Petter Ottosson, Lead User Experience Architect, London
Earlier this year, upscale US fashion retailer Nordstrom announced Scan & Shop, a new scanning utility built into its iOS application. Its purpose was to let users scan any item in Nordstrom’s printed catalogue, adding it to the in-app basket, ready for check-out. Nice and easy.
This is just one of many recent examples of a simple function with great potential – one that sets out to bridge the gap between print and digital. And with it, Nordstrom might have given us an indication about the near-future direction of user experience.
It’s been apparent for a while that the division between what’s physical and what’s digital is dissolving. In fact, in the eyes of huge swathes of younger generations, this dissolution has already happened. For these forward-thinking visionaries, digital is simply an extension of the physical, and vice versa. At the same time, advancements in the field of technology and user experience are moving us towards a new retail experience. This is an experience that is no longer limited to specific channels, physical locations, processes or even times. The knock-on effect is that purchase journeys become more complex and, at the same time, more flexible.
With these developments in mind, we must think in new ways. By considering memory and recollection, transitions and availability, and interruptions and user expectations, we must create a seamless journey – one that is impartial to time or location.
The end goal is a completely flexible retail ecosystem that will allow customers – regardless of mind state, time, channel and speed of progress – to identify what they like, verify that it’s right for them, and make a purchase. Sounds simple right? In case not, here are some tips to get you started on the long road to seamless retail customer journeys. [Download an PDF example here]
Design for interruptions
In many situations, users will either be unable or uninterested in completing their retail purchase journey in one go. The reasons to postpone their decision can be many, from actual interruptions to the increased flexibility and multitude of opportunities on offer through a wide range of on and offline channels, many of which with the same or similar services.
We must ensure we design tools and services that help users remember, recover from interruptions, and recall what they’ve already displayed interest in (or, in some cases, dislike for).
Design for consistency
In this context, ‘consistency’ can mean a couple of things. (Don’t worry, the irony isn’t lost on me.)
Firstly, it means that we need to design according to the user expectations that come with any specific platform, channel, or device. Native apps are used in certain contexts, web browsers in others. A trip in-store is made with a certain objective, tablet browsing with another. Each platform, each channel, and each
device will have slightly different roles to play in the user journey.
But it also means that we must strive for visual and tonal consistency across touch-points. The in-store experience translates directly to the digital channels. When users can start a task in one channel, refine it in another, and finish it in a third, consistency is of utmost importance.
And just to hammer in that point – we’re talking about consistency. This is very different to complete uniformity, which can often be an obstacle.
Design for transitions
Not every task a user might want to perform has to be available through every channel. That would leave you with an interface so cluttered it would be difficult to pick one call-to-action from another. Instead, an understanding of customer needs and expectations should guide a selective placing of calls-to-action. The important thing is linking these tasks and channels together in a natural way.
Look at the Nordstrom example from earlier. Unable to add an actual ‘add to basket’ function to the printed catalogue, it included it in the app and then drove readers there instead. Gap successfully bridged.
As we invite users to transition from channel to channel, in and out of the digital space, we must make sure that the route to task completion is clearly signposted, making the necessary transitions as seamless as possible.
So as designers of a new, seamless and time-independent user experience, we need to test our assumptions, iterate and design for the user’s complete journey, wherever it may take them and whenever it does so. As customer expectations evolve and grow increasingly unreasonable, this is the right way to ensure long-term loyalty.
The key takeout here is that journeys can stretch over many hours, days, weeks or even months and are increasingly likely to take place across multiple digital and physical channels. This makes the new retail journey more flexible, and also more unpredictable, than ever.
There’s no doubt this presents a tough challenge. But it’s also an exciting opportunity to design innovative user experiences that make those journeys smooth, simple, and successful for every customer.