Friction-Free Fiascos: Breaking Barriers or Opening the Floodgates?
Friction-free shopping experiences. Sounds sexy, right? The idea of reducing the friction between you and the shopper’s wallet has become a high priority for most retailers. However, I don’t think that marketers are the ones controlling the barrier bashing.
The consumer is following that darn path of least resistance and dodging those friction-filled barriers at every step along the purchase journey. Marketers may think they're operating in the soothing sounding “friction-free” mind-set, but they should be more accurately thinking of themselves as “friction fighters.”
Now, before this begins to sound too contentious, I think that consumers wanting simple shopping experiences is a fair expectation. After all, everything is now a click, tap or app away.
The new reality is that your marketing won't work if the consumer has to work for it.
I also know that marketers are doing some really cool things to capture consumers' attention and make shopping and buying easy without even lifting a finger. “Hi Alexa, order some AA batteries and turkey jerky.”
In this race to reduce friction, many major brands and retailers have been trying out some radical ideas. Of course, risk is assumed with any test or trial, but what can go wrong when you're breaking down barriers that block the shopper’s journey?
Well, just ask Starbucks or Google.
First, Starbucks: Anyone who has been to Starbucks recently knows that it will accept pretty much any form of payment you can wave, tap, scan, dip, chip or pull out of your wallet. This usually helps the line move faster and gives shoppers the choice of how they pay.
A service, with a not-so-clever name, “Mobile Order and Pay,” was introduced a while ago. This service allows customers to place orders on a mobile device instead of entering a Starbucks location and waiting in a friction-filled line.
Adoption of this service wasn't a problem. Keeping up with the orders, however, was a struggle. Starbucks' stores weren't staffed to handle the increase in orders, which resulted in longer lines, increased wait times for mobile orders and frustrated workers. These issues were given as one of the reasons sales growth slumped at the end of 2016.
Google, never one to share too many details of pilot programs, did announce that it was “shutting down” its mobile payment service called “Hands Free.” Shoppers using Hands Free could complete a transaction without having to physically handle their phone. A photo of the customer linked to Hands Free would be shown at the point of sale to verify their identity and process the transaction. It was facial recognition with a human element.
Google’s “Hand Free” was limited to the Bay Area and details about the success and shuttering of the program weren’t disclosed. While it could be resurrected or eventually morphed into something new, for now, it’s dead.
What can you learn from these two friction-free forays?
1. The best ideas can always be improved.
Starbucks rolled out something that was not only forward-thinking and friction-fighting, but it seemingly would sooth the stresses of visiting a Starbucks store — waiting to order and pick up your order.
Enjoy the excitement that comes with a brilliant idea that reduces retail barriers, but prepare for all scenarios. Run simulations and analyze data to identify potential issues with major changes to how your customers shop, especially when these changes are close to the point of sale. It’s important to not overlook the human elements that aren't always obvious in the data. I can tell you that I've seen a few kinks in the “Mobile Order and Pay” service while sitting in one of those comfy chairs at my neighborhood Starbucks.
2. Limit launches to identify issues.
Google limited the “Hands Free” pilot and, while the program is currently shut down, the search giant didn't disclose too many details about the success or failure of the program, rate of adoption by consumers and retail locations, technical issues, etc.
While you and your team may have an idea that seems logical in every way, there are always ways to test and improve. Consumer behavior isn't static or predictable. Don’t be afraid to try something that seems wacky or experimental. Most people will think of machines identifying faces when they hear the term “facial recognition.” Google’s Hands Free service used humans as a facial recognition tool. Take a conservative approach in your testing so you're confident when you're ready for a wider roll out.
Look to the consumer to show you where barriers in your retail experience exist. Reduce friction when it benefits the consumer. Only set expectations with your customers that you know you can keep. Having this consumer-first perspective will help you to identify barriers to bash that will lead to a better retail experience for your customers.
Jim Davidson is the director of research at TurnTo Networks, a customer content application suite.