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Introducing ‘Retail Friction’ could actually enhance consumer experience (CX)

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I re-ordered the same detergent for years!

Upon running out of the same laundry detergent I’ve used for the past 4 years; I took out my phone  clicked re-order within the (e-Store) App got it home delivered the same day (even easier with Subscription, Voice & IoT)… all hail Frictionless Experience!

BUT… what the above process lacked were Educational & Trial frictional points that could have allowed me to discover / try out other detergent brands

In another instance, the same e-Store emailed me an early Cyber Monday offer on select home theater soundbars “that I may be interested in”; complete with a 1-Click-Buy-Now link… Frictionless experience sure… BUT I wasn’t prepared to put down a single ¢ until I had experienced them in-person (i.e. physical retail)… this time I actively sought for an Experiential Friction in my shopping journey

In both instances, a bit of friction (or lack thereof) impacted my purchase journey & choice (consumable / discretionary)

Advancements in Wireless, Mobile, IoT, Data Analytics, Cloud, AI, Robotics & other emerging technologies are enabling retail & quick service restaurant (QSR) industries to explore various frictionless initiatives through the fusion of physical & digital experiences

Even consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands; who predominantly rely on 3rd party distribution channels can leverage frictionless initiatives as means to directly connect with their customer base [more on this topic in a separate post]

This first post in a multi-series segment aims to broadly highlight how a bit of friction when augmented with frictionless initiatives could actually enhance consumer experience (CX)

Quick note: Generally speaking, despite some base level similarities, almost every Retailer, CPG and QSR are unique in their own way (geographic presence, product mix, service type, strategic direction, partnerships, customer segment, et al.) and as such their retail & direct-2-consumer strategies (omni-channel, frictionless experience, loyalty programs, etc.) would vary to suit their respective mid to long-term goals


6 key Consumer Touch Points

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The number of touch points retailers will have with consumers / shoppers / customers will depend on several factors (business model, product range, complexity, omni-channel spread, etc.)

Taking a simplified view, consumer journey typically traverses through the following 6 key phases (analogous with the Zero, First & Second moments of truth)

  1. Product Discovery: The touch point where consumers may require pre-sale knowledge or discovery of the product, typically through online, in-store/person or word of mouth [educational]

  2. Product Demo / Trials: The touch point where shoppers seek a demonstration / sample / trial of the product prior to purchase decision [experiential]

  3. Purchase, Payment & FulfillmentThe touch point where shoppers have finalized their purchase decision and proceed to pay & collect their goods [transactional]

  4. Repeat Purchase & Refills: The touch point (if applicable) where existing customers seek to re-order / re-purchase the same product or potentially re-explore new products from different brands [transactional + educational + potentially experiential]

  5. Post-Sale Support / Customer Service: The touch point (if applicable) where customers may require post-sale support that could range from simple Q&As through to complex issues [transactional / service]

  6. Returns, Exchanges & Refunds: The touch point (if applicable) where customers may require assistance with any returns, refunds or exchanges of their product [transactional / service]

As discussed in an earlier post, Amazon’s Go concept store cleverly addresses many time poor shopper’s pain-point by making the entire end-2-end shopper journey completely frictionless (albeit for quick shopping runs)

Other examples include prominent brick-n-mortar retailer’s (Apple, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, etc.) self-checkout solutions, QSR industry’s (Starbucks, etc.) App-based order, payment & pick-up solutions, and many more


The 2 sides of Frictional Transactions

Generally speaking, Frictional transactions in any retail (or QSR) environment are of 2 types – Useless Friction (value-draining / negative impact) and the Supportive Friction (value-adding / positive impact)

Useless Friction

Retail transactions that lend a NEGATIVE CX / loyalty / engagement, operational complexities, waste and higher costs

Examples include over-crowded checkout lines, irregular SKU price variances, vintage POS terminals, etc.

Retailers will benefit from the complete removal of all useless friction in their customer-facing transactions (purchase, payment, fulfillment, etc.) as well as any associated back-end transactions (supply chain, 3PL/4PL, etc.)

Supportive Friction

Retail transactions (typically involving human-assisted solutions) that promote POSITIVE CX / loyalty / engagement and an experiential path to repeat purchase, up-sells & X-sells

Supportive Friction is typically impactful when integrated into the Educational, Experiential & Service phases of the consumer touch points
read: humanizing key consumer-facing transactions

Examples include in-store personalization & product recommendation service, product demonstration, post-sale support, etc.


To add Supportive Friction or not?

For any retailer, the decision to integrate Supportive Friction (& how much of it) could be based on a combination of 4 key factors –

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Which touch points in the consumer journey would Supportive Friction most benefit CX?

Once the retailer has determined they need supportive frictional points in their customer experience, the next step is to assess the touch points at which it would most benefit CX

Supportive Friction is most effective when integrated within the Educational, Experiential and Service phases of the consumer’s purchase & usage journey

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Whether a combination of AI & life-like Robots (when it matures) are able to entirely replace humans in these transactions is yet to be seen… BUT given a sizable consumer base may still seek human interaction (at specific touch points), it would unlikely happen in the foreseeable future

Indeed, many studies (from Verint through to Accenture U.S and even Singapore) validate the same theory – 

consumers prefer to engage with brands who provide a degree of humanized interaction (service & sales) as opposed to digital-only

As mentioned earlier, integration of (human-assisted) Supportive Friction wouldn’t be standard across all retailers and as such would vary based on multiple factors


So…

As the broader retail & QSR industries continue to investigate initiatives that eliminate useless friction from consumer touch points…

…they’ll also discover that at many touch points a level of supportive friction actually enhances CX, loyalty & engagement

…and when augmented with frictionless experience will allow them to not only enhance their front-end sales journey & service experience but also optimize their back-end operations [topic for another article]

Additionally, most brick-n-mortar retailers today are well placed to integrate CX enhancing supportive friction across their channel footprintBUT knowing what type & under what circumstances to integrate is the key to success!