Connecting Clicks & Bricks

Even digital brands like Amazon have a physical presence. It’s time we think about how digital and physical come together for an integrated experience. Image via Álvaro Ibáñez.

This holiday shopping season is filled with an increasingly familiar business story: retail is leaving the physical world and moving to digital. But that’s hardly news at this point. Moreover, the narrative of ‘digital OR brick-and-mortar’ doesn’t tell the whole story.

Instead of defining themselves as being wholly digital or analog, we see retailers and brands beginning to see customers as people rather than channel-based shoppers. When we see people as full people, not an IP number or shopping bag we are able to design a fuller experience. Which is good, because consumers have always been people, it’s just taken brands a long time to understand what that means.

Are you in the business of selling stuff from stores, or are you in the business of making your customer’s life better in a clear, ownable way?

Why is this change happening now? I think it has many factors, but two of the most important are design thinking and technology. The design thinking revolution showed the value of design that centers around humans, not isolated tasks. It is a vital re-frame in thinking to then address the technological shift: as social media and mobile technology has secured a mature role in more people’s’ lives, users are deftly moving across multiple devices and channels.

Brands that want to capture attention (and shopping dollars) from users need to understand them a lot better, because they need to meet them in a way that is human-centered. In the smartphone era, those digital touchpoints are no longer being experienced in isolation: a shopper in a brick-and-mortar store is also connected to the digital world through their phone, and a digital shopper still needs to receive their product in a physical world.

This starts with defining yourself not by your primary channel (digital or brick-and-mortar) and more by understanding how you can most meaningfully engage your customer across whatever channels they want. This doesn’t mean that local bookstores should be sending push notifications twice a day, or that a fitness app should launch a mall kiosk selling home gym equipment. It means that retailers need to start at the intersection of their customer and their core brand promise, and work backwards from there to design a full and meaningful customer experience generating so much value that the customer will come back, even when something is on sale elsewhere.

By Tom Fishburne

For retailers this is especially hard. But in an era where price competition is fierce and ‘showrooming’ behavior (trying out a product in-store and then going online to buy) is increasingly common, a new bay area startup might have finally discovered a way to re-establish and even strengthen the relationship between retailer and customer. Instead of the online race-to-the-bottom to sell products at ever-sharpening discounts, Enjoy has built a model upon full-price products, and it’s worth exploring what other brands can take away from it.

An Enjoyable New Way

How has Enjoy done this? They started with customer experience and worked backwards. They created a simple online shopping experience of full-price, high-tech products and then have a product expert deliver, set-up, and train the customer in their own home or office — all within 4 hours of purchase. Interacting with the Enjoy Experts is easy, pleasant, and remarkably helpful. If it saves me 30 minutes of driving in traffic, or just one moment of galling confusion as to why the product isn’t working right, it was money well spent. And that’s what Enjoy understands about the business case for experience design: when you design for a fuller customer experience you add more value to their life, and that additional value can be realized in higher prices and improved loyalty.

via Enjoy

If we want to unlock a loyalty cycle we need to think about the user experience on the customer’s terms. Enjoy does this through convenience and holistic, high-touch service. Many services can get you a product within a few hours, but Enjoy doesn’t just deliver a product: it delivers a helpful product expert along with it. They aren’t there to hand off a gadget, they’re there to help you to get past the set-up and straight to the fun part: enjoying the gadget. It’s neither ‘digital-and-deliver,’ nor is it brick-and-mortar; it’s human and helpful, and that’s what makes their model powerful.

So remember: a customer isn’t a digital customer or a brick-and-mortar customer, they’re a human. And they’re a connected one, at that. When you identify your audience’s needs (not channels) and the experiences that support them, you can then find the proper avenues for delivering that experience.

So where does this leave us? Here are a few thought starters. Feel free to chime in with additional ideas and input!

  • Integrating channels is more than just doing something in analog and digital. There’s a difference between texting a product update and requiring an app download to connect on mobile: when does a brand need to create a wholly new experience and when should they just adapt to existing digital behaviors?
  • Many brands have a footprint that spans the digital and physical worlds, but they operate as independent channels rather than focusing upon the user. How can human-centered design be layered in among existing teams and organizational structures?
  • It’s tough to show the value of a more human and intuitive integrated experience: how can we make the business case for experience design?