We do need structure in order to plan and implement optimised customer experience programmes, but we are seeing a disturbing lack of context in some of these designs. And, context has an enormous influence not only on how people shop but also on their expectations of the experience.
A lot of shopping is occasion driven and people don’t behave the same on every occasion. We are not talking about customer segmentation because the same people can behave quite differently depending on the occasion that prompts the shopping behaviour.
CEx designers can miss this because if you ask people about their shopping behaviour they will describe a ‘typical’ shopping trip, which is quite different from a real shopping experience. People try to be helpful and rational when we ask them questions, whereas most shopping is habitual and/or unconscious and context driven so people’s memory of the event is highly unreliable.
Filming, observing, accompanying are all better ways to understand shopper behaviour. We have observed people buying snacks and drinks and using analysis of behaviour using GoPro and CTV video bore no more than a passing resemblance to what people said when we interviewed them - even when the interview took place immediately after. There were clear patterns in the behaviour however, which tightly correlated to purchase occasions. Coupled with behavioural data analytics of real purchase behaviour has led to the optimisation of store layout, staff training and promotional activity.
Likewise, the role of the broader context of adjacent stores plays a role in framing expectations of the retail offer. Looking at clothes shopping in a Dress Smart mall showed that sales in adjacent stores impacted on price perceptions. People had a budget and an occasion in mind, but the framing of sales in adjacent shops influenced their intended purchases and their perceptions of value for money, which in turn had an impact on how happy they were about the experience. Reframing the entrance and window displays to counteract adjacent context lifted both sales and the pleasure experienced by customers.
We have found that even major purchases such as cars or floor coverings are influenced by context, but in this case it is prior to a store visit. If expectations about the visit are framed in the expectation that they are entering a sales environment then people prefer to do their research beforehand. The sales environment is daunting causing people to reduce their consideration set before venturing near a store – so the sale can be lost before the experience even begins.
Online shopping can also fall victim to unintentional context. Retail website designers need to understand whether customers see the website as a browsing/information site or do they see it as a buying site. The cues need to be clear.
Our work with a retailer in the rural sector shows just how crucial context can be. They created a site with the objective to inform and provide an extension of the customer relationship with the store, which was criticised and under-utilised by customers. We discovered that the home page had online shopping ‘cues’, so people assessed its performance in that context. Consequently they were disappointed in it as a shopping portal, which had a negative influence how they felt about the interface experience despite it meeting the other objectives. Changing the home page to frame up expectations, but with no other changes to the content, elicited a positive response and a good customer experience.
So while content may be king, context is the power behind the throne. And, like most power brokers, it isn’t always obvious or visible who is pulling the strings.
A few ideas for avoiding the unseen pitfalls include:
- Use observation or analytics not reported behaviour.
- People don’t behave in the same way all the time, the context of occasion can create very different customer experience needs.
- Start the journey mapping path to purchase before people get to the store.
- Making a major purchase can be more stressful than enjoyable, so frame up the experience around support and information not sales.
- Be aware of the things not under your control – e.g. adjacent stores- and compensate for any negative framing.
- Even for on-line shopping framing is important and not always obvious.