Cross-channel Experiences in Retail

This is the main outcome of a recent study (PDF) by NCR, an 1884-founded American technology company with long-standing expertise in the field of self-service kiosk systems and point-of-sale terminals in a number of strategic sectors such as retail, travel, healthcare, food, and financial services.

What they outline above can be easily said to be the main take-away of the book: users, customers are interacting with the brand and have little interest in the single channel they are using at any given time. “The whole of the experience should be greater than the sum of its parts”, as Jess McMullin and Samantha Starmer put it.

Pervasive information architectures are consistent information spaces that are not limited to the Web, but bridge across all active communication channels for a given company, product, or service. In the book, we promote a heuristic approach to design them, based on 5 related indicators: place-making, consistency, resilience, correlation, and reduction.  Two of these, namely consistency and correlation (respectively Chapters 5 and 8 of the book), are those which directly impact on the idea of simpler, seamless human-information interactions in the retail process. This is how we define them:

  1. consistency is the capability of pervasive information architectures to suit the purposes, the contexts and the people they are designed for (internal consistency); and to maintain the same logic along the different media, environments and times they encompass (external consistency);
  2. correlation is the capability of pervasive information architectures to suggest relevant connections among pieces of information, services, and goods to help users achieve explicit goals or stimulate latent needs. We distinguish between internal correlation, which promotes semantic proximity between similar items belonging to the same channel, and external correlation, which promotes semantic proximity between items belonging to different channels but connected to the same task, process, or people.

Both heuristics serve the purpose of making experiences across channels better working parts of the whole, from different angles. Where consistency stresses the need for getting away from the idea of simple, ever-stable categorization as the holy grail of IA, correlation actively suggests that connecting loosely joined pieces is the only way to make complexity work for the users. Properly designed external correlation allows for example users to commence a task in any one channel and seamlessly complete it in another one, with minimal cognitive or logic dissonances. And, more practically, to retrieve and exploit pieces of information they acquired – or results of tasks they performed, of course – in channel “a” when they move to another channel “b“, and so on.

NCR uses a slightly different terminology, but it seems we share a common vision. A few excerpts from their White Paper probably better clarify this:

Confusion

Even though they are empowered with greater access to information and multiple channels for dealing with businesses, consumers often are confounded by communications and interactions that lack consistency and coherence. […]

The research findings show that nearly two-thirds of consumers use the Internet more frequently to research products and prices. […]

But these same consumers also express dissatisfactions. They note, for example, that information they need from retailers is available on some channels, such as websites, but not in others, such as stores. Or that they receive information that isn’t relevant. They often feel bombarded with information and find it difficult to get consistent information (pp. 2, 5).

Customization

The research also shows that consumers are interested in a more personalized shopping experience, but they want control over that personalization.

[…] Brand preferences, receipt type, and food/drink choices at restaurants are also top of mind, along with personal shopping lists and being recognized by name (pp. 2, 6).

Across channel

Critically, the research reveals that consumers want a seamless, consistent experience across channels when they interact with businesses.

[…] Organizations that evolve their business model to converge channels and touchpoints, while providing a consistent experience and control over personalization, are more likely to earn greater consumer confidence and loyalty (p. 2).

Further readings

Whitepapers

Websites