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The role of frictionless shopping in today's business environment

Want to save your brick-and-mortar retail business? Get personal, or frictionless, advises Plexure's Craig Herbison.

One of the big retail predictions for 2018 is that brands are going to double down on the customer experience: making shopping more personal, engaging, relationship driven and therefore, frictionless. But what is frictionless retail and how will it help our brick and mortar retail environments?

Frictionless is the new retail ‘buzz word’ and rightfully so, with the likes of Amazon Go and Alibaba now providing the world’s most advanced shopping experiences using smart technology and the Internet of Things. The aim – to rid the retail experience of friction, but is it really that simple?

Anything that distracts, impedes or interrupts us is a point of friction: whether it’s an annoying popup when reading product reviews online, or unexpectedly long queues at the supermarket checkout. Pulling someone out of their happy place creates a risk that their entire experience will be derailed.

Online shopping requires little effort: if something annoys me on the current site, I click away and try somewhere else. In-store shopping requires more of my time and if something there annoys me, it’s much harder to brush off. Not only am I still in the store (and not happy about it), it will then take me longer to go somewhere else and try again.

Many customers visit stores to get more information or advice than they can get online: assistance deciding between alternatives, a better sense of the size or quality, or feedback on fit or feel. If it’s too hard or too busy, why not just shop online?

This is currently the dilemma the retail industry faces and the supposed “doom” of all physical stores. Removing all friction is an exciting way of shopping, however, retailers need to be realistic in regards to available resources (not everyone’s Amazon) but also careful they don’t jeopardize their in-store point of difference.

Positive friction:

The removal of negative friction may be a key way to improve the customer experience, but the removal of ALL friction will have the opposite effect, as there will no longer be an ‘experience’ left to enjoy.

Positive friction is about encouraging a mental attitude in customers that will result in an increase in both time and money spent.

So what does this positive friction look like?

  • Being greeted by name when you enter the store. Assuming you’ve previously given permission to use your data
  • Receiving a special offer for something on your wish-list
  • Being notified of an unexpected loyalty reward
  • Getting an invitation to drop by the store café for a free muffin with my coffee.

These are all interruptions that leave you feeling good about the experience, not frustrated that something’s getting in your way.

There is a huge opportunity for retailers to manage friction and create customer experiences that help future-proof the industry. Brands are generally on board with the need to remove friction, so what’s actually involved?

In a nutshell, look at what stops your customers from buying things, and fix the easy stuff first. If you have stock issues, your shelving is a mess, your associates actively disengaged and your prices unclear, get your inventory management sorted, train your staff and standardise your pricing.

Then you can look at more complicated areas. Are customers seeing content that encourages them to shop with you? Are you using customer data to create a consistent experience across all channels, or do you treat customers like strangers every time you encounter them? Are you engaging with people on their devices, on their terms?

A seamless online and offline experience

Most consumers will research products – especially high-value items – before they decide to purchase. If they’ve done the research and come in only to find the price is different or the product unavailable, you’ve created friction.

The key is utilising technology to reduce the impact of negative friction by ensuring consistency between all digital and physical platforms:

These problems can be headed off at the pass by:

  • Showing the physical stores with stock on your e-commerce site.
  • Offer an in-store ordering service if you don’t have products in stock, with free home delivery thrown in.
  • Offer to buy online and pickup instore, minimise extra charges.
  • Offer mobile order and pay, with dedicated pickup counters to minimise in-store disruption.
  • Use a mobile loyalty program that lets customers automatically earn points & claim rewards without swiping cards or giving phone numbers
  • Consider introducing mobile checkout technology to minimise/eliminate queues

Essentially, you’re looking to reduce friction through technology to make it easy for customers to find what they want – and to offer them more things they may like. Above all else, it’s about creating an experience that facilitates, not frustrates, the customer journey.

Craig Herbison is CEO of Plexure.
This story first appeared at The Register.

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