Firstly I have to admit I am obsessed by friction. I see what the removal of friction is doing to things we do in our everyday lives. Everything from driving directions (who still has a street directory), remembering a birthday or a phone number, to watching the TV news or our favourite show, has been revolutionized by a variety of means that can be simply summed up - the removal of friction.
Now what I am really passionate about is retail and how people shop. We know that shopping has certainly been revolutionised by the removal of friction. We refer to this removal of friction as online shopping. Searching for the products you want, getting help along the way, and paying for that new gadget or the groceries has never been easier thanks to the internet. Aided by some really great retailers and nicely assisted by the mobile revolution, shopping has never been easier. Or has it?
What happens when we step away from the keyboard or put the smartphone in our pocket and head out with the other humans to the mall? Do a Google image search for "Windows 95 queue" and seventh on the list is the image above.
I know this image well - this was my retail store in 1995, and the image of 700 people lined up at midnight for an operating system is burned into my memory. There was a lot of friction when it came to shopping in 1995 and it wasn't just the queue. Payments were still primarily cash, so if you hadn't been to the bank or the ATM that day you would have to take your cheque book with you. And don't forget your drivers licence for ID.
Finding the product you wanted was as challenging as it is today, walking from aisle to aisle and floor to floor in search of your prize. Even when you found the product, without a brochure how would you know you were buying the right thing. Forget about ratings and reviews - Consumer Reports did not get online until 1997.
So what's so different 20 years on? How does the customer journey differ today? Lets have a look at some key changes.
Click & Collect
For a start the smart shoppers have made the queue disappear. Click and Collect in retail has returned the store to relevance and customers are demanding it more and more. And its not just inside the store - look at services like Curbside that combine the convenience of mobile ordering with the option to pickup the items from the store, without having to leave the comfort of your car. At stores where Curbside Pickup is available, you don't even need to park - the retailer will hand your order to you as you pull up.
Ship From Store
Retailers with stores have a real advantage against pureplay retailers. Simply put, they have distribution centres (stores) with inventory close to where customers live and work. Integration into your legacy systems can be painful but in the end very necessary. Your stores need to see an order in their POS just like any other order. Shipping from stores close to customers will always be quicker than distribution centres as long as you get your people and logistics fully supporting it. An online sale shipped from a store is a store sale, and your stores and people need to be in that ecosystem and rewarded for their efforts.
As a retailer you need to expose the inventory availability of your products in your stores. Customers are on their mobile devices close to their favourite stores. Its really quick for customers to see your advertising or be prompted by all the great brand advertising they are exposed to, then reach for their smartphone. When they search on their favourite retailers app or mobile site, you can win or lose them right there depending on inventory availability close to them. Customers want that product and they want it now. Better you than your competitor.
We know that mobile is eating the world. We need to think about mobile in two modes for retail - in and out of the store. Out of the store mobile is both a research tool and a fast shopping machine when done right. Connected to everything above and aided by geolocation, today's customer is armed with everything they need in their pockets to be the most informed and connected customer ever. They know what they want, where to find it, the best price, and what their friends and other customers think of the product, instantly aided by faster internet access in their pockets than what was available in their homes just a few years ago. And let's remember customers are mobile in our stores with all of the above. They out-gun the very best sales people in stores with more information in their pockets about the three products they are interested in, than the 1000's a good sales associate needs to be familiar with. So no friction here for the customer, but I would argue that the customer and sales associates have drifted apart. Getting your people into the customer ecosystem again needs to be a priority.
Above - customers not reaching out to salespeople while doing research on their devices. (Deloitte State Of Mobile 2015 report)
PayPal, Apple Pay, MasterPass, NFC. These are just a few of the payment options around today that have made life easier for customers. Compared to mobile, cash is now just weird paper with pictures on it. The friction has been removed from payments forever in the online space, but can the same be said for the real world - shopping in a physical store? In-store WiFi and Beacons will assist in making the connection seamless. Many retailers are building their own mobile apps with a focus on friction-less payments but there needs to be a reason for customers to switch to a mobile payment in a store. The likelihood is that any move in payments will be facilitated by a reward, so loyalty is a motivation. Will the Apple Watch and wearables in general, change payments and the loyalty landscape when we are shopping at our favourite retail store?
Think about the above and how it would apply today to our customer of 1995. Have we removed enough of the friction today to give him or her a better experience than 20 years ago? I am not so sure.
From a friction perspective, everywhere there is still friction in store is friction free online. We never queue to pay online. Finding help is so easy today online with largely good livechat options on most websites. With the advent of learning search finding a product or service online has never been easier. Yet customers still queue, struggle at times to find service, and are still challenged to find the products they want in stores. We have come a long way online when it comes to customer experience but I imagine our customer from 1995 would feel little has really changed in store.
The foundations for the future are there to give customers the kind of experiences in-store that they love online.
But there is a lot still to do.