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How small businesses can make 'Pokemon Go' work for them

How to catch 'em — playing customers, that is


July 15, 2016

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    The brand-new mobile game Pokemon Go was an instant hit and, as I write this 11 days after its release, shows no sign of stopping.
    The game, produced by Niantic Labs and Nintendo, has increased Nintendo’s market cap by billions. It's free-to-play but with buyable in-game items, and the Los Angeles Times estimates it’s making $1.6 million dollars a day even before its global rollout is completed.
     But why should Nintendo and Niantic have all the financial fun? Small businesses, it’s time to cash in while the fad is hot.
     What makes Pokemon Go different is that it’s not a sit-in-one-place, thumb-twiddling digital Skinner box of a game. The point is to catch little digital critters and pit them against each other in charmingly non-lethal battles and you have to travel to do it.
     Physical, real-life locations are represented in the game as “Pokestops,” where players get useful game items, and “Pokemon Gyms,” where these “pocket monsters” do battle. These locations, as well as potential locations for the Pokemon themselves, show up on a GPS-like phone display.
     If players want to “catch them all,” they’ve got to find them, and that means physically being within a few yards of a Pokemon's location. Thanks to Pokemon Go, people are exploring their cities and towns like never before.
    The effect on small business is no joke. I saw large groups of people up and leave a popular Statesboro restaurant when news got out that a Pikachu was catchable at a bar across town.
    If you have a storefront, you may have noticed the increase in foot traffic. Here’s how to get them to come inside your door.

    Charge 'em up. Pokemon Go is hard on phones’ batteries. Anyone planning to play more than a couple of hours better have some way to recharge. Offer ready-to-plug-in charging stations for phones inside your store to help out people who don’t have auxiliary batteries. They’ll thank you and want to stay for a while.
     If you’re into retail, it might make sense to stock up on a few mobile phone battery packs they’re not terribly expensive, but they're becoming must-have items for serious players.

     Lure 'em in.
How does a free-to-play game make millions? Add-ons that cost real money. One is called a “Lure Module.” When attached to a Pokestop, it attracts more and better Pokemon to its location, which also can draw players to your store if you’re lucky enough to have a nearby Pokestop.
     It takes a little financial investment, though: $100 gets you 14,500 “Pokecoins,” the in-game currency. Those 14,500 Pokecoins can buy 21 packs of eight Lure Modules. Each of those 168 Lure Modules, when applied to a Pokestop, lures in monsters for 30 minutes.
     Crunching the numbers, that’s $100 for 84 hours, so for $1.19 an hour, you can make a Pokestop and the surrounding area an irresistible hangout for players looking for rarer, stronger Pokemon.
     If you’ve got the money to spare and someone who’s willing to drop Lures on Pokestops every half-hour, you could take it a step further and make a path of Lure-enabled Pokestop breadcrumbs to your door.

    You can rename your Pokemon.
Personally, I tend to name my strongest ones after Georgia Southern presidents (Pidgeots Jean Bartels and Bruce Grube are two of my strongest right now, but Oddish Nick Henry is no slouch, either). Turn Pokemon-naming into a trivia contest. Offer a discount to anyone who comes in your store and shows you a Pokemon named after the owner, a new item you have on sale or your store’s slogan. Get creative.

     Put your business on the map.
After a Pokemon is caught, a map display shows where it was captured. Players can also take pictures of the Pokemon they’re trying to catch in their native real-world habitat. Why not offer discounts or bonuses if someone catches a particular Pokemon species in or around your store? For example, “Get 10 percent off if you catch a Pikachu inside!”
     You can get even more specific with it. Each Pokemon has a CP (combat power) rating. Give customers a free small drink if they catch a Rattata (distressingly common) with a CP of more than 100 (not quite so common).

     Those eggs aren’t going to hatch themselves. One of the items available at Pokestops are “Eggs,” which are, well, eggs. They contain a variety of Pokemon, and to make them hatch, players have to walk. Rarer, stronger Pokemon tend to come out of eggs that take more distance to hatch, coming in 2 kilometer (1.24 miles), 5 kilometer (3.11 miles) and 10 kilometer (6.21 miles) varieties.
    
Seems counterintuitive to encourage players to get out and walk, right? Not in the slightest. Why not hand them maps that show an efficient 2km, 5km or 10km circuit that leads them right back to your door? Note on the map where the Pokestops and Gyms are on the way, and offer an incentive for when they return from their journey “Hatch a 10km egg with us and get $10 off your next appointment,” for example.

     The teams are fiercely competitive. Players choose between one of three teams: red, blue or yellow. Have incentives for each on separate days, like giving Blues a little something extra on Tuesdays.
     For non-profits, charities can encourage team-based giving, e.g. “Whichever color donates the most gets a banner outside of our building!”

 

    Share those Pokefamily photos! When capturing Pokemon, players can shoot pictures of the cute li'l critters in their native real-world environment. Why not offer incentives for sharing pics of Pokemon in your location on social media with your slogan, hashtag or other promotional bits?
    And if you're playing yourself, make sure to take advantage if a Clefairy shows up right in front of your business' sign. Take a screenshot and post it everywhere.

    Editor's note: This article was updated at 11:02 on July 18 to include the "Share those Pokefamily photos" tip. It was also edited at 10:35 a.m. on July 19 when we realized that a Pokemon's new name is not visible to other players when you leave that Pokemon at the gym. The editor probably could have fact-checked that one, but she can't play the game because she has a Windows phone, so she's really the victim here if you think about it. More updates may be made as people get more familiar with the game, since this genie isn't likely to go back in the bottle anytime soon. 

 


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