Let’s start with a scenario: During the holiday season, I sat on my couch, searching for toys on Amazon using my tablet. Not a particularly stimulating activity, but a necessity nonetheless. I took a break from my research to read some details about the Canon 900 Speedlite flash. Much better.
Time was ticking, and I was getting nervous that Prime wouldn’t deliver on time, so off I went to Best Buy. I downloaded their app, input a few of the items I was interested in, and I was on my way. As I entered the door to Best Buy, a man on their display screen reminded me to open my Best Buy app. To my dismay, I didn’t see the toys I was looking for. But a saleswoman approached me with a tablet in hand, saying, “Hi Giovanni! We don’t have that doll you were looking for. Do you think some movies might do the trick? We have some in stock.” She tapped her tablet a few times and said, “I also noticed you’re interested in the Speedlite flash. Want to check it out?”
When I was done playing around, I went to check out with just the movies. I paid for them using Best Buy’s app, received a text receipt, and went to the waiting area to pick up my movies. As I left, referring to me by name, a man on a screen quietly reminded me to come back in a few weeks for their camera sale, with my Speedlite glowing in the ad’s background.
This will become a common scenario, with customers setting themselves up for a seamless point-of-sale experience. But bricks-and-mortar stores need to start thinking about their only differentiator from online retailers: their people.
According to the findings of a recent IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark study that USA Today published, “Thanksgiving weekend set records for mobile sales and traffic, accounting for nearly 40% of online traffic on Black Friday and nearly a third of all online traffic on Cyber Monday…. Three years ago, mobile accounted for just 4% of Cyber Monday online traffic.
In December 2013, Siteworx undertook a thorough research project to gain insights into the impacts of mobile user experiences on consumer behavior during the holiday season. The data revealed that we’ve just scratched the surface in understanding how technology in the retail environment will change our shopping expectations and patterns.
As our comfort with online purchasing grows, how are we using technologies now as opposed to last year? First, mobile Web sites are still in heavy use in comparison to people downloading apps for shopping, with 55.9% of survey respondents using mobile Web sites to make their purchases during the holiday season and 44.1% downloading commerce apps, as Figure 1 shows. The majority of respondents (60.7%) used smartphones to find out store hours, locations, and directions, while 56.1% of respondents used tablets for product research. Yet the use of mobile Web sites for shopping has receded a bit year-over-year, in favor of an increase in mobile app downloads for shopping.
In our 2014 report, 44.1% of respondents preferred downloading apps in comparison to 34.3% in 2013, but we’re not reading this as a signal to spend less effort on mobile Web site design. On the contrary, mobile Web sites appear to be major initial touchpoints and are critical to customers’ product research and stores’ acquisition strategies. But customers are downloading more commerce apps than in the past. There’s an opportunity to understand customer experiences from the couch at home to the store and to better position the selling process by experimenting with apps and the sales environment.
Bricks-and-mortar retail companies don’t have much choice. With 9.4% of respondents scanning products in stores, then purchasing them elsewhere, retailers have to start answering the questions, “What’s compelling about an online shopping experience?” and “What do we offer that digital retailers don’t?”
Looking at customer behaviors when shopping in stores, as shown in Figure 2, 21.7% percent are price-matching and 36.1% are checking product reviews. We can interpret this data as indicating that more than half of the survey respondents’ conducting research of one type or another when in stores. Tablets are providing customers with a convenient way to research products at home. Smartphones are providing the same experience when in stores and extending customers’ ability to touch and interact with products.
Stores must rely on their employees to engage customers. This doesn’t mean walking up and asking if customers need help. It means store employees must have a better understanding of who customers are and what their product interests are and immediately inspire customers’ confidence in their product knowledge, personalizing the information that they convey according to customers’ needs.
Customers will adopt mobile apps to interact with bricks-and-mortar stores if there is a clear return from their experience. For example, Apple stores have been very successful in balancing various aspects of customer engagement, using customer information from the Store app, and being knowledgeable about products that are relevant to customers.
Could stores provide a better experience to customers if each salesperson knew a little bit more about customers’ interests based on where they’re standing in a store through indoor geolocation? For example, if a customer has been staring at two types of headphones for three minutes, a salesperson would know that he’s been standing in that area for a while and may really be interested in purchasing some headphones. As a retailer, the simple solution would commonly be to ask whether that person needs help. However, knowing that the customer has purchased a speaker set, own an iMac, and just walked over from the tablet section of the store, where he also stopped for a few minutes, might be all the information a salesperson would need to conduct a more contextually relevant conversation, preventing a customer’s asking his smartphone for advice or, worse, leaving to make a purchase elsewhere.
Focus on Customer Experience
It’s a given that roughly one out of every ten customers is using a device to interact with product information, then possibly to make a purchase elsewhere. A simple way to attack the issue of showrooming—customers’ looking at merchandise in a bricks-and-mortar store, then buying it online to get a lower price—is to look at the applications your customers are using and see whether you can design an experience that encourages them to shop with you. But considering only the in-store experience is the wrong way to look at this problem. The key to getting in front of showrooming is to learn about the entire customer experience from couch to point-of-sale. Most retailers have large, sophisticated testing labs that are integral to the way they do business: their stores.
Simple ethnographic studies can be very helpful. Doing research within a store, observing patterns, and learning more about how to better serve customers should be your first goal. Of course, you always run the risk of not having researchers who are skilled enough to avoid bias or to ensure that the data they gather is sufficiently complete. Getting customers to be open and honest about why they were staring at their phone for a few minutes—or even having the luxury of finding them in this situation—can be a challenge. However, you have to start somewhere, and speaking with customers is always more beneficial than staring at data.
Begin by planning your research. Who will interact with customers? Will you hire a professional to conduct research? Will you train your existing salesforce to recognize opportunities for inquiry, to ask the right questions, and to capture data? Including your staff in the research may actually provide the additional benefit of better educating them on an effective sales approach.
Once you’ve gathered your data, convey your findings via journey maps, use cases, video vignettes, or whatever lets you best describe the full customer purchase cycle for a business. It’s one thing for companies to understand your data, but it’s another to connect names and situations to a larger story. One of the most important things a UX professional can do is to present unbiased data to decision makers in a way that clearly conveys a story and informs their decisions. This is one of the best ways to ensure that a company understands and designs for the customer experience.
When you look at mobile applications on their own merit, always come back to this question: How does the success of an individual application fit into the overall customer experience from the couch to point-of-sale? Does it bypass common scenarios? Does it encompass only part of a scenario? Looking at an experience through the couch to point-of-sale lens, what are its weaknesses? Many companies look at a mobile app as a complete solution to the overall problem, but it’s just one piece.
Originally published on UX Matters.
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