Designing the Next Cross-Platform Retail Experience / Behavior & Business 1.1

This issue of Behavior & Business is focused on helping brands design better cross-platform retail experiences — better for customers in ways that support their shopping needs and better for the company’s bottom line. This post is the first in a series of ten. To read the complete issue, you can download it here.

Disney, Sonos, Everlane, UberRush, JackThreads, Ledbury. These companies have grown their businesses through the innovative use of leading edge cross-platform experiences that support customer behaviors. But the way these experiences thrive isn’t just useful for established companies or growing brands getting their start: they are grounded in a set of behavioral insights and proven business strategies that any team can use.

Disney’s MyMagic+, SONOS’ new flagship store, and Ledbury’s great-fitting shirts.

We spent the last few months speaking with avid shoppers, observing shopping behavior, immersing ourselves in physical and digital retail experiences, shopping for products on our own (yes, we’re customers, too), and connecting with leaders of some our favorite retail brands. With inspiration and insights in hand, we turned our attention towards developing a behavioral basis and business focus for three key opportunity areas that we see in cross-platform retail, including a set of actionable directives retailers can explore with their teams. Here we go.

Retail is Dead, Long Live Retail

For some time now, innovations in retail platforms have been changing the way that people shop. Sometimes when we talk about these changes, it can seem like there’s a wholesale transformation from one platform to another, A to B, like brick-and-mortar to online. While there have been a host of big, epochal changes in retail experiences, it’s also the case that these changes have entailed less of a wholesale shift from one medium to another.

It’s more like a remix of behaviors and experiences brought about by the creation of new technological platforms. Put simply: people who shop online haven’t stopped going to stores, but they have started going to stores differently than they did before. At Runyon, we’ve been exploring these kinds of remixed behaviors recently and, in this issue of Behavior & Business, we explore some of today’s most exciting and innovative companies to lay out some guiding questions and key insights in the field. What’s changing in how people shop today? What innovations in cross-platform retail are supporting these new behaviors? And how can brands create better experiences for customers in the future that also drive revenue growth?

Put simply: people who shop online haven’t stopped going to stores, but they have started going to stores differently than they did before.

The fact that changes in technology function more like a new member of a complex ecology than as a wholesale shift from A to B resonates with a range of social scientific research. Take, for example, the relationship between technology and money: studies of mobile money have shown that people with credit cards do not stop using cash. Instead, the uses become both more specified and redistributed, with cash becoming a special form of payment that is used in circumstances in which other forms of payment, like credit cards, would be impractical or inappropriate. In this sense, payment technologies are specific, and not strictly fungible: few grandparents would hand their grandchild a credit card to swipe through her Square on their birthday — not just because Grandma is technologically unsavvy, but because there are cultural norms of gift-giving privileging cash that are sticky and recalcitrant to change. People might start paying their bills electronically, but when it comes to gifts for a child’s birthday, cash remains king — and stands to become more special now that it sits apart from how people pay their bills.

Thinking about the specificity of media and how their emergent uses combine with one another in novel ways is a better story than a simple historical succession. We think the same applies to the world of retail. Rather than migrating from one to another, platforms and channels are being mashed up in incredible ways that make use of their unique capacities to help customers have better experiences. How this convergence happens will look very different for Target (which has an abundance of retail floorspace at risk of becoming a depreciating asset) than it will for Warby Parker or Bonobos (brands that were born online and are now selectively opening brick-and-mortar spaces as a specialized expansion of their online presence).

How might we design incredible cross-platform retail experiences that serve customers better and drive growth for our brand?

Our goal with this issue of Behavior & Business is to help retailers think through the challenges posed by specification and integration across platforms. Creating deep cross-platform retail experiences that leverage the best of their assets is an opportunity for retailers of all kinds, if they can bring together emergent customer behavior and time-tested business strategies.

3 Opportunities that Today’s Most Innovative Retail Brands Think About — And Why You Should, Too

In this series of articles, we focus on three opportunity areas that we see as vital in cross-platform retail design and innovation:

Service as Experience

With an increase in just-in-time shopping, customers are spending much more time engaging what used to be ancillary touchpoints, like shipping and in-purchase customer support. Service, in other words, is quickly becoming the primary retail experience for shoppers. In addition to designing more interactive service experiences throughout the shopping journey, brands need to design engaging ways for customers to ‘shop service’ as much as they design compelling ways for customers to shop products.

Product-Person Fit

Trial and fit still matter to customers, but the ways customers are learning about products and fitting them to their needs is changing. While retailers are designing better ways to support trying products out at home, they also have to create much more immersive moments of fitting in-store and on-the-go, helping teach, inspire, and expand a customer’s practical knowledge about the products they’re considering.

My Platform Retail

Customers spend an ever-increasing amount of time across a series of social, often-mobile platforms. Recommendations from friends, reviews from the broader crowd, and perceived social value have all become strong influencers of what and when to buy something. While brands are developing incredibly creative social campaigns, they need to do a better job of showing up where customers spend most of the lives — at home, online, and in conversation — and go further to provide easier, more personal, and platform-specific ways to shop and engage on their own terms.

To illustrate these opportunities, we will share a few examples of retailers that clearly listen to customer needs and behaviors while translating that knowledge into growth-focused, cross-platform retail experiences. We will show the ways these channel interactions may not be generic across product lines and industries but specific to them: people shop for clothing differently than they shop for sound systems, and that matters in how both customers and businesses bring these technologies together in new ways. With these examples in mind, we’ll give our take on how we think retailers can better serve the needs of customers across different media, channels and touchpoints now and in the future.

Our next post in the series, How Disney is Using Service to Turn Pain into Delight, digs deeper into the first opportunity area, Service as Experience. Click here to keep reading.

About Behavior & Business

Behavior & Business is a series that explores the behaviors of customers and the ways businesses are meeting their needs in innovative ways that drive growth. To read the complete issue of Behavior & Business, download it here.

About Runyon

Runyon is a design and innovation firm that helps companies grow. Behavior & Business is indicative how we approach our work: we use equal parts customer behavior and business strategy to inspire the market-facing and revenue-generating experiences that we design with our clients.

About the Authors

Anthony D’Avella is the Founder of Runyon. He designs growth experiences with great brands like American Express, Target, and the Harvard Innovation Lab, as well as with amazing startups. Prior to Runyon, Anthony designed, built, and launched cross-platform businesses at IMG and for Fortune 500 clients in IDEO’s New York studio. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and teaches venture design in the graduate MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. When he’s not at work, you can usually find him on a beach somewhere with his wife and daughter.

Dr. Nicholas D’Avella is an ethnographer with research interests in markets, expert knowledge, and urban ecologies. His work connects Science and Technology Studies with anthropological themes related to money, exchange, and value. He completed his PhD at the University of California, Davis prior to holding postdoctoral fellowships at the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society at UC Berkeley and at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art. He is currently a Hunt Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at NYU.