Nowadays, video games are a true behemoth. At the same time, there is another type of entertainment that grows in its shadow – we are currently witnessing a true revival of board games, characterised by quick growth of the entire sector, even in spite of restrictions caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. According to the latest estimates, the total value of this market is expected to grow to $30 billion by 2026, and studies show that the restrictions only spur growth. The market reached a value of $10,4 billion in 2019, $11,3 billion in 2020 (COVID-19) with $12,1 billion prediction in 2021. This rings particularly true in the context of online sales, which saw an enormous boost during the pandemic, as bricks and mortar stores, as well as board game conventions all got shut down.
This new situation upended the entire purchasing and distribution model previously prevalent in the industry. The insights of analysts looking at the board game industry have shown that e-commerce never dominated in the sales and the vast majority of players sourced their favourite titles from classic small game stores or large chains and supermarkets. As a result, game producers and distributors kept focusing on offline development and sales, without keeping up with online trends. In many cases, even if they had an online presence, their e-commerce tools were hardly adequate and using them was painful for customers. Many vendors taking advantage of the online channel in their business supplemented their – often lacking – solutions with sales via large platforms, such as Amazon, as well as crowdfunding websites – most notably Kickstarter and the increasingly popular Gamefound.
Interestingly enough, given the fact that offline sales dominated the landscape of the board game world, communication between players was far from traditional – word of mouth quickly got replaced with social media. As a result, this gave rise to an interesting niche, where offline purchases are made based on online knowledge sharing. What stops us then from moving the entire business online? The pandemic turned out to be an enormous issue for the traditional part of the industry – with lockdowns, closed stores and cancelled conventions. However, this situation may also be an opportunity to switch up trends and foster the use of e-commerce to sell products. The internet came to the rescue of producers, designers, distributors and players – with social media, blogs, discussion forums, properly designed websites and online stores. The niche, which enables vendors to combine the advantages of an offline product with online marketing and sales, remains enormous. This does not mean that achieving success is easy, as you need to understand what the board game industry, online communication and sales tools are all about.
There are several key areas of the industry that you need to focus on in order to be a successful vendor. Community is key, and a thriving community is everything. Players talk to each other about the latest games and news. They drive fundraisers and kickstarters, which are an important part of the business and ultimately it’s them who buy new titles. The power of the community grows with each new game, allows you to push sales boundaries, and reach new milestones.
The business models of the board and card game industry are very diverse, ranging from classic retail sales in bricks and mortar stores, through fundraisers on Kickstarter and Gamefound and selling products via a single distributor (such as Amazon), up to online sales. You should also get acquainted with the production and distribution processes of these games, as they are inextricably tied to sales models. In a nutshell, there are two main models of operation for companies in this industry:
🔴 Producers and publishers who sell licenses (often to other global publishers) but do not use the online channel to do so; albeit they post information about games and news on their websites and social media channels;
🔴 Producers and publishers selling games through their own e-commerce platforms, who build reach by promoting their own platform online.
Distribution of purchased games is also an important part of this business, as publishers have various ways of tackling this challenge – shipping games on their own with customer service, taking advantage of the services of logistics centres and distribution companies (dropshipping), as well as outsourcing with order automation.
Building an e-commerce platform for a board game producer or distributor can be a daunting challenge, since being effective and achieving success in this sector requires in-depth knowledge of the industry and well-thought-out solutions implemented on the platform. The best starting point for every new platform are goals and objectives. Start with setting a number of goals that the platform will help you fulfil. Of course, boosting sales is always going to be the overarching goal, and this translates into higher sales volumes, number of orders and average order value. In spite of that, it can also be worth your while analysing other goals and the added value of the platform, best based on the SMART model. The desired result of the platform combined with the specific product in this industry can be defined using the main tenets of the SMART concept (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound).
Some of the goals for such a platform may include:
The concept of a sales platform for a company in the board games industry can be divided into several key areas – e-commerce, customer service, community building, content and technology.
If you want to build an information and sales platform, the e-commerce component – or the sales part – is paramount. Some of the key aspects of this element of your new platform include attractive product presentation on the product page, the right purchasing path, a well-built cart system, up-selling and cross-selling modules, bundles, payment processing and so on. What is more, all these elements need to contribute to boosting the average order value (AOV) and sales.
However, for all this to work, you need to design the right purchasing paths to give you an idea of how your prospective customers are going to use the platform. As a result, you can choose the right content and functionality for each user screen. The most important characteristics of the purchasing path include simplicity, seamlessness and ease of use – it needs to be as short as possible and lead the buyer straight to a secure payment service.
In the case of the Gamelyn Games platform, we made the decision to divide it into a content and sales section, while designing all the paths in such a way that the user could always move from the content to the sales section, thus achieving the goal of increased sales.Dividing the platform in two.
🔴 Offer and product presentation is not only one of the most important aspects of an online store, but also a factor that has a direct impact on purchasing decisions – it can make or break your e-commerce channel. The product page should be as detailed as it can be – with pictures and a detailed description. You should also make sure to properly tag your products and build links so that your product is easily searchable. Product presentation is also where you can get your community involved – take advantage of recommendations, link to blogs, use forums, articles, reviews and so on. The purchasing process begins at this stage – but that does not mean that you cannot use cross-selling and up-selling techniques here. It might be worth your while showcasing bundles, similar or recently viewed products and so on.
🔴 Your shopping cart and ordering process should offer the most popular payment systems, as well as solutions that prevent abandoning carts and make shopping easy and user-friendly. For example, consider implementing coupons and gift cards at the checkout summary. You should also ensure transparency – do not forget to display shipping prices. It’s also a good idea to allow the customer to purchase additional items from the shopping cart, so that they can freely extend the purchase process. Do not hesitate to employ abandoned cart recovery techniques – e-mail and SMS reminders, discount window, remarketing techniques or chatbot support. User sign-ups just before the payment is often a great way to gain and keep a regular customer thanks to newsletters, alerts and deals – but you should also make shopping available without a sign-up, as this reduces cart abandonment rates.
🔴 Payments – this primarily concerns implementing the right payment methods, including credit card, PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay – great for mobile shopping. You should also take into account local payment systems – for example BLIK, if you are selling your products in Poland, and you might also offer a bank transfer option in some countries. The payment process needs to be quick and seamless – it is best if it does not include any long and unnecessary forms, hence the importance of using integrated solutions.
🔴 Cross-selling and up-selling are your basic techniques for boosting your average order value. Cross-selling means presenting related products somewhere along the purchasing path, such as expansions for the game the customer just purchased, card protectors, mats, gadgets and so on. Up-selling, on the other hand, concerns presenting more expensive, but bigger products, such as game bundles which are cheaper than buying them individually or collector’s editions.
To sum up, boosting the average order value is the most important area that you should focus on after taking care of the conversion rate optimisation if you would like to build a successful board game e-commerce platform. Some of the many ways to optimise AOV include game bundles and discounts for regular customers – this also encourages users to register with the platform and helps foster brand recognition and awareness.
In addition to up-selling and cross-selling techniques, you might also want to consider free deliveries above a certain order value threshold, as well as some of the many additional services: game upgrades, gadgets, free element replacement, other freebies, extended warranties, etc. There are many techniques and ways to increase AOV – and many of them hinge upon the marketing strategy you decide to go with and the platform you build and use. Sometimes measures that hardly seem suited to the industry in question – such as hire purchase – might work just fine and bring you some interesting outcomes, like further boosting your AOV by another few per cent.
This is one of the most important aspects of an online platform linked with specific products, such as board and card games. The right way to proceed here is to properly build user paths based on correctly described user stories, personas and well-designed interactions. The platform can also offer user accounts with various user categories, as well as different price brackets. One of the most important aspects of the customer experience is the possibility to order missing game elements for free. Serious publishers need to offer such things in their business models and provide the appropriate communication tools – order form, chatbot, and more.
Another thing that results in a great customer experience are automatic alerts when the products are out of stock and when they are restocked. Running out of stock and waiting for new batches is commonplace in this industry. Users should be aware of the fact that the game will be back on your virtual shelf – thanks to automation, they won’t have to keep that information in the back of their heads and they will not miss their opportunity when it is restocked. Tools like newsletter subscriptions and alerts, asking for feedback or reviews are also commonplace.
The game search engine is also important – you can implement it using a classic search engine, which displays games based on names, tags and so on. You can also use a more sophisticated tool like Gamefinder, which users can use to find the right game based on their criteria. Gamefinder is a simple quiz with several questions for the user, according to which the platform determines the right search results for them. The data stored in the user’s profile is useful for suggesting even more games based on their preferences and choices.
Communities are the be all and end all for your sales and brand recognition, and the reason for that is simple – communities are the key aspect of the board games industry. Fortunately, there are many tools that can foster community building on your platform. These include loyalty schemes, bonuses, ranks awarded for seniority and activity on the platform, user interaction tools, comments, discussion forums, tutorials, blog posts, recommendations, ratings and more. You should not overlook integrating your platform with social media and promoting other ways of finding new users and driving sales – for example crowdfunding campaigns. It is best if the activity of your community is closely linked to the content of your platform. You should also try and drive other users’ activity on the platform – in order to do so, you might try and exploit their FOMO.
The content layer of the platform is essential – without it, you cannot drive communication or sales. What is content? Content is everything – from your blog posts, news, reviews and manuals, up to your product presentations linked with information. You want the news to concern specific products and – if possible – boost their sales. You can also take advantage of several tools that engage your community, allowing you to expand the reviews and content base, promote your brand and further foster community engagement. You should consider informing your users about crowdfunding campaigns, although at this point you need to link it with this particular sales channel through articles, posts, banners and other elements. This becomes particularly important on the first step of the purchasing path – on the product page. This is where you should include all the links to user-generated content, reviews, blog and so on. What is more, every page on the platform should have links to the product pages that are mentioned or showcased in the relevant content. In other words, you must always lead the user back to the purchasing path. Any content published in the context of the product in places other than the product page is particularly valuable, since it boosts the value of the brand, as well as the product page.
Choosing the right technology is paramount if you want to build a sustainable platform. Regardless of whether you decide to go with a bespoke tool or any of the available proprietary or open source frameworks, ensuring its stability, performance and quick page load are a must. Do not make the mistake of overlooking a mobile version – nearly 70% of the world’s Internet users access the internet using a mobile device. This is particularly important since the gaming community extensively uses social media channels to communicate and share information – that’s how they get to crowdfunding campaigns, to Kickstarter, and that’s how they find the Instagram profile of their favourite publishers. Mobile surpassed desktops and laptops a long time ago – that is why you should make every effort to ensure that going from a crowdfunding page to the publisher’s website should be as seamless as possible on any mobile device. The above also means that you need to be able to process mobile payments – solutions such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, which are an integral part of the mobile flow, are perfect examples of outstanding customer experience in the board game industry.
We also decided to put some emphasis on the increasingly popular mobile channels and make it easier for mobile users to navigate the website, while improving the content base of the platform, including such innovative solutions as the Gamelyn Gazette.Implementation for one of the most popular board game publishers – Gamelyn Games.
The aspects listed above seem to be the most crucial and relevant to planning, designing and building a platform for a company in the board and card game industry. However, that’s not all – there are other things that may provide added value in addition to the main tool. Above all, you need to make sure that your new website offers outstanding design and usability. The visuals are an important thing to focus on, since it has an enormous bearing on the objectives and goals before the implementation starts – the right visuals can help you promote your brand, foster trust and make it easy for the users to navigate your website, thus improving your conversion rates. A well-executed design and UX also needs to include a mobile version – all because these days, users are increasingly using these platforms on their mobile devices.
When building their new platform, we decided to focus not only on the right architecture and structure, but also on beautiful and useful visuals – consistent with the brand, as well as the style and spirit of their games.Implementation for Gamelyn Games.
Running an e-commerce platform might also require you to take advantage of other digital marketing tools, some of the most important of which include e-mail marketing and remarketing. Post-sales support, as well as off-platform activities which link back to the platform can greatly contribute to achieving your business objectives, including boosting sales and conversion rates, lowering the bounce rate and fostering platform loyalty. The possibilities are endless. You can showcase offers, deals and bundles, offer lower prices, use quizzes for finding the right games, offer gift cards and many more things. What is more, you can also remind people who signed up for your e-mail offers about the latest deals, promote new products, offer discounts and much more.
Building a well-rounded platform also requires implementing modules that enable seamless communication with customer service, as well as getting a chatbot that offers quick answers to the most common questions. While taking care of all of that, do not forget about SEO and page load speed.
Building a board and card game platform is not an easy task, since it requires knowledge of the industry, as well as the being up to speed with the latest trends in design and UX. Even the technical implementation of the platform poses quite a challenge, even if you decide to go with ready-made e-commerce solutions – the degree of complexity and sophistication of such a platform can be daunting to many. Despite the difficulties, it is definitely an ambitious and interesting challenge to tackle – and the prize for successfully overcoming all the obstacles will be a successful new sales channel, as well as a community of loyal users who will help you achieve your sales targets.