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How gamification can help consumers reach their savings goals

By Nethal Hashim, Irene Scopelliti and Janina Steinmetz
Posted on December 10, 2020

Current saving behaviour in Europe is looking bleak. Almost 1 in 3 Europeans (29%) have no savings at all, and a further 36% have three months or less of monthly income stockpiled, putting them at risk in case of a financial emergency.1 Not having enough savings can lead to financial difficulties such as personal bankruptcy or expensive credit card debt.

The end goal of our research is to help consumers become better at achieving their saving goals. We examine the potential effectiveness of gamification, which has been used successfully in other domains to motivate consumers to pursue their goals. Gamification refers to the use of game elements (think of badges, leaderboards and levels) within otherwise ‘serious’ activities, for example exercising or learning2. People usually find such activities more enjoyable when gamified: the elements used in gamification make them feel as if they are playing a game.

“Gamification can mitigate the psychological pain of saving and make it more immediately gratifying.”

Motivation through gamification

This effect is particularly useful for motivating behaviour that is psychologically painful. Consumers often face self-control dilemmas when trying to stick to habits that are psychologically painful in the short run (such as saving money), even if these behaviours help maximize their long-term well-being3. Saving can be difficult because, in order to reach their saving goal, consumers must forego the immediate gratification of spending money on something they would like. Gamification can mitigate the psychological pain of saving by introducing immaterial rewards. The enjoyment users experience when engaging with game elements (feeling accomplished for receiving a ‘milestone badge’, or for making it to the top of a leaderboard) can make the act of saving more immediately gratifying.

Engaging with gamification entails few costs for the consumer, and can be had for cheap. When gamified, the same activity (like setting money aside for saving) can be done just as quickly, but with more fun. Adding game elements to consumer environments such as smartphone applications is not very costly for designers, making a typical gamified app no more expensive for consumers than its non-gamified alternative.

Experimenting with two web apps

We recruited 353 UK participants to take part in a 4-week study between November 9 and December 7 2020. We timed the study to finish before the Christmas season, when savings are often necessary to allow for the extra expenses that typically arise. At the beginning of the study, we asked our participants to set a 4-week saving goal that they could realistically achieve, such as saving for the upcoming holiday season or a particular purchase, or to build a financial buffer. They were then randomly assigned to use one of two versions of a web app that tracked and monitored their saving progress.

The simple version was a tracking platform showing participants the goal they set and the money they already saved. To adjust and monitor the amount of money they have saved, participants controlled an ‘add savings’ and a ‘decrease savings’ button. The web app displayed an indicator stating how many days were left to achieve the goal, and also included saving tips and instructions on how to set up virtual piggy banks with some of the most popular banks in the UK.

The other version of the web app implemented gamification: in addition to the simple features as described above, it included a leaderboard, allowing participants to compete with other participants on their savings goal achievement, a progress bar, and various badges that participants could earn when reaching certain savings milestones (like reaching half of their goal).

We monitored the amount of money saved by participants in proportion to their saving goal. We also observed the frequency with which participants tracked new savings, their satisfaction with the amount of money they saved, and the extent to which they found using the app useful and enjoyable. At the end of the fourth week, we asked participants how likely they would be to recommend the web app to someone else, and how likely they would keep using the web app if they had the option to.

Initial results and expected findings

We just finished conducting our experiment, and will be analysing the results in the coming few weeks, but our initial results show that after the first three weeks, participants using the gamified web app had saved more money in proportion to their saving goal. We expect that game elements can indeed increase people’s motivation to track and monitor their saving behaviour. This would suggest that gamification makes consumers more likely to achieve their saving goal, and to be happier with the amount they managed to save. We also expect the game elements to increase the likelihood that participants would recommend the web app to someone else. Saving often entails only delayed gratification and is difficult in the short run. Gamification can help make saving a more enjoyable experience, at no additional cost to the consumer.

In addition to our main hypothesis, we are also exploring the impact of personality traits such as debt aversion, self-control, financial literacy, future orientation, tightwad vs. spendthrift tendencies, and playfulness on user motivation to track and monitor saving behaviour through gamification. We hope that our research will contribute to consumers’ well-being and financial security by making the pursuit of their saving goals more enjoyable and easier to achieve. We plan to publish our results in March, so stay tuned.

References

  • ING. (2017). Europeans saving less, spending more. Retrieved from https://www.ing.com/Newsroom/News/Europeans-saving-less-spending-more-.htm
  • Huotari, K., & Hamari, J. (2017). A definition for gamification: anchoring gamification in the service marketing literature. Electronic Markets, 27, 21–31.
  • Frederick, S., Loewenstein, G., & O’Donoghue, T. (2003). Time discounting and time preference: A critical review. In Time and Decision: Economic and Psychological Perspectives on Intertemporal Choice (pp. 13–86).