How Shopping Behaviors Impact Frictionless Retail Needs

A retailer’s business processes and technology should be executed so that they consistently deliver a seamless shopping experience, regardless of where or how the consumer shops. While all consumers create hierarchies of needs and preferences when choosing where to shop and which retailers to return to, there are surprisingly few universal truths about what creates an optimal shopping experience.

Stopping by a convenience store on a road trip and browsing for an ultra-luxury handbag at a mall, for example, have almost no similarities. The only thing they do share is that the shopper wants to receive from the retailer exactly what they expected from it. Surprises are only acceptable within particular parameters. 

That’s why I am often astonished by the broad stroke commentary in the industry about ‘frictionless retail’ and what retailers must do to achieve it. In fact, the term is only useful when it comes to eliminating the pain points your customers either don’t expect or would happily be rid of in their time interacting with you.

Using the same example, convenience stores stand to benefit massively from eliminating checkout entirely, but that high-value transaction moment may actually be one of the most rewarding and integral part of the process for the luxury handbag shopper. 

That’s why blindly pursuing any and all ‘frictionless’ technologies in an effort to keep up with the Joneses will not be successful. Like anything else, retailers should first evaluate their customer’s unique needs and pain points, and earnestly evaluate how they align to their brand offering. 

From there, retailers can launch the transition by pursuing the best technology for each friction-inducing part of the shopping journey.

So, before we get into what to do to start the transition to a successful frictionless future, let’s take a look at the eight different types of purchases that uniquely affect the shopping experience a customer expects:

1. Recurring purchase

A recurring purchase is when a shopper routinely prioritizes your brand when they need to make another purchase. For example, if a shopper buys paint from a hardware store, the next time they need to buy lightbulbs, they’ll choose the same retailer since they already trust the brand from the first experience. To keep customers coming back, maintaining a consistent experience and having an effective loyalty program are essential. Who knows? Your loyal customers may also become your biggest advocate. 

2. Normal purchase

Normal purchases are a shopper’s standard, repeat purchases, such as the items routinely on grocery lists. With these purchases, consumers know where the products they need are located in the store, and often look to make their trip as short as possible. Common causes of friction with normal purchases can include having to wait in line to checkout, or if inventory is missing from the shelves.

3. Symbolic purchase

These purchases demonstrate a status, image or attitude. Products often include luxury items, or trending items – think fidget spinners in 2017. Items that showcase group belonging and identity also fit into this group, like university apparel or sports team memorabilia, as well as sustainable and ethical purchases. Points of friction can occur if items are not in stock or if there is a limited assortment.  

4. Hedonistic purchase

Hedonistic purchases are self-indulgent buys. These goods are consumed for comfort purposes and are often desirable objects that promise enjoyment or fun. For example, a hedonistic shopper will look to buy the newest version of a phone or TV, or gourmet chocolates. To better serve these customers, retailers should look to improve their customer service and make product information easy to access.

5. Saving purchase

As the name suggests, these purchases are practical buys that are on sale or discounted. This can range from a BOGO shoe offer, or an end-of-season sale. In order to avoid friction here, retailers need to be able to send personalized promotional notifications to shoppers, and efficiently manage changes in dynamic pricing.

6. Curious purchase

Curious purchases might be products or brands that are new to a shopper. For example, beauty retailers often stock newly launched product lines, or new shades and colors of existing products. For the shopper, buying a product they’ve never used is a way to explore the brand. With these purchases, shoppers can often research products beforehand, which means retailers should ensure the buying process is seamless across online and in-store channels.

7. Impulse purchase

Spontaneous buys can occur in-person at the checkout line or as a suggested item when completing online checkout. With impulse purchases, the last mile is essential, as the longer it takes for a customer to acquire the item after initially considering it, the greater the likelihood that they’ll want to put it back on the shelf. 

8. Interim purchase

With an interim purchase, the benefit of acquiring an item cheaply outweighs the downside of lower quality. These purchases are for consumers who are not willing to invest in a big-ticket item, but still need a product, and understand the item might need to be replaced in the near term. Products that involve interim purchases might include basic items such as trash cans, beach towels or generic-brand batteries. As with saving purchases, ensuring accurate markdowns and promotions are the best ways to reach these customers.

Find the friction in your business

While there is variation in the eight different purchases consumers make, ultimately, every shopper is looking to minimize friction, whether that’s through browsing, purchasing or the last mile. For retailers, friction equals cart abandonment and loss of loyalty.

In our next blog, we’ll explore different frictionless technology options, and how retailers can leverage the technology for each type of shopper.