Posts Tagged "the hunt"

The Hunt – the past and future of mystery shopping

awards, game-based-learning, gamification, serious about games

The story behind one of the of the longest running gamification projects ever

Useless Training & Mysteryshopping

In the early OO’s, I worked for a training company in retail. Week after week, I trained shop employees in the basics of guest experience and selling; how to greet customers, how to engage with them, and how to sell stuff. And I was pretty happy with my training program; We watched ‘Cliff’s view on customer service’ (we just switched from VHS to DVD), we had a great program (called: GOAL), we roleplayed and practiced, and I used quite some humour (or, I like to think I did).

Our training company actually consisted of two companies; one for training, and one for mystery shopping. Quite often they would work together. For some clients, let’s say ‘Halfords’ –  a retail chain in car accessories and  bikes, with  stores in every mayor city – we would do  both. Every month I would have a new group of trainees coming from different stores, and every 3 months we would do mysteryshopping in all stores.  After every visit, all shopmanagers would receive a four-page report on how they had scored;

During my trainings I would ask about the mystery reports. Interestingly, most of the time I would get one of these two answers:

  1. ‘We scored great. We’re doing good’
  2. ‘That mysteryvisit was on a busy saturday afternoon / when the new guy worked / … other excuse, so we had a bad score. Normally we’re doing good.

In short, mystery shopping results had no significant meaning for those working in the shops. Either way, there was no incentive or reason to change. At best, it was a compliment, otherwise just an unfair and bad timed snapshot, not representative of their normal standards.

The other thing was… the results of my training. Surely it should be so that mysteryshopping results in shops that were trained by me should be higher than in those of shops which had not had my awesome sales training. But that was not the case. In fact, looking at the results there was no reason at all to believe that my training had any impact.

Still hopeful I could inspire the young sales force at Halfords, I put even more energy into my trainings. But at the end of Day 1 of my two-day training sessions I would see my pupils doze off. Somehow, a stuffy conference centre with cardboard ceiling and fluorescent light seemed not to be the optimal environment for learning about selling to real customers on the real shopfloor.

The break

It was on one of those end-of-day-1 nights that I found myself at the hotel-bar, wondering if it wouldn’t be better to stop training at all. And at the same time wondering where my trainees were, because we would meet at the bar for a drink – usually the favourite part of the two-day program. I went up to the third floor of the hotel and found them in of the rooms, where they hooked up a Nintendo 64 tot the hotels bulky TV. (remember, it was 2003). They were taking turns, and if they were not playing, they would watch and cheer for the others.

Three days later I went to my boss with a clear but daring message; ‘I am not training those retail salespeople any more’. Both amused and annoyed he asked me if I had an alternative. One that would have value for the client, would be as good as training and would still bring in money for us as a company. I had.

‘Instead, I want to play a game with them, using our mysteryshoppers’.

The kick-off

My plan to let sales employees ‘hunt’ and reveal the ‘mystery man’ by having a great interaction with them (using a specific codeword in their conversation),  was met with hesitation. Nonetheless I was allowed to pitch the idea at Halfords, for a board of area managers, sales managers and the head of training. Two months later, we kicked of The Hunt;

105 store managers were gathered at Halfords Headquarters, where – after the necessary company updates, the houselights went down. On a big screen, a trailer-like video  introduced ‘The Hunt’; a thrilling three-week program with one clear objective: ‘Catch as many mystery men as possible’. In the dying seconds of the clip, just as the houselights faded back on, one of the mobile phones in audience beeped from an incoming text message. Then another, and within seconds about 100 (mostly Nokia) phones went off. After reading ‘The Hunt starts NOW’, managers started to phone their colleagues in the stores… From that moment on, for three weeks the game was on.

 Data from mysteryshopper came in almost realtime. Results, stories and reveals where shared on the ‘The Hunt’ page on the companies intranet. (Yes, intranet. It was 2003, and all stores had one computer back of house for their orders). There was a feed-function where branches could share, brag and cooperate with – or mislead – competing storeteams. There were updates and hints from the mysteryshoppers, a leaderboard, photos from employees who caught the mystery man and  a codeword – to be incorporated in your customer conversation – that would change every three days.

The results

The results were astonishing and were backed by hard data. Employees became highly alert. For example, measurement from before The Hunt showed that 48% of people entering the store would be greeted;  during The Hunt that would be 89%. Employees approached more customers, became more creative and social in sales conversation, they had more contact with other stores and in the end… they sold more. By focussing their behaviour on customer interactions for three weeks in a row, within the context of a game – but with real world impact , they trained themselves much better than I could in my two day conference-room-training.

Another hard result was the company’s revenue. Halfords reported a 4,7% increase in turnover  in the weeks of The Hunt (compared to the same weeks the year before).  Converted into hard cash, that would be more than they would spend on training and development of all their employees in a whole year. They were more than happy.

Other great side-effects were related to non-players (nowadays we would call them muggles; ‘normal’ customers visiting the store, not aware of ‘The Hunt’ being played in alternate reality). Shoppers would report a vibrant atmosphere, more attention from the staff, and overall a more pleasant shopping experience.

The players themselves – about a 1000 Halfords employees – were very enthusiastic about the Hunt. From the moment the program ended they were asking for a new episode.

The Hunt became a yearly highlight for Halfords. Since then we played The Hunt for other retailers, supermarkets, banks, and hospitality. Over the years we learned and tweaked the format, and we keep adopting it to new developments (new communication platforms, for example). What remains is the core of The Hunt; impactful learning and results, directly on the workfloor.

In 2003, the term ‘Gamification’ was unknown, just like ‘Game Based Learning’. In hindsight, The Hunt was and ís gamification, As The Hunt is still played today, I am proud of calling it ‘one of the of the longest running gamification project ever.

Is there a future for The Hunt? Oh yes, there is! If you would have asked me 17 years ago ‘Is there a future for classroom-style sales training for retail’, I would definitely say ‘no’. I am baffled by the fact that this type of training is still so widespread, while there are better alternatives. To me, ‘The Hunt’ is surely on of them.

Michiel van Eunen, October 2020


Date: okt 9, 2020
AUTHOR: Michiel van Eunen

The Hunt

game-based-learning, gamification, serious about games, ,

The Hunt:

The use of Alternate Reality Games for workforce gamification, recruitment and brand loyalty

A tall, blond man enters the store. Besides the two women at the end of the aisle, he is the only customer. He wears sunglasses, a blue-checkered shirt, worn jeans and lemon green sport shoes. You look around and signal your colleagues, crossing your fingers and discretely pointing to the man: ‘Could this be him?’

You approach him like you would engage with any customer: open and friendly. You make eye contact, ask him how you can help and you start a conversation. The man seems a bit surprised by your interest and positive attention. Seemingly shy, he tells you what he is looking for. Now it’s your moment to strike: You look him straight in the eyes and say ‘Well. it’s not on ‘offer’ today, but I do have it over here…’. The man frowns a little, but does not respond. You try again: ‘Can I ‘offer’ you a cup of coffee…?’ – deliberately stressing the code-word: ‘offer’, this time…

Pleasantly surprised, the blond man accepts your coffee. You are able to help him perfectly. He ends up buying more than he intended to, meanwhile valuing his visit as super-friendly.

At the moment he leaves the store – just a minute after the two women – you feel your smartphone buzzing in your pocket. You take it out and you immediately notice the push- notification in the middle of your screen: You’ve been visited by X.

Mysteryshopping-TheHuntThis is not a story from a spy novel. It’s a real-life experience of a young salesman working at a retail store. Together with his team he is part of ‘The Hunt’; an Alternate Reality Game that is played with the whole company for 5 weeks. The objective is to discover X ; a mystery man (or woman) that will visit the store a number of times throughout the 5 weeks. X can only be revealed using a specific code-word (that changes every 2 or 3 days, and is communicated through the X. smartphone app).

What is an Alternate Reality Game?

An Alternate Reality Game (ARG) is a highly engaging game (that is not a game*), weaving the real world with a fictional world through a compelling backstory, using different media, subtle gameplay, and influence from the community that plays it. (It has nothing to do with augmented reality or virtual reality)

The impact of Augmented Reality Games

To me, ARG’s like The Hunt are amongst the best and most impactful applications of Gamification. Why? Because of the typical ARG ingredients:

  • It is not a game.*

A good ARG denies that it actually is a game. The idea that it could be real drives the engagement. One of the largest ARG’s ever played – Ingress – actually states that it is not a game, both in the trailer video (at 0:10) as well as in the game (You have downloaded what you believe to be a game, but it is not. Something is very wrong). Being part of something that is not a game can’t be dismissed, as ‘It’s just a game’.

  • It has a strong story

A lot of games have a very thin narrative supporting their game. Angry Birds has a backstory, but it’s mainly there to set the stage. The game is mostly about throwing birds at pigs. A good ARG has a compelling backstory. It provides context, meaning and purpose. Stories emotionally involve us. In most ARG’s you start out with just a few parts of the story. It evolves as it is played. The best thing is: the community (people playing the ARG) can have an impact on how the story plays out.

  • It fosters collaboration

ARG’s are designed for a hive mind. You have to share information to progress or keep an advantage in the game. In The Hunt, teams of players could share information – for example about the identity of X, the place he was seen the last time, or tips on how to incorporate the code-word into sales conversation – with team members in other locations.

  • It has real-world impact

One of the main reasons that ARG’s are so gripping for players is their proximity to reality. It’s there, and it’s not. The game itself can’t be seen by others, but it is real for the player. In the same sense that muggles can’t see the magical world of Harry Potter, or that we can’t see Pokémon’s around us unless have the Pokémon Go app. (by the way: also created by Niantic Labs, the makers of Ingress). We do share the same playground: the real world.

In The Hunt, anyone walking into the store could be the mystery man (or woman). It makes every encounter with a customer more exciting and focuses your attention. This sensation in essence drives your behavior to be even more customer-focused. The game triggers you to engage with everyone walking into your store.

The Hunt also had ‘side’ effects on customers (not playing the game): They were greeted more than before, they picked up on the positive and alert vibe in the shops, they had more interactions with the sales staff, and eventually they bought more. (average purchase value per customer went up, as well as the total turnover for the entire company over the 5 weeks the ARG was played)

Why should you use an ARG?

Let’s say you want to engage and drive certain behavior in a large group of people: your employees. You have some options:

  1. Tell them how to do it (training, procedures, rules)
  2. Show them how to do it (training, e-learning, peer-to-peer learning, lead by example)
  3. Trigger them to do it:

When it comes to changing behavior, it’s almost never about the HOW. You really don’t need to teach people how they should engage with customers, for example. They do need to know something about the WHY of your company, but that’s also something they should experience from the company culture (and not just because you told them). In a positive scenario, your people are – for a large part – driven by your company values. Besides that, they might be motivated by extrinsic (salary, bonuses, commission) or intrinsic rewards (for example: personal development, sense of belonging).

Since Dan Pink made a good case about what really drives us (and no, that’s not money), we know we do well to focus our attention to dynamics like autonomy, mastery and purpose. All of these are natural ingredients in games. Of course, games can vary in the cocktail of motivators they use to engage players: scaling from more extrinsic (achievements, points, badges, leaderboards) to more intrinsic: (epic meaning & calling, empowerment of creativity & feedback, social influence).

While a lot of Gamification initiatives lean on competition and towards extrinsic drivers, Alternate Reality Games evolve more around intrinsic motivators. It naturally taps into what Gamification pioneer Yu-kai Chou calls ‘Right Brain’ Gamification.

For what could you use an ARG?

Provided they are well executed, ARG’s are exciting and they can have a huge impact on a large group of people. You can use them within your company – with your employees being the hero’s – or create one for your customers to connect them to your brand.

Uses of ARGs

Some of these might be evident; within your company you could use an ARG to let your employees ‘discover’ a new CRM system that will be implemented, to let newcomers ‘infiltrate’ during their onboarding and learn about the company, or to turn your people into ambassadors for your mission and values, or for your new product campaign.

ARG’s are also great to for marketing & brand loyalty. The Why So Serious campaign for the Batman film The Dark Knight, was arguably the best ARG campaign ever, playing for over 15 months, with over 11 million unique participants in over 75 countries.

For me, the most interesting type of ARG’s are those on the edge, where your company is in contact with the outside world. I’ve used The Hunt as my favorite example, because it shows the impact of the ARG on customers at the touchpoint where it matters most: the direct face-to-face interaction between your people and your customers.

Why wait?

Well, don’t. The use of Alternate Reality Games for workforce gamification, recruitment or brand loyalty isn’t mainstream – yet. If you consider investing in one of these areas, you set yourself apart. Create a huge impact with the excitement and engagement that comes with ARG’s. Don’t mistake it for being ‘ just a game’. It is not.

This article was also published on Linkdin in Oct 28, 2016


The Hunt – Play Now

In the last few years, we ran ‘The Hunt’ with clients ranging from retail & supermarkets to banks. Penetration with tools like Speakapp and Whatsapp (or existing platform apps within a company) reinforces engagement, and make employees thrive within the game – and in their real-life job.



The Hunt is one of the longest-running gamification programs in the world (since 2003). Together with our partner Inprove Mysteryshopping, we are able to run The Hunt for almost any company. Maybe even yours…

Date: aug 1, 2020
AUTHOR: Michiel van Eunen