Collection No 1
To survive in today’s competitive retail environment, companies must focus on one aspect of the customer journey to differentiate with unique new experiences. It’s all about finding that magic moment—not attempting to own the entire journey.
Moving Beyond a Linear Journey
The traditional customer journey for retail has been a predominantly linear one, starting with the inspiration or desire to buy, and concluding with a consumer living with the purchased product.
But the advent of online and mobile shopping, coupled with social media has changed the traditional shopping journey so that it is no longer linear. We can jump around the journey, join and leave at mid points, or bypass entire steps. For instance, while shopping on Amazon, we can be inspired at the checkout (in the moment of purchase) by recommendations for complementary products to go with the items in our baskets, sending us back to the start of a new purchase journey. Or while checking into a flight on the United Airlines, we might circumvent considering options for getting to the airport, such as using a taxi, ridesharing, or driving ourselves by using the embedded “Order Uber” button in their check-in app. Indeed, a complete stranger’s negative review on TripAdvisor may change our planning process or derail a hotel booking entirely.
Finding Your Magic Moment
In light of the changing landscape and evolving customer needs and expectations, companies are now doubling down on specific moments of the shopping journey, choosing to differentiate themselves on that step. For example, Amazon was early to optimize and ultimately own the “Buy” moment of the customer journey by famously patenting its one-click ordering system allowing consumers to buy without going through a digital shopping cart. It was all about convenience, speed and efficiency, optimizing the experience for shoppers who want to get in and out as quickly as they can.
This was a major game-changer as early as 1999, but in the decades since, we’ve seen shopper archetypes expand beyond the buyer who simply knows what they want and wants to get it as quickly as possible. We have seen retailers and CPG companies succeeding in a world of Amazon by focusing a different moment in the retail journey in order to offer a memorable, differentiated, competitive customer experience. Let’s break down the customer journey and look at how retailers can optimize each stage.
Perhaps one of the most saturated points on the journey, many companies are working to capitalize on social media and influencer culture by owning the moment of inspiration. Houzz does this well, crowdsourcing inspiring photos of interior designs and monetizing that inspiration by linking to third party firms that sell furnishings, fittings and services. Retailers who curate towards specific lifestyles, from Uncrate to Bonobos are also striving to optimize on the inspire portion of the journey, selling products and services within the context of their customer’s lifestyle or through social media platforms like Instagram.
Marketers have historically focused on getting their brands into the consideration sets of consumers with a need or desire. Creativity and money is poured into advertising to make a product or brand top of mind. The trouble is that most consumers have very little time to think about the many brands vying for their attention. In many so called “low involvement” categories, consumers really don’t care which product or brand they use and are happy to switch. Tools like Amazon Dash buttons or Amazon subscribe & save attempt to cash in on this lack of interest by taking the thinking out of re-ordering, thereby preventing other brands from being considered. Companies like Progressive are competing on the same insight in a very different way, by trying to push out competitors in the consideration moment with their price comparison tool. The proliferation of options to meet a need, coupled with the accessibility of information through search engines such as Google and Baidu is eroding loyalty, opening doors to compete in the moment that consumers consider their options.
3. Plan & Research
This stage was another fairly early entrant in online and mobile retail. Travel sites such as Expedia and Hipmunk, as well as more recent entrants such as Google Travel have found ways to monetize the research phase of the purchasing journey. Other comparison shopping sites have since surfaced in retails areas from clothing to cars. These sites are optimized for the plan moment of the journey, positioning themselves as the helpful guide in what can often seem like the endless options now available in the world of online retail—so much so that many would not even think of buying something without consulting one of these sites.
This stage is one that has up until recently been rather neglected in the transition from in-store to online retail. What has emerged is a new class of white-label brands that offer non-sexy items like mattresses, toothbrushes or razors, in well-packaged and branded experiences. Mattress seller Casper competes for this moment, delighting shoppers with the unboxing experience to such an extent that there are thousands of YouTube videos of people opening the unfeasibly small Casper mattress box and watching the mattress take shape. Premium and luxury product makers have struggled with the receive moment of ecommerce because it removes the in-store experience or the fancy 5th Avenue address. Net-a-Porter has capitalized on this hole in the luxury ecommerce market by creating a same-day delivery service that arrives right to your door in an oversized luxe shopping bag, rather than a brown cardboard box. And in China, JD.com has taken this idea one step further with their premium delivery service for luxury goods, where even the drivers are part of the experience, outfitted in tailor made business suits.
Product makers have always thought about how their customers will live with their product, and have optimized for it. After all, a company’s reputation will live or die by how their products perform. But some firms are doubling down on maintaining a relationship with customers beyond the transaction. Patagonia offers repair services for its clothing as an effort to minimize their environmental footprint while maintaining relationships with customers. Connected products offer opportunities to enhance the ownership experience. For example, phones, computers and cars receive “over the air” upgrades to their software, often enhancing the product long after it was purchases. Another example of a firm doing this well is smart speaker maker Sonos, who historically ensured that all of its speakers were “backwards compatible” with new software tools they brought out, ensuring that their customer’s investments in speakers are protected.
Companies looking to differentiate themselves in retail should start by selecting one or two steps in the customer journey to focus on, and ideate around ways to offer unique experiences in those moments. Figuring out where to compete, and how this fits with your brand, is fundamentally a creative question, and one that the tools of design are well suited to address. At frog, we often address this as part of customer experience design projects, not only thinking through new products and services but also how those fit into a wider system of customer engagement.
Illustrations by Allison Filice
Tim leads a global team of business and product strategists who work alongside frog designers and technologists to bring game changing innovations to market. He has worked in Silicon Valley for 15 years in a variety of product, strategy and marketing roles.