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Opportunities to link up in-store and digital customer experience

Author: Sam Menter

My son has been growing like a magic bean stalk. A month ago I suddenly realised his trousers, shirts and shoes all looked like they had shrunk and he had also outgrown his bicycle.

I love bikes, so buying a new one for my son is exciting but also pretty stressful. I need to be sure I’m choosing the right model, size and colour as well as getting the best price. I threw myself into research mode and visited shop, manufacturer and magazine sites to read descriptions and reviews on my phone and laptop.

But with a big purchase like this I also needed to try the bike for size, feel and weight (rarely included in descriptions). So I created a shortlist — using screenshots — and decided to visit a shop where two of the bikes were in stock.

First thing Saturday morning, full of weetabix and anticipation my son and I jumped in the car and zipped over to the shop.

It took us a little while to find one of the bikes but it had different gears and narrower tyres from the one we’d seen online — no good for our favourite muddy tracks in the Forest of Dean. So I wanted to look at the product page on the website again for comparison, but I hadn’t bookmarked it. It was a slow process via a 3G connection and when I found the bike the prices displayed in-store and online were also different.

I saw another bike that looked like a contender and I wanted to read reviews so I tried unsuccessfully to find it on the shop website.

I started chatting to a sales person, who was friendly and keen. I was ready to show him our shortlist but I didn’t get the chance as he started reeling off lots of basic information: “This is one of our more advanced junior bikes, the disc brakes mean it’s great at stopping in the wet and the dry”.

It was awkward to let him know what I already knew without sounding like a jerk.

The whole experience was so frustrating that after the visit I decided to buy the bike online but from a completely different company, despite it being slightly more expensive!

Retail fail.

Touchpoints designed in isolation

My experience was most likely a result of touchpoints being created and managed in isolation rather than being designed around a customer journey to create a cohesive and joined up experience.

Individually, each touchpoint was fairly well designed — the shop’s website was fairly simple and intuitive, the in-store experience was friendly and relaxed.

But the pain came when I expected to be able to combine the two.

Imagine how it might work

  • Before I visit a shop, I might save a shortlist with notes that I can easily access on more than one device and share with the shop so they can pick up the sales journey where the website leaves off
  • In the shop the bikes could be organised in the same way as on the website making it easy to find products
  • Touchscreen displays could display the extended range when there isn’t space to stock in-store
  • When I’m looking at a bike there could be a clear way (QR code?!) of accessing a shop specific version of the product page where I can read reviews, explore alternative configurations and add it to a shortlist, chat with remote staff, and even check out on the spot
  • Store staff should be able to help complete the sale if I share the product and let me know anything else I might need to go with this purchase, talking me through any finance options or warranties etc.
  • I’m spending a lot of money so why should I have to queue with people who have popped in for a brake pad!? In fact I shouldn’t ever need to queue at a till

This is an age where most customers research high value purchases online before visiting a shop. By the time they visit they may have already have built up significant knowledge and formed strong opinions. We need to be mindful of this as we design the experience and recognise that the customer journey now spans multiple touchpoints and a longer period of time.

The missing link

Many retailers already have the technology in place for the foundation of this joined up experience but lack the final layer and customer insight to link it all together. This layer can only be created once there is a clear understanding of the customer needs at each step in the journey.

We need to zoom out and see the whole picture: what are the key things customers do and why do they do them, online, offline and in-store before, during and after a purchase? By understanding and designing around these behaviours before implementing technology, we can design a cohesive and rewarding customer experience.

We use research and prototyping to explore customer behaviour and design for an omnichannel experience. Find out more about our service design and UX consultancy here or email if you’d like to find out more.

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