Gamification at Jimmy John’s. Sandwich chain innovates on a commonly used game mechanic.

I bought a sub the other day at the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s, and I noticed something very innovative about their loyalty program when they gave me a punch card.

Sure they gave me the typical buy 10 subs, get one free card. But there was just one twist…

9 of the slots on the card were already punched.

Usually a loyalty program at a retail store like this is a punch card with 10 “slots” on it. Every time I buy something the cashier punches another slot. And once I collect 10 punches I get a free something.

The premise of punch cards like this is to play on a commonly used “game mechanic”. Humans like to collect things. We like to finish things. If we know we have something that’s incomplete, it nags on us until it’s accomplished.

“Hmm, I shouldn’t go to McDonald’s today. I only have 3 more lunches to buy and I’ll get my free one,” someone hopes his customers are saying.

But I’ve got dozens of these cards from all over the place just collecting in a junk box. Everything has 1 or 2 punches on it. They don’t seem to be making me very loyal to anything do they?

See, one problem with this program is that if that percentage to complete a loyalty punch card seems too high, I’ll quickly abandon the effort.

I’ve seen this play out many times creating Inkling and Cityposh, projects that rely heavily on game mechanics working well, and is a common worry for game developers.

It’s no fun to play a game when winning something looks so far out of reach.

Such as getting on a leaderboard. We try to make sure leaderboards aren’t filled with early bird users who’ve simply accumulated points and have reached levels that newcomers have zero chance of reaching.

And so, that’s one of the feelings that pops up when playing these loyalty games at stores.

I have so many options for lunch. If I’ve got a single slot punched on some loyalty card and need 9 more to go, that seems like a long game to play to get my free prize. I’d rather just keep getting some diversity and go to one of another 100 places near me.

So the folks at this particular Jimmy John’s did something genius. They gave me a chance at an early win: “buy just one more sandwich and already get one free”.

But they disguised it as an even bigger accomplishment. I’ve completed 9 things already without even trying! Just one more visit to the store and I’ve already won the game.

It definitely got my loyalty and I bought my “10th” sub the next day.

This is a great reminder to folks hoping to use game mechanics to encourage users to stay loyal to their business: have smaller wins, and disguise them as big wins.

It’s ok to have a large prize or accomplishment after doing a bunch of work, but don’t forget to offer some kind of reward at an early level in your ‘game’. Give customers an immediate sense of accomplishment. That’s why you’ll see most games have a very early win that comes with a bunch of celebration. “Yay, you signed up for the game. Here’s a badge! And some points! And lots of noise and whistles.”

This whole experience also helps remind us: don’t cargo cult “game mechanics” and hope for the best.

There’s quite a bit of psychology in developing games, and a single “mechanic” can have a lot of consequences. Someone might hear about leaderboards and use one for their business, but then not realize the psychology behind a leaderboard. They’ll often create a disincentive to newcomers from even starting the game at all.

P.S. You should get my next post on Twitter: here.


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