Expert POV: 6 Tactics to Reduce Friction in the Shopping Journey

Mobify’s Expert POV series is a collection of thoughts and opinions from retail and technology leaders across industries.

Today’s retail customer is more equipped than ever, using information resources from the cloud, mobile, and social networks to make better purchase decisions in less time. And while the connected economy creates a new opportunity for retailers, it also places new operational burdens on the store and its associates.

Retail business leaders have addressed this problem before, making tough investment choices between the competing needs of employees and customers. But with today’s technologies, you can make single investments that benefit both parties, while increasing revenue and conversion rates. For example, anything you do to reduce shopper friction frees the associate to focus on helping customers make purchase decisions (versus spending time resolving the issues that naturally arise from a cluttered, inconsistent experience caused by unnecessary friction).

With that in mind, here are 6 tactics you can use to reduce friction in the shopping journey… 


1. Digital coupons and wallets

Digital coupons reduce friction over the paper version, which has brought non-coupon shoppers into the fold. Customers now expect all their favorite retailers and brands to offer coupons, and many look for them before deciding to visit a retailer. By 2020, 1.6 billion digital coupons will be triggered through beacon technology when a mobile user approaches or leaves a physical location, such as the “infant clothes” section of a store.

A Fiserv research report found that digital wallet adoption rose from 8% in 2014 to 15% in 2016. They are showing slow but steady growth, reminiscent of the early days of online banking – which is now ubiquitous. Digital wallets are at the forefront of friction reduction. Some of you may have explored the convenience of using a mobile wallet service such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay. Though Apple Pay usage rates are increasing, Samsung Pay appears to have a clear advantage simply because Samsung Pay users know that it is accepted at virtually every retailer.

2. Electronic shelf labels (ESLs)

With ESLs, retailers can display pricing or promotional information in real time using programmable, wireless technology. From a single server at your headquarters, you can cost-efficiently and easily monitor, maintain, and update every electronic shelf label. This reduces the friction created by offering different prices over different channels (something that really annoys shoppers). ESLs also improve legal compliance (when things like weights or measures need to be updated, for example). ESLs are typically LCD based but are now available as e-paper.

ESLs are huge in Europe but have been slower to adopt in the US. Kroger, however, is one store that credits electronic shelf labels with fewer expired products, since ESLs monitor when products are almost out-of-date and need to be replaced. ESLs also help Kroegers assure its products are never out-of-stock, since digital displays alert when products are running low. But the message here is that shoppers appreciate what they perceive to be accurate, reliable pricing. At the very least, ESLs give your store a sophisticated look that is equipped for 21st century retailing.

3. Augmented reality (AR) and conversational interfaces

AR offers another great technique for reducing shopper friction and accelerating the purchase decision by answering questions such as, “How will that chair or sofa look in my living room?” This technology isn’t for everyone, but the test for any retailer needs to be: Will AR help your buyers make a better, more informed decision, in less time? It only makes sense to proceed if the answer is yes.

Conversational interfaces offer another technique for delivering the ultimate frictionless experience. And the audience is already there – Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp both boast 1 billion monthly active users. These popular apps are already a platform for chatbots. For example, users can request an Uber within Messenger, which would alert anyone in your chat thread that you are on your way.

A solution worth evaluating is noHOLD, which allows anyone to create chatbots using Microsoft Word or Google Docs – an approach that small businesses with limited resources can easily adopt. For retailers who are stretched for resources, this could be an important step towards handling hundreds or thousands of customer service queries.

Long-term tactics

4. Robust, all-touchpoint analytics

One of the best ways to pinpoint areas of friction is through advanced analytics, the technology most retailers (88%) believe will change their organization over the next five years (according to analysts). But competence for collecting and conducting advanced analysis on buyer data from a variety of in-store and online channels is lacking. This is an area retailers need to start focusing on now for the years ahead.

Robust, all-touchpoint analytics is significant because it helps you acquire not just any customer, but the right customer (A.K.A. the type of buyer that brings others with them through their advocacy). If you’re serious about setting goals for an analytics initiative, be sure and include objectives around increasing your brand advocates. Otherwise, you’ll shortchange the big benefit of this set of technologies and techniques. If you’re looking for a good case study, check out Home Depot’s use of the Adobe solution to focus on high-value buyers.

5. Real-time store monitoring

Real-time monitoring platforms display data feeds (generated both inside and outside the store) onto a dashboard to provide a single view of what is happening in and around your store. Dwell time, for example, tells you how much time buyers are spending in the same position, area, or stage of a process. We know from these systems that dwell time at US airports has reached a new high – almost 70 minutes.

Real-time monitoring also informs retail associates how well different promotional displays or promotional signage are performing – and how they are impacting traffic patterns. These solutions also help you improve the efficiency of your queue management systems and merchandising processes.

Products from vendors such as ShopperTrak, RetailNext, and CountWise help you pinpoint shopper friction while offering suggestions for improvement. Another provider, Prism, turns cameras into IoT sensors that anonymously monitor customer behavior inside stores. The data is then presented in a variety of visualizations that quickly identify both problems and solutions. As retailers move toward digital business, real-time store monitoring platforms will become a must-have technology.

6. Retail 3D printing

3D printing reduces friction by making the customer part of the design process. Here’s a real-world example: this year Ministry of Supply installed a machine in its Boston store that can make a garment on demand in 90 minutes (with finishing done offline after the garment is created). The machine can also be automated to make garments all day and night. It’s a way to reduce or possibly eliminate buyer’s remorse.

The data corroborates this example. According to Sculpteo’s annual State of 3D Printing survey:

  • 55% said they spent more on 3D printing solutions in 2017
  • 47% said they saw greater ROI in 2017 than 2016
  • Proof of concept (34%) and prototyping dominate 3D printing applications today

Getting started

The best way to get started is to craft a business plan that integrates your customers’ preferences for mobility, collaboration, and faster, easier access to information with your employees’ needs. Make sure your business plan identifies the skills, tools, and services you need to better fuse the online and offline worlds. Bring HR leaders into your plan early on. You’ll need their help to address training gaps between current capabilities and processes with your vision to offer irresistible shopping experiences.

My best advice: inform how you deploy emerging technologies with the question, “How does it help our buyers make better, more-informed decisions, in less time?” Mapping a technology’s capability with how your buyers make purchase decisions will never steer you wrong, and ensures you aren’t investing in fads that won’t benefit your customers.  

This article is based on a joint webinar with myself and Mobify CPO Peter McLachlan, called Building a Winning 2018 Retail Strategy with Progressive Web Apps. For more on reducing friction in the shopping journey, watch the recording here

By Richard Fouts, Director Thought Leadership, SapientRazorfish

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