‘Frictionless’ has been an industry buzzword – and overarching aim – for retailers for many years. But has the obsession with swifter, seamless and interaction-free customer journeys reached a tipping point? Do consumers crave more personal connection? How willing are they to share data to create experiences that are faster, and have fewer pain points? And should retailers be thinking of ways to keep customers in store for longer, rather than reducing journey time for everyone? All of this was discussed at London’s Retail Technology Show on April 26th and 27th.
Time to add friction?
Dave Kohn, former Customer and eCommerce Director at Heal’s, started the debate by claiming there had been an ‘obsession’ with frictionless retail. He advocated frictionless experiences for ‘basics’ including Click and Collect and return in store but advised a more nuanced approach for other retail journeys.
He said: “Forget the obsession of removing friction, think about where you introduce it, where it might add to the customer experience. Think about where the experience would benefit a little from more time in store, a little more dwell time, a little more interaction.”
Mark McMurtrie, Director of Payments Consultancy Ltd, said: “Friction should be thought of like grit — it’s about getting the right level of grit,” as he described the need to balance protection from fraud while making low risk and genuine transactions as simple as possible.
Retail pioneer Sarah Curran Usher MBE said the pursuit of frictionless transactions had often created friction further along the customer journey. She said: “[Fashion retailers] have left it to the customer to self-serve and left it to them to sort things out. What that was creating was a bit of friction later on when the customer received their item and it didn’t fit.”
Ms Curran Usher moved onto the topics of privacy and consumers sharing data to improve personalisation and reduce friction. She stated: “The customer is extremely savvy — they are not just experiencing digital in retail, it’s every touchpoint in their life. The customer is extremely aware of data.”
Paul Hornsby, Digital CX Director, The Very Group, added: “[Sharing data] is about the value exchange. If a customer feels like they are getting a brilliant service that’s helping them to make an informed purchase, it’s a logical value exchange.”
He added: “We always look for opportunities to surprise and delight. [We ask] how do we exceed customer expectations?”
Max Gill, EMEA Lead – Just Walk Out, Amazon, described the company’s eight-year pursuit of friction-free shopping in stores.
He said while developing JWO, Amazon had examined different areas of friction including post-purchase, checkout, right before purchase and when browsing, finding: “Checkout is where the experience matters most… the queue was the major pain point… [we asked] how could we take that away?”
He added: “Covid has driven a desire to give customers a choice to avoid friction and avoid contact where possible,” adding: “Customers really value convenience, and they will prioritise retailers based on that convenience.”
Like many others at the show, he suggested that creating frictionless retail experiences could free staff to do more higher value tasks, including upselling. This was vital in today’s labour market, where retention and employee experience are becoming more important. “It’s using staff in a more efficient way, helping them to elevate that experience in store.”
Other retailers discussed the possibility of using ‘identity’ to remove friction. In the future, they mused, retailers may use individual recognition linked to open banking, allowing customers to pay and receive loyalty rewards without having to search for a physical loyalty card in addition to a mobile-enabled contactless checkout. Other retail veterans stated their belief in the continued importance of face-to-face and human-to-human interaction. They said store associates should be freed to act as advisors and brand ambassadors for those customers not using frictionless or contactless ways to browse and buy.
Flooid’s view is balanced as well. A frictionless or no-interaction approach can cut time in queue and reduce customer frustration, but sometimes interaction can be incredibly valuable and delight the consumer building loyalty. We help retailers to deliver self-scan, self-checkout, and scan and go journeys, and our platform services are easily integrated to technologies like Amazon’s JWO. For occasions where a customer needs assistance or a consultancy-led approach, such as via a mobile POS to support an endless aisle interaction, we help retailers with technology to deliver quality of service rather than speed of sale. As always, retailers should begin by putting themselves in their customers’ shoes, and ask: what does their ideal experience look like?
Flooid’s unified commerce platform enables retailers to orchestrate any kind of customer transaction in store, be it self-checkout, pay at manned register, or scan and go. Contact us to find out more.