Hunting for coupons at Old Navy

Game experiences are slowly creeping into regular old user interfaces.  A great example is OldNavyWeekly.com.  On the surface level it serves as a normal circular, announcing big sales on the hip clothes.  But it also prominently prompts users to “Click around to find hidden in-store coupons”, playing as a kind of easter egg hunt.

In some cases you need to drag items from one outfit to another, like a pair of shoes or a heart imprint.  In others you need to click a character that appears briefly onscreen, like a baby chick who periodically runs out of a basket (and it’s actually really hard to catch the little bastard).  For each find, you’re rewarded with a coupon to print and bring to the store — but you can only keep one, so in each case you need to decide whether it’s a better deal than the one you already have.

Now of course this goes against the must fundamental, ingrained tenets of usable design, like making sure that users can easily find the things they want to find.  So can this really be a good thing?  I’d suggest that there may actually be a few ways that a game such as this one can be helpful to the retailer:

It couples the coupons with a sense of achievement. You had to invest effort and ingenuity to get that coupon, dammit, and that investment won’t be fulfilled until you make use of it.  If you don’t, then the time you spent working on it could only be seen as time wasted.  The more difficult the challenge, the greater the sense of obligation.

It commands greater attention. Games require active, participative engagement in the experience.  Since anything onscreen could be a trigger, the user has to pay more careful attention everything.  Eyeballs are good, but attentive eyeballs are much more likely to respond to ads.  The game also also encourages repeated visits as it’s redone each week.

It encourages free peer-to-peer advertising. You also have the option to gift one coupon to a friend via Facebook.  That’s great for Old Navy, because it comes with an implicit endorsement from a trusted friend.  If it was worth sending, then the person receiving it must read it as saying “This is a great deal, you should check it out”.

It invites users to think of themselves differently. Web users are often cast like the audience of TV or magazines, who use or consume information at the end of its journey and after it’s fully formed.  People playing a game, on the other hand, join in making the experience.  This invites users to think of themselves as belonging to in-group, with a role to play as a part of the Old Navy brand.

I’m going to try to make contact with the site’s designers, to ask them about the intention underlying the game approach and how well it’s worked for them.  If you have any questions you’d like to me to ask them, please feel free to add comments to this post.

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