At a time when stalwarts of retail such as Sears are facing liquidation, it’s easy to assume that retail is failing its customers left and right. But the truth is more complicated. At frog, a global strategy and design firm, we surveyed 500 shoppers in North America about their most recent shopping experience, focusing on apparel, shoes and accessories, for a research study on types of shoppers. We asked each respondent to reflect back on the last time they went shopping for clothes, shoes or accessories and to tell us what they disliked about the experience. This included both online or physical shopping.
The biggest surprise was that a full 53% of respondents said they were entirely satisfied with their most recent shopping experience. A typical comment was “there is nothing I disliked about the experience, in fact, I enjoyed the service.” For those who did have unmet needs, the most common irritant was that shopping is too time consuming, citing poor parking, messy stores or badly organized out websites that are hard to navigate. Other shoppers had some critique of the products they purchased, either that the quality was inadequate for the price they paid, or the products they aspired to were outside of their budget. Certain sizes and colors being out of stock was an irritant, as was having too little (or too much) choice. For eCommerce shoppers, the lack of instant gratification remains an issue.
So, if a majority of consumers are satisfied with their experience, can retailers relax? We think there is an opportunity here to go beyond satisfaction and truly delight customers with dynamic experiences that bridge both digital and physical environments. If you look at other industries, it’s clear that satisfied customers are dangerous. Think back to life before smartphones; we were all pretty satisfied with our Blackberries or 2-inch-color-display phones from Nokia. Then came the iPhone, which reframed our expectations of what a phone could and should do. Or more recently, most urbanites were fairly happy with their options for getting around town—from driving to rideshares to transit to cycling to walking. Then along came electric scooters and bike rentals, which changed the game for short trips at rush hour. No need to look for parking, no need to lock a bike, no need to sit in traffic, all while having quite a bit of fun! The upshot is that it’s no longer enough to just to fix what’s broken—rather we need to define entirely new paradigms for consumers. Brands need to reframe customer expectations and delivery something unexpected—something brilliant, even.
The toolset of design excels at finding ways to delight customers in ways they would not have been able to articulate until they experience it. For example, frog recently worked with a car repair and oil change chain. Through ethnographic research and customer interviews, it became clear that many people are slightly uneasy dealing with auto repair shops, as they are not sure if what they are being sold is really needed, and whether the shop is doing all the maintenance tasks that they claim they are doing. To ease the sense of distrust in the process, we created a new kind of waiting room experience that is open to the repair shop. By laying out the repair shop in “stations,” the steps in common tasks such as oil and filter changes, tire rotations and brake pad replacements are clearly visible and easy to follow even for laypeople. In doing so, we designed a new opportunity for delight within a retail environment that most consumers traditionally feel uneasy in.
As stores and malls evolve from being distribution hubs where shoppers go to get goods to experiential centers, we will see lots of innovations. Early indicators show that successful experiences will leverage the shopper’s smartphone and digital life to personalize both the shopping experience and the goods they buy. Instant delivery will become the norm, and we expect that stores will spill out beyond the physical mall to meet people where they want to gather. What we can be sure of is that simply fixing what is broken in today’s shopping experience won’t be nearly enough to win in the future of retail. Rather, winning retailers will use their creativity to delight, all while reframing customer expectations.