Music aficionados may debate the merits of vinyl records, CDs, or digital downloads, but the common factor will be the desire to experience their favorite musicians, be it The Beatles or Prince, as if they were themselves present in the studio.
Retail marketers should have the same desire to provide an intense and immediate experience – in this case, user experience, or UX.
UX usually refers to the experience a user has when engaging with digital devices or media. But the user interface (UI), the key contributor to UX, has morphed beyond websites into apps, chatbots, and voice assistants, buoyed by machine learning. Managing the functionality of those media is essential for marketers seeking to keep their brands up to date.
The driver for better UX is the consumer’s insistence that offline commerce reflect online experiences. That desire has given rise to digital natives – brands that have launched with an online-only presence – creating physical stores to complement the experience. Digital natives plan apps and websites to provide exceptional utility, and appeal to the cross device usage behavior customers have adopted over the years. Warby Parker is a prime example of digital native success. It started in 2010 solely online, creating a site and app that facilitates the eyewear selection process for customers. Today the brand operates 71 stores, and an optical lab to manufacture eyewear.
Marketers must strive to present a seamless experience across media and devices if their brands are to be competitive. The more seamless, streamlined, and intuitive the experience is for the user, the more the user will enjoy interacting with the brand. That seamlessness starts with evaluating the UX and seeing where and how it can be improved.
There are several steps marketers can take when considering ways to upgrade the user experience. Reviewing results from an analytics platform is a given. But the analysis should help marketers gain a sense of how customers generally navigate their way to product and service choices online. That navigation can be compared with in-store POS data to generate ideas on how to best service customers.
In the development process, do leave some room for discovery while beta testing an app or chatbot’s performance. Many assumptions about app navigation or chatbot layout change as more customers use and offer commentary on the experience. Allowing for discovery can make a difference between a “me too” app that languishes on a smartphone, and something that significantly enhances how products and services are perceived by the customer.
In upgrading an experience, marketers should ask the question: “What feature can I revise to ensure that this app, chatbot, or voice assistant feels intuitive?” Sometimes the answer means moving a feature onto another part of the screen. It can also mean eliminating a feature, in order to keep navigation as simple as possible.
Upgrades should be done with care. A device, be it a phone or voice device, should never be a shoulder tapper – a medium that needlessly reminds of a new feature every few months. Apps and chatbots upgrades should not interfere with the customer interaction.
In fact, the process of streamlining UX features can be impacted by design constraints of new devices that customers can access alongside their older devices. Users may have become acclimated to the layout pattern associated with a given device, and these days, with a given environment. For example, more automotive brands are incorporating Android Auto and Apple CarPlay into their entertainment systems. That trend can mean additional features, like location information on a map, becoming important elements in to the experience. Being guided to a nearby location can create a positive response from the customer-on-the-go, before they even step into the store.
Building for UX also implies building for future customers. When it comes to what will influence future UX, no retailer has a crystal ball. But current considerations about navigation, and variations between network devices, can provide the right clues for retail marketers to replicate the best parts of the in-store experience in a digital environment (and vice versa), and put customers right in the studio with their rock star brand.