The User Experience Retail Cycle

Tim Hutchinson, managing director at Eighteen, shares his thoughts on leveraging the User Experience Cycle in today’s retail environment.

Eighteen Tim Hutchinson
So what is the User Experience Cycle and how can retailers and customers benefit from it? First, let’s break it down into three parts; storytelling and the mobile hook; maximising on the experience; and breathing life into the retail cycle.

Storytelling and the mobile hook
Storytelling has been an important part of the retail lifecycle since the early 1800s. In a publication called The Furrow, John Deer was educating farmers on new technology and how they could be successful business owners, rather than just advertising and selling farm equipment. Naturally, people were hooked on the story and automatically bought his products.

In the words of one customer and user experience expert, Gregory Yankelovich: “Customers are no longer buying products and services – they are buying experiences delivered via the products and services.”
We’ve known for a while that it’s no longer about clicks versus bricks in retail, but more focused on creating immersive, engaging and seamless experiences for the customer, user or brand advocate, regardless of the channel. If successful, the customer will return and build brand loyalty over time.

Mobile storytelling is the conduit between online and offline experiences. It’s a companion that travels with us and continues to engage through habitual usage and social intrigue. The connection between an individual and a brand goes much deeper than simply buying a product. Companion style apps aimed at users from coffee lovers and fitness fanatics to music aficionados and every day explorers are using storytelling to engage with customers all the time.

The Starbucks experience reminds us how much we love coffee, while the app allows users to find the nearest coffee shop, pre-order and pay, as well as rewarding us each time we visit. Nike’s mobile journey, on the other hand is a running club of over 18m runners that users can socialise with. It’s also a personal trainer that motivates, a guide that teaches, and when your running shoes start to wear out, it reminds you to buy a new pair! In these cases, purchasing a product is just the sub-plot to the main story used to keep an audience hooked and engaged.

Maximising on the experience
‘Experience to click’ is now quicker than ever and the simplicity to purchase online goods or engage further has become more impulsive. Maximising on this spontaneity is the key for mobile experiences. Ensuring the flow through to in-store, whether it’s in a digital environment or bricks and mortar space, is where designers and marketers like us need to maximise on this relatively small window of opportunity to appeal to customers.

If we look at the music industry as another example, the experience is getting so much better for the consumer. Streaming services, curated content, social sharing and recommendations are a significant plus for music explorers. However, this isn’t helping the record labels, who know they need to be more creative and innovative in how they sell music.

At Eighteen, we’ve been working on a mobile app which allows people to remix music tracks exactly how they want to hear them. When this is combined with social sharing and commenting as well as the ability to add your own vocals, guitar or keyboard, you have a very powerful tool. It not only maximises the personalised experience for the consumer, but also encourages them to purchase more track downloads online – everyone is happy!

Breathing life into the retail cycle
Companion style apps help keep people loyal and connected to brands. When consumers are ready to make a purchase they can do so, instantly, via an ‘experience-to-click’ process. Yet, how do we measure the real effect of that experience to improve or maximise on it in future, and how can retailers use the power of social networks to capture social engagement data?

We are wired to be social and have this in-built desire to tell the next person about our day, comment on a TV programme, share something funny, or brag about our latest purchase. Over time, our brains have evolved – from the main goal of survival to activating the mid-brain, which is responsible for the cognitive-emotional processes such as ‘sense of self’ and social emotions. Digital now allows everyone to be social. Not everyone will freely discuss their purchasing habits or experiences with someone holding a clipboard in the street, but they will turn to social media and express their opinions behind alter-egos across different platforms.

Since the launch of Twitter ten years ago, it has become a major channel for retailers to communicate and engage with their target audiences. With an average of 6,000 tweets every second (that’s 500m tweets every day), how can retailers or brands measure and capture the sentiment of what is being said? More importantly, how can this data be used for maximum effect and be fed back into retail marketing plans and the new product development process?

Capturing social sentiment
Monitoring, gathering and analysing social comment will provide us with a much richer and rounded view of brand activity. Understanding what people are saying, where and when, allows us to visualise brand sentiment on a greater scale.

When artificial language is used to understand human language, it’s referred to as Natural Language Processing (NLP). Most NLP engines that are used to analyse text come equipped with sentiment analysis – a technology used to identify whether text is positive, negative or neutral. User sentiment or opinion is more easily extracted when applied to a specific entity, i.e. a person or product. There’s still a lot to be explored with sentiment analysis and it’s not always 100 per cent accurate, but it’s getting there, and already provides us with some great data for use in different industry settings.

Apply this technology to the retail space, such as a shopping centre or outlet, and you can see how beneficial it would be to visualise the heartbeat of the brand, product or service based on a specific location or time. On a map, the average sentiment of stores across the country can then be quickly visualised, explored and dissected. Delve deeper, and it can reveal the words people use to describe their experience, whether it’s the result of a purchase, service or other engagement with the brand.

Understanding what customers like and dislike right now is obviously vital for retailers so that they can feed this back in the NPD process, improving customer satisfaction, engagement, loyalty and the overall shopping journey. As retail experiences are becoming more commoditised, understanding what is being said about your brand in real time puts you in a very valuable position. Using this data in the right way will help companies to differentiate their brands from competitors and offer unique experiences for future customers.

Mobile experiences and social platforms clearly encourage brand loyalty and provide customers with a mechanism to comment and connect with brands instantly. It’s early days for this wave of social sentiment technology, and we still have a lot to explore and discover, but working with clients and high profile partners on a daily basis is allowing us to push these boundaries even further forward.

Tim Hutchinson is managing director at Eighteen