monetizing markets to test the concept and retention, improvements were A/B tested, and then the game would be released in the primary markets. Features within released games could once again be continually improved through even more A/B testing.


E-commerce companies need to constantly assess their strategies, and focus on understanding why features resonate with their target audiences. The best new feature doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense for a consumer group, and retailers must be completely attuned to the purchasing behavior and habits of their core consumer groups. Then, they need to continually fine tune features through rigorous analysis of what works and what doesn’t.

Take risks
What would real-time strategy gaming be without Dune 2? Massive multiplayer online games without Everquest? Every so often, a company (be it video game or retail) takes the right risk and executes well, and in time the industry undergoes a seismic shift. In the game industry, developers such as Blizzard and platform developers such as Nintendo and Sony have reaped the rewards at different times by being at the forefront of a shift. In e-commerce, the parallel is Amazon—these are the risk-takers that have shown time and time again that it’s worth it to gamble big.

When investing in new technology or experimenting with new capabilities, you can’t always go with the sure thing—in fact, the “sure thing” doesn’t often exist. What’s more important is a willingness to embrace change to put the customer at the center, and the technology to back it up.

Think of it like Mario Kart: sometimes the risky paths are what take you from last place to first. And if not, there’s always time to correct the course.


Astound Commerce provides a range of digital commerce services, including design, custom development, technology implementation and maintenance.