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Retail Therapy? Not Anymore … With Technology, Shopping is More Stressful Than Ever


By Brian Gillespie, Continuum

Once upon a time, shopping was simple. People drove to the store, viewed the selection at hand, decided what they wanted, and bought. Now, however, shoppers are confronted with an amazing array of channels through which they can research, browse, and purchase, engaging with both brands they know and those they don’t in increasingly complex ways.

In addition to brick-and-mortar stores, they are interacting with companies through web sites, mobile sites, mobile apps, social media, email, phone, online chat, video chat, discount coupon sites, and, if you can believe it, more. The customer journey they take from identifying a need to considering a product, using a new product, and becoming a loyal customer is no longer a linear path but rather a rollercoaster of parallel and intersecting lines and loops.

The emergence of all of these new channels and devices provides consumers with great flexibility in forming their shopping strategies — and, in theory at least, should be empowering. They can research it here, touch it there; compare it here, read review there; question here, get answers there; get personal recommendations here, get coupons there; deliver here; return there … the choices are endless.

Recent shop-alongs and observations of an internationally diverse group of shoppers on their path to purchasing products, however, have shown precisely the opposite. Shoppers are as overwhelmed by the extensive range of similar products and services as they are the range of channels through which the purchase may be influenced. Since most of them adopt new channels quite readily, it’s easy to find themselves suddenly out of their comfort zones.

The most common feelings resulting from the experience now are stress, frustration, alienation, uncertainty, and confusion. Where once shopping was therapy for people, now people need therapy to shop. The solution: Create a unified experience — crafting the system of interactions that form the customer’s experience of an organization and the company’s means of delivering it. Our research suggests four opportunity areas that get to the heart of customer behavior and motivation, on which companies should focus in order to deliver a great shopping service experiences.

  • Generate and maintain confidence: Once shoppers have built sufficient confidence in the qualities of a product or service, they will be more likely to take the leap to purchase. Without that confidence, they will be more likely to delay or cancel the purchase. Companies can provide “confidence builders” along the shopping process to help bolster this feeling. For example, after customers have decided on which product they want and are completing their checkout process online, the lack of information about delivery costs or delivery times is a common confidence buster. They are more likely to abandon their cart and shift their attention to another retailer if companies don’t build confidence with clear and transparent information on shipping.

  • Facilitate the power of influence: Knowing how diverse shoppers can be positively influenced can speed the path to purchase. Companies that are respected for their depth of knowledge of certain products can leverage that knowledge upfront to build consumer trust. For instance, Nikon’s USA web site provides extensive information for the camera enthusiast to understand whether or not a camera is the right one for them. The “Digitutor” contains engaging videos to understand how the camera works and an extensive sample of photos to show possible results — helping the shopper understand their particular needs and identify them with a specific product.

  • Make channel transitions seamless: Shoppers get confused and frustrated by their inability to transition between channels that don't work with one another. This can slow down the purchasing process or cause people to decide not to buy. One way to counter this problem is to take an omni-channel view of the experience and ensure seamless consistency within and across channels. Nordstrom is a pioneer in delivering a seamless omni-channel experience, being one of the first companies to integrate its online and offline inventories. Shoppers can purchase products online and pick them up or return them in stores, or order out-of-stock items online that are then shipped from a nearby store. In this way, the website and brick-and-mortar stores complement one another rather than compete.

  • Deliver a customer experience that adjusts to your customer’s needs for knowledge: Shoppers enjoy discovering a new product or product attribute they did not know or expect, especially if they can relate to it on an emotional level. That discovery can empower and galvanize shoppers and encourage them to make a purchase. Understanding how a product or experience will resonate with consumers’ needs and building discoverability into the shopping experience is a great way to create moments of unexpected delight. Often, small attributes can offer a big bang: A cruise control that allows the driver to increase or decrease speed one mph at a time, an easy way to recycle a toothbrush, an automatic way to pay a bill — all speak to an inner emotional driver in the consumer. The safe driver, the concerned environmentalist, and the absent-minded financial planner, all will respond positively to discovering these unique and distinctive features.

Many companies today are focusing on getting on the underlying technology required to build an omni-channel organization. This is important. However, this effort needs to be complimented and supported by an over-arching customer-driven strategy that transforms how a company services its customers. This requires a deep understanding of customer needs and their preferred way of interacting with all of a company’s points of contact. Creating feelings of joy and confidence, rather than anxiety, will ensure that a consumer’s decision to purchase will be less circuitous and more fulfilling overall, and that shopping will be something they look forward to once again.

Brian Gillespie is a digital design principal at Continuum, a global innovation and design consultancy.

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