Why Retailers Should Pay Attention to Fortnite

If you have teenage boys, you are already acquainted with the gaming sensation called Fortnite. If I had a dollar for every time one of my boys came into the kitchen and yelled “Fortnite, Battle Royale, 100 players off the bus!” I would be a rich man. Instead, I am just a confused dad, impressed with Fortnite’s ability to penetrate the cultural zeitgeist and hijack the brains of my otherwise normal teenagers.

What makes Fortnite so fun to play and entertaining to watch? Why are parents (myself included) both impressed and frustrated by the influence it has over their kids? What lessons can Fortnite teach retailers about creating amazing customer experiences? This post explores these topics.

The Fortnite Phenomenon

Fortnite: Battle Royale hit the market in September, 2017 and has been religiously talked about on middle school playgrounds and in high school locker rooms ever since. Developed by Epic Games, the game starts with 100 players across the internet descending from the sky onto a huge virtual map where they compete to be the last player standing in a 3rd person shooter format. As a parent, it sounds fairly mundane, right? Wrong!

Fortnite features beautiful, comic-book landscapes, allows players to communicate via headset, and separates itself from more violent video games because there is no blood or serious violence. Games are open-ended, easy to play, and feature innovative competitions. Ever wonder why your kid has been wearing his headphones while playing XBOX for the last few months? He is probably having after-school playdates with classmates or gaming with french high school students and college kids in Asia.

Fortnite is mostly free to play and generates revenue for Epic Games by selling access to exclusive content. The game also generates significant revenue for live streamers on platforms like Twitch and YouTube. The rapper Drake, a huge unpaid endorser of the game, recently live-streamed his gaming session on Twitch with fellow rapper Travis Scott, NFL player JuJu Smith-Schuster, and gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, as over 600,000 viewers tuned into watch.

In summary, teenagers think playing Fortnite is better than doing anything else, including homework, watching ESPN, or shooting hoops in the driveway. What can retailers learn from how Fortnite gained such obsessive customers?

Lesson 1 – Solve the Hard Integration Problems

Fortnite is the first game that lets my XBOX-playing sons play against their buddies on PS4 consoles. That means their friends, who were previously locked into other consoles in the pre-Fortnite era, are now part of their digital lives as soon as they get home from school. Other platforms such as Macs, PCs and even mobile phones can also plug players into the same Fortnite world. Teenage players hop from PC to XBOX to PS4 seamlessly, often without their parents even understanding what is going on.

Getting all of these hardware systems and software versions talking to each other is not a trivial endeavour. Epic Games has solved this complex integration problem and created a unique playing experience.

In comparison, traditional retailers still have too much friction across their channels and platforms. Instead of a seamless experience, customers often face a patchwork of conflicting retail technology and processes for cross-channel purchases, delivery, in-store pickup, and returns. Additionally, many store-based loyalty programs still do not know what shoppers are buying online, ecommerce websites do not have store inventory visibility, and store associates do not know the purchase history of customers they are interacting with.

Winning retailers need to continue focusing on the complicated, technical work to build magical experiences like Fortnite’s platform agnosticism. When they truly create unique cross-channel experiences, customers will reward them with more attention.

Lesson 2 – Obsess About Customer Feedback

Fortnite developers listen to user feedback and add innovative game features in a matter of days. New game releases typically drop on a weekly basis and remove previously released features that players complain about through the game’s in-line feedback mechanism. Fortnite’s customer obsession and software development agility has kept my teenagers hooked since they first starting playing.

A few weekends back the Fornite platform crashed under a record, concurrent user load of 3.4 million players. How did Epic Games respond to this potential PR issue? They tweeted real-time status updates to their players and released a fascinating, technical post-mortem blog explaining what happened. They proactively apologized and gifted in-game surprises to all players.

Traditional retailers meanwhile have spotty records on obsessing over their customers. They still operate in lengthy, seasonal cycles, create silos between ecommerce and stores, and struggle with truly putting customers at the center of their organizations.

Winning retailers need to take a page from the Fortnite playbook and create fresh offerings based on faster feedback provided by customers. When they do, their ability to create innovative customer-focused solutions will be enhanced.

Lesson 3 – Strive to Personalize

Every game in the Fortnite universe has its own unique storyline and impressive sense of quirky randomness. Most teenage players care about their character’s costume, weaponry, and glider choice. Ask a teenage boy where and when they achieved their first Victory Royale or where they “like to drop” and you’ll get an in-depth, passionate discussion.

Fortnite recently ran the Boogie Down Challenge, which encouraged their fans to film and submit short, Vine-like videos performing their own personal dances. Called “emotes”, in-game dances are used to taunt opponents or celebrate with teammates. Tens of thousands of players entered and 100 winners received various prizes, including the grand prize of a personalized emote that was added to the game and now shared by millions of kids globally who play Fortnite.

Traditional Retailers have started incorporating advanced technologies and machine learning techniques to create more personalized experiences for customers. Those achievements are obviously best suited for the digital channel. This is good news because by 2022 it’s predicted that 41% of all brick and mortar sales will be digitally influenced. This is in addition to the $638B in ecommerce sales that’s projected for 2022.

Winning retailers need to adopt tactics like Fortnite’s Boogie Down Challenge to continue personalizing the customer experience and connecting with customers on and off-line. When they do, their customers will reward them with deeper brand loyalty.

Parents and Retailers Face Similar Challenges

Traditional retailers and parents of teenage boys have something in common. They both are competing for the attention of their most important constituents against a formidable foe. In the case of traditional retailers, Amazon is winning the battle as the market shifts to digital commerce. In the case of parents, their big nemesis is Fortnite. Ironically, Amazon also owns Twitch, the preferred streaming service of the Fortnite community.

One difference between traditional retailers and parents is the OFF button that exists on gaming devices (although Fortnite’s platform agnosticism means that keeping kids off devices isn’t as easy as it sounds). Retailers do not have such a luxury. Their Generation Z and millennial customers expect more from their shopping experiences and have contributed to the decline of old-school stores. Retailers need to evolve and adapt to these changing conditions.

To end with a Fornite comparison, if a player does not know how to build forts, utilize their weapons, and adjust strategies on-the-fly, they are not going to win many Battle Royale fights. Likewise, traditional retailers need to solve complex integration challenges, obsess about customer feedback, and strive to personalize customer experiences in order to stay on the battlefield. If they don’t, Amazon will snipe them.

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