Unexpected gamification: the sales madness

They make you buy stuff, and you think it’s so cool! Yep! Woot.com is a retail website that uses a very efficient strategy to make sure the buyer comes back every day. So efficient that they can afford to be very liberal with their product descriptions.

“One Deal, One Day.” That’s the motto of the retail website Woot.com. The principle is simple: each day, one new product is available at a very competitive price. Only one product per day. In a limited quantity. From midnight to 23:59:59.
First rule of woot.com : One product every day.
Second rule of woot.com : One. Product. Every. Day!
Third rule : Every product is available in a limited quantity.
Fourth rule : You have no way of knowing what product will be on offer tomorrow.
Fifth rule : Sales run from midnight till 23:59:59.
Sixth and final rule : If it’s your first time on woot.com, you have to fight!

(Ok, they haven’t gone so far (yet?..). The last rule is just a movie-inspired joke.)


The ingenious business model of woot.com (acquired by Internet giant Amazon) has been a hit and has rightfully earned its badge of originality.



What is it about these rules that makes customers come back again and again to the site?

The first rule creates desire. If you want to jump at the chance of a good deal, you have to get the product on offer today.

2nd rule: Same thing. It’s the same rule.

3rd rule: The limited quantity creates a feeling of scarcity. If you want the deal, you have to hurry, you have to be there first.

4th rule: No one can know what deal will be proposed tomorrow. So your curiosity is piqued. At one minute past midnight, you’ll enter the URL in the search bar (yeah, that’s a bit old school), just to see what today’s deal is.

5th rule: From midnight to midnight. The rules are simple. They apply to everyone and favour no one (even though the insomniac will have an edge on the narcoleptic).

6th rule: We already told you we made this rule up.

From a “gaming” point of view, since that is what we are interested in here, we find some well-known mechanisms of video games:

  • The daily quest of a RPG: If you want to get bonus experience points – or strike a bargain – you have to come back every day.
  • Learning through experience: Day 1: you come at 6pm. Too late, out of stock. Day 2: 11am. Same thing. Day 3: you set your alarm to 5am and buy a drill that you will never use in your life, will lend to a neighbour some day and never see again. But you finally made a good deal!
  • The random aspect: Will you be there on time? Will the product be interesting? This random element exists in most games.
  • Curiosity will make you come back: What does the next stage or level – the next product – look like?
  • The rules: Simple, self-explanatory, same for everyone.


So quite simply, Woot.com created mecanisms which effectively influence consumers and which Yu-Kai Chou labels as (1):

  • Scarcity
  • Curiosity
  • Impatience
  • Unpredictability
  • Creativity of the customer in developing the best strategy

About this last point, see this link: a whole internet page written by a “fan” to explain the best way to get a particular product.

A tutorial! A tutorial which is quite long and detailed, by someone who is not one of your employees, and dedicated to how to behave on your website!

This is all you want to achieve when promoting your brand: creating a community, addiction, sense of belonging, etc. It’s your CEO/CMO dream come true!


Last but not least: the tone and language on Woot.com. It is funny, light, ironic, and sometimes even disparaging about the item of the day.

As Yu-Kai Chou says, having a nice tone is a good thing. But if it’s not part of a whole strategy, the impact will be minor.

In this case, it’s all about fun and addiction. The customer wants to know what the product is and feels compelled to make a good deal, today, whatever the product is. A kind of shopping hysteria. So the benefits of hilarious product descriptions that make people come back just to read them largely make up for the tiny fraction of potential customers who might be put off by the disparaging tone.


Brilliant, isn’t it?


(1) Yu-Kai Chou, Actionable Gamification: Beyond points, badges and leaderboards, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.