Mind the retail gap

Quite a relevant post from econsultancy this week on why retailers need more work on their multichannel offerings. Only recently on the bank holiday a friend of mine, we’ll call her Anna, had quite reluctant assistance in returning a non-functioning hair straightener – we’ll call it XYZ – to John Lewis. The whole episode emphasised a couple of design flaws but more on that later.

XYZ straightener had simply just stopped working after only a handful of uses. Even after allowing it to cool down it would still fail to turn on. Anna referenced a number of online forums to discover it is a prevalent problem. Calling John Lewis (my friend bought it online from the store), she was advised it could return it in store, rather than online.

Arriving at John Lewis Oxford Street, the XYZ counter was abandoned. When someone appeared, they were a XYZ representative, not John Lewis. Perfect, just the person Anna wanted. But no, the company salesperson was in store only for the day and couldn’t advise Anna what to do. ‘You can’t return it in store,’ Anna was told. ‘You need to return it to the manufacturer. You’d best find the store manager,’ Anna was told.

Rewind – Anna would have to what? You’re working in retail. You should know the basic principles. Anna didn’t move and quite rightly asked the salesperson to find the store manager for her.

When the store manager arrived, Anna repeated that she’s been told it could be returned in store. The store manager acquiesced and agreed JL would take care of it. Clearly the call centre and in store staff were ill advised and not aligned on return policy.

At this point, XYZ salesperson finally asked to see the non-functioning straightener – something she’d failed to do before. Plugging the straightener into power, the salesperson concurred that it was indeed not working. And advised that if the straightener heats up over the stipulated 185° it will shut itself off – forever. A key piece of information not very well communicated. Even on XYZ’s product care page, it is not mentioned. Now, I’m no product designer, but doesn’t XYZ have an obligation if they are manufacturing this type of appliance to design it so that it doesn’t overheat?

After learning this, I forget how many times Anna said that she’d just like her money back:
‘We could send it off to the manufacturers.’
No, I’d just like my money back.
‘The new model is coming out. We could let you know when it’s in store.’
No, I’d just like my money back.

Despite Anna and I having just visited the rather lovely roof gardens atop John Lewis, this experience left quite a tarnish on their name for us. Anna got her money back in the end, vowing to never buy XYZ again.

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Fast, hassle free online donations

Recently friends of mine have been active participants in fundraising events for charities. Naturally quite inspired by their endeavours I’ve wanted to sponsor or donate to their chosen causes. But two sites most recently have shown vast differences in their online models, it begs the question that their website design are huge barriers to onboarding potential donors ! This is quite topical for me at the moment as I work to simplify online registration for a global beauty retailer that severely hampers visitors becoming members.

Firstly Oxfam Australia. A friend is competing in the Trailwalker hike. 100 kms. Wow, I want to support her team. I follow the link to their page where I see a clear Donate call to action. Clicking this button takes me to a form asking for my donation amount, name, email, physical address (why?) and finally credit card details with a final Confirm button at the end. Phew, all done. Yet clicking the Confirm button does nothing. The fields which I had filled are all in focus so I suspect that this is a validation exercise. So I recheck the details I entered and click Confirm again. Again, nothing.

oxfam2

I try this a number of times, wondering if my credit card also has been charged the same number of times. What I had been failing to see was a slimline drop down at the top of the screen which was asking me to login. What? Why allow users to enter all of these details if it’s necessary to be a member? Not to mention that I’ve never been to this site before – I just want to make a donation and go. I don’t have the time to register !

My friend who’s competing is a good friend so I persevere. I register and I get my subsequent registration confirmation email. Go through the motions and I’m back on the site to login before another attempted donation.

Now the site doesn’t recognise me. I retype the password I’d chosen and typed twice on the confirmation only a minute ago but to no avail. I’m getting well passed annoyed now. Every second I am re-evaluating how much of a good friend the willing 100km hike participant (just kidding, Ron !). My guilt gets me in the end and I click the Forgot password link. A temporary saviour arrives, I type it in and bingo, I’m finally recognised !

But before I try to donate again I want to check the Donation History to make sure my credit card hasn’t already been received or processed. This screen asks me to select the dates I want to check. Rather strange as a new registrant. Also the pre-populated date range seems a bit random – some date in November 2012 to June 2013. Today is 28 April 2014 right? I change the date to today and phew, no transactions display. Then I read the text above the date selector – “If you’ve made a recent donation, please note that donations may take up to five working days to appear.” Oh dear – a simple listing of donations made with a given status of ‘pending’ wouldn’t do here? So do I wait 5 days or go ahead with the donation?

The other site I’ve used recently is Virgin Money Giving. What a breeze! I don’t need to register. I don’t need to login. I select the charity, the amount and chose how I want to pay. Simples. Done in less than 3 minutes.

Multiply 3 minutes by the number of steps taken on Oxfam, amplified by factors of annoyance and frustration and that’s how many potential donors you’re missing out on Oxfam.

Stop and question how much you really need to know about donors. If you were selling raffle tickets at the local shopping centre you wouldn’t find out much at all. It’s called fund raising for a reason, not data collection.

Fundraising is hard enough – I know; my mother fundraised for charity for the best part of 20 years before the convenience of online tools. Use them wisely and be smart.

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How close are we to our own currency?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about new currencies around the world developed and owned by brands to reward loyalty from customers. Loyalty cards and rewards points are a dime a dozen these days on the high street and of course help to hone many a buying decision.

A recent TED talk by Paul Kemp-Robertson discussed the rise of Amazon’s new currency and Nike Sweat – pledge your sweat for points – as a consumer’s trust is more in businesses than in traditional institutions such as banks and governments.

Ultimately, these currencies are owned and run by the big brands themselves. Even though the consumer might believe that it gives them more power in the market place, does it?

Behind all of these schemes are the machinations that make it all possible. Analytics chew through mountains of statistics and data to pinpoint what we as consumers do with our money, what we buy, create special offers on our most purchased items and make recommendations of our related products – along with creating profiles on us.

This was highlighted further recently with an article in Fast Company, detailing the level of analysis gathering occurring in high street stores. Add what’s been uncovered through Snowden-gate and we have ample concern about our privacy – the how, what, where, when and most importantly, why.

What’s needed in this relationship, is for the key players to change position. Consumers should be their own gatekeepers on who can access their information and to what degree. Not the brands. Subscribing to these reward schemes promotes the risk of multiple data sets stored in faraway databases with price tags on them. Perhaps what is needed is a currency that each and every one of us own. Not controlled by a faceless organisation in an indeterminable location doing god only knows what with. If there is a place for governments in this consumer-controlled world, it is to set the infrastructure to firmly place consumers in the driving seat.

A system that gives power to the consumer to enter into permission-based transactions. Knowing that their behaviour will be tracked and analysed, a consumer chooses who to give their consent to – those stores or brands which they trust to do business with regularly. The consumer chooses the amount of information given and could involve progressive disclosure over a period of time – as the trust with the vendor grows based on an ongoing and amiable relationship. This getting of information is gained through good customer relations and old fashioned service, rather than just because they have the means to do it. In return, the consumer gets rewards, free product, gifts, etc.

Our data is what these brands want. With this information, they can analyse our behaviours and our habits to improve their marketing efforts and their product offering. But so far this has been a lopsided transaction. We willingly tick terms and conditions check boxes on websites that waives the organisation concerned of any wrongdoing if a leak of privacy occurs. Still sounds way out of the control of those whose data is mined – us, you and me.

Anya Kamenetz speaks of apps enabling payment for making monetising our data online. One site in particular – Reputation.com – will soon be offering a feature that allows customers to offer up their data in return for free product, but with what controls?

Either way, the times may be achanging for establishments that mine, store and manipulate our data for their own purposes. Our privacy should be our own global currency.

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High street longevity

When I saw the name for a new coffee chain opening on the Ealing Broadway High street, I got to thinking. Harris + Hoole is a smart and cosy family run coffee establishment and the name that got me thinking.

I wondered if the same joining of two different entities could have helped curb the number of high street brands going into administration during the recession. Admittedly, this idea could not have prevented the closing of stores due to decreasing footfall and spending. But why wait for customers to come to you – take your wares to the customer.

For instance, if HMV had coupled with Starbucks or Costa to enable customers to download or buy music, videos or books online while they enjoy their coffee, could that have helped save a few jobs?

Or imagine the summer of festivals that permeates this country. You pack up for a few days of music and sun, the most important thing you want to do is capture the fun times right? But typically, there’s not a lot of power outlets for charging cameras and smartphones and therefore you come back with a few less memories that what you’d hoped. What if Jessops had taken their digital technology to these events so that festival goers could charge their phones while also getting the chance to rent high-end camera equipment to photograph themselves and friends and upload the fabulously-edited images (with the assistance of Jessops staff) to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc, etc.

Pretty soon, you start to see a lot of similar cross overs with other brands.

There’s a lot of ‘cross’-ness occurring elsewhere, that I thought it strange that brands had not collaborated before – before or after hard hitting recessions. We have cross-channel (marketing across different media), cross-genre (fiction that draws themes from different genres), cross-functional teams (different expertise working on the one project), and there’s more.

Sure, there is cross-promotion but that speaks of a short-term marketing strategy. The idea of longevity suggested here is of more from a business structure and design perspective.

Signposting our ruin

Last night in a busy Tesco I saw 3 self-service machines vacant while a queue circled around the fruit and veg section? Why? The customers were waiting an instruction. An instruction which didn’t come as the attendant on duty was helping a very flustered customer with a technical problem on another machine.

As I’ve watched the increase of self-service machines take over the number of peopled cash registers, so too the reliance of customers on the attendants. They were originally stationed to help with technical problems. But the waiting queue now wait for the attendant’s command to go and which self service machine to go to.

On another occasion while standing second in line, I alerted the person in front that a machine had become free. The response was, ‘the attendant will tell me if its okay.’

It wouldn’t seem that difficult a concept. One customer vacates the machine, another engages it. Like waiting for a pump at a petrol station. Do we wait for an attendant to tell us where to go? No, no one stands at the pumps to hold our hand and lead us through. We line up sensibly, the car in front leaves and we move up.

This got me around to think about signposting – triggers we all use in interface design for messaging or instruction to the user. But do we ourselves do too much hand holding and impede the user from thinking for themselves?

Recently I have been working on a scientific content enrichment project. The target user is chemists who are very familiar with the content and its subleties. Yet I work with stakeholders who are not, and who question screen designs that don’t give enough instruction or context.

What’s the balance? Clearly AB testing is the solution here and has proven that the less amount of noise the better, the content speaks for itself. As a previous head of UX used to drill into me, the efficacy of design should eliminate any need for explanation.

But is there too much noise out there already and does the Tesco observation show we are a society that expect to be told what to do?

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Sweet packaged cupcakes

I love startups … creative, food, culinary. And this weekend I saw a cupcake startup hitting their stride with free samplings at a large gourmet supermarket in London. Woo hoo !

I arrived on time for the tasting – didn’t want to miss out – but I couldn’t find their stand. Did I get the date wrong? No, the store’s bakery staff were expecting them also. So I wander the bakery counter and see that they’re already stocked in the superstore. As I want to investigate the different flavours, I am unable to easily see what’s inside the boxes.

The problem? The packaging design.

The individual cupcake was beautifully housed in a clear plastic box with a dovetailed lid. The entire front of the box however was covered in their promotional label. You get a much better view of the cakes on their website.

The space on the shelf was tight, so picking up the plastic boxes was difficult without disturbing the neighbouring boxes and pulling the entire shelf load to the floor. I was becoming a little annoyed. All I could do was stand on tiptoe to look through the top of the box to see the morsel inside.

I eventually bought one. Not the one I wanted because I couldn’t see the description of the cake easily – this was written on the back of the box. Hmm…

I pondered the situation as I stared at the empty box at home after finishing the baked good. How could the packaging done a better job of presentation?

Firstly, a reimagined packaging design so that the label did not cover the merchandise from view. Allow people to freely see what’s inside – why do you need an illustration on the label when you have such a pretty cupcake inside to do your advertising for you?

And secondly, the strapline that describes your cake – for eg. a vanilla buttermilk cupcake with a juicy passionfruit centre – should also appear on the front, not the back. Let people know what they’re buying. You don’t want the customer to have to pick up box after box just to find basic information. Don’t let them get the cake home to realise that the simple chocolate cupcake they bought is really a chilli chocolate cupcake laced with brandy … not everyone likes liquer in their cakes.

Two simple steps to package your wares could save people time in perusing and entice them into filling their baskets with more of your goods. I know I would have 🙂

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Taking the sting out of the worker bees

Recently I was asked to study users that process subscription orders and handle customer service requests for a publisher. They want their antiquated and clunky administrative tool updated and honed for their purposes – which they’d been promised for years would be fixed.

Considering that tensions may be high when the subject is broached, I’m proposing a lighter approach for the workshop – using a board game. This idea came from a children’s television show I saw in Australia, which also had the same format in the UK.

Do you think it may work?

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