When Does a Customer Experience Become A Gimmick?

This question goes to the heart of how you regard your customers. Do you view your customer interactions as transactions or as relationships? If you view customer interactions as transactions you are more likely to employ gimmicks to get your customers to buy something right now. If you view customer interactions as part of the customer relationship, you engage your customer with experience enhancements, with the intent of creating loyalty.


Some of the common gimmicks are sales, coupons, loyalty cards, or a gimmicky customer experience theme. Goody’s Clothing Stores was a prime example of using sales as a gimmick. I say “was” because Goody’s is no longer in business. My wife and I used to joke about Goody’s each week when the Wednesday newspaper arrived with the sales inserts. “Oh look, Goody’s is having a sale,” we said with mocked surprise. The truth is, Goody’s was always having a sale, which meant Goody’s was never really having a sale. It was a gimmick.

Loyalty schemes are also gimmicks to get customers to spend their money at the store with the lowest price, disguised as cards and points. The Buckle’s “Primo Card” is such a gimmick. For every $10 you spend, The Buckle punches your Primo Card. When you get 30 punches on your card, you get $10 off another purchase. A whopping 3.33% bonus for playing along. It’s a shame because these programs can be a vital, non-gimmicky, part of the experience, if they’re used to gain customer insights and create offers based on those insights.

Customer experience themes can also morph into gimmicks if they go too far. In their best selling book, The Experience Economy, authors Joe Pine and James Gilmore assert that business is a stage and recommend businesses create an engaging theme that alters the customer’s sense of reality. Effective experience themes create a place within a place. The difference between a real or a gimmick theme rests on the intent of the theme. It’s a gimmick if your intent is to manipulate the customer with theater. It’s not a gimmick if you engage the customer with something memorable and personal.

The real value of customer interactions is the opportunity to create loyalty, not just make a sale. Loyalty is an emotion and requires an emotional engagement, not a gimmick. The customer experience should differentiate your business with the purpose of building loyalty, and not to manipulate the customer into a temporary action such as making a quick purchase.

Do you have a gimmick, or do you deliver an engaging customer experience?

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