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WinUru Wants To Help Customers Win At Commerce (Literally)

Shopping done right can feel like a victory, especially when consumers manage to “save” more than they spend and/or when they snag what others said was impossible to find.

But the folks at WinUru have a very different idea about how consumers can win at commerce — ideas that are much, much more literal. This Idaho-based startup (yes, Idaho) and its staff consider themselves pioneers in the field of “shoppertainment,” and their goal is simple: to gamify shopping.

Its path is not the only unusual thing about WinUru, however; its starting point is also a little unusual. While startups have their favorite haunts — Boston, Seattle and, of course, the Valley — WinUru’s home is … a little different.

Unless, of course, Ketchum, Idaho, is where you think about when you think eCommerce innovation — specifically, the Ketchum Innovation Center, a business incubator launched in 2014.

“We’re not Seattle,” noted Jon Duval, executive director of the Ketchum Innovation Center. “We’re not San Francisco. We’re better. We have an unmatched lifestyle. There’s going to be a certain percentage of people who are super smart who realize they can do [a startup] from anywhere and want to go out skiing at lunchtime. You can have both.”

A home that allowed WinUru and its founder and CEO Will Gardenswartz a space outside “mainstream tech central” to think hard about how to do eCommerce differently — specifically, how to draw customers to a business without being just another online discounter.

Discounting online — simple discounting — is tough to make work because Amazon is going to do that better, and if they can’t, waiting right behind them is Walmart. If you look at all the trouble Jet.com looks like it’s having, it might be easy to start second-guessing. Was this really a good race to get involved in?

Gardenswartz decided that for WinUru a different tack was needed. And from a desire to do something different was born WinUru, the gamified eCommerce marketplace. And the game is an American classic: bingo.

The concept is pretty simple: With the help of an animated game hostess, “Winny Dinero” (and her sidekick, Sammy Yatta, a jolly sumo wrestler), consumers on WinUru’s site can play a 10-minute game of bingo. The winner snags a cash prize, usually worth somewhere between a dollar and $25. The amount of the winnings is determined by two things: the first is the number of players in the game, and the second is how much stuff in the game gets bought.

The bingo cards, you see, instead of having numbers on them, have goods for sale on the marketplace. Every time one of those goods gets bought during the game, the value of the pot goes up. Some special goods in the game also come with a “bonus card,” meaning if a player purchases that card during the game, they essentially get another crack at winning.

“We’re trying to push ‘shoppertainment,’ an idea that shopping itself can be enhanced by playing a game while you do it. A simple game. It doesn’t get much easier than bingo,” Gardenswartz noted.

Some have described WinUru as putting “QVC, the Price is Right and a massively multiplayer game like World of Warcraft in a blender.”

The concept is new for the U.S. market, Gardenswartz noted, but similar concepts have been put to work to great effect in Southeast Asia.

“The true inspiration for WinUru comes from Japan where shopping games like Fukubukuro have been around for over a hundred years,” continued Gardenswartz.

Fukubukuro is a New Year’s tradition in Japan where merchants make “grab bags” full of goods and then sell them to customers — site unseen, no peaking in the bag ahead of time — for a substantial discount.

“We also see a legendary promotional game here in the U.S. every couple of years when McDonald’s runs its Monopoly game. How many people do you know who’ve made lunch choices based on getting another piece, even if all they are getting is $2 free fries or a chance to maybe win cash later.”

But the problem with promotional games, Gardenswartz noted, is that for small and medium merchants, it’s just not technically feasible because they are complicated and logistically difficult. WinUru is betting that by putting the game elements in place ahead of time, it can make the proposition of its marketplace attractive to merchants.

“The service is new. It just recently emerged from a year of beta testing armed with an undisclosed amount of angel investment. The goal now is to bring the gamified commerce model to the masses.”

The idea is different, Gardenswartz says, but ultimately he thinks it can work.

And since the games are free, they might just offer everyone their favorite kind of gambling: the type where one can only win without the possibility of loss. And you can get some really cool stuff while you’re there. What’s not to love?

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