Retail Technology 2013: Let’s End the 2 Step Purchase Process

Amazon.com

Last week I ran out of face cream. I didn’t want to wait 2 days for an Amazon Prime shipment and I also wanted to try something new, so I needed a quick and easy return process if necessary. I also don’t fully trust that the highly discounted products that are found online aren’t old and expired. And I truly enjoy the act of shopping and no thoughtfully designed interface can take that away from me!

Luckily I live in downtown NYC so there is no shortage of places to buy face cream between work and my apartment.  But being the pro-shopper that I am, I also know that none of these stores provide any product information or real tools for me to figure out what new face cream is best for my skin type or, more importantly, what other people are saying about it.  So Amazon never really left my purchasing process. Before I went to the store, I went to Amazon to sort by skin type and read reviews. And before I closed my laptop to head to the store, Amazon was already telling me what I might also enjoy.

Then I went to the store– a beautifully designed, vibrant store with lots of shiny products and opportunities to burn some money. But I bee-lined right for the face cream I already knew I wanted because of Amazon. Then I waited in line (argh!) and browsed all the stuff they have out in the queue to keep me occupied for the 7 minutes it took for me to reach the cashier.

Perhaps it’s because I work at CG and we constantly think about issues like this, but lately, my retail experiences have been frustrating. There’s just so much opportunity to make the in-store experience better. And better doesn’t mean digital signage that displays pretty pictures that tell me nothing helpful or specific to my needs. Better for me means not having to make my retail purchase a two part process— online research + in-store purchase. Better for retailers means exploiting the opportunity to tell me what else “I may enjoy” based on my search or purchase history. Those products that lined the cash register line had nothing to do with what I was there to buy. So I didn’t buy any of it. But if there was a tool in the store that helped me pick my face cream and then told me that there was a complementary face wash that made the cream work better, I would have bought it in a second… well, after reading the reviews first, of course.

We’re used to personalization and being able to access product information (and get cross-sold) online, so why not offline? The ability to do so exists! While pretty digital signage looks great, it has never once compelled me to buy something.  At this point, most retailers have integrated some sort of digital technology into their physical stores by now—whether it’s a static screen or an interactive iPad. But the way those technologies are used typically result in missed opportunities, or worse, points of frustration. Retailers should use technology and spatial real estate to provide a utility for shoppers, much like the online and mobile experience provides. Combine that with the unique design, energy, and style of a physical store, and retailers may be able to take their competitors, like Amazon, out of their customers’ purchase process.