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In the olden days, say three years ago, we were all still talking about omnichannel retailing. The ability to transact across multiple online and offline channels was king. Then an overlay of ‘seamlessness’ was added. In other words, the ability to transition smoothly across online and offline touchpoints. Now we have frictionless retail, which is a take on seamlessness but encompasses all elements of the total customer journey and experience.

What is Friction?

Retail experiences can have positive friction (intentional disruption, such as promotions), or more commonly, negative friction or pain points. Any experience that makes shoppers’ decisions slower or more difficult – negative friction - creates a risk of purchase abandonment, whether offline or online. Friction points can be offline, online or a combination of the two. Offline or bricks and mortar friction points include things like out of stocks, queue wait times, store congestion, and staff unavailability.

Your online delivery being ‘carded’, where you receive a card in the mailbox or at the front door telling you to go get it from a nearby collection point because you weren’t home to receive it, is a friction point. Australia Post’s 'MyPost' and similar competitor delivery service and tracking apps increasingly allow for the upfront nomination of delivery points and ‘leaving in a safe place’ to prevent this scenario.

Another online example is a fashion retailer that recently sent an offer of 25% off for my ‘loyalty’, but there no promotion code box on their online checkout page to redeem the offer. I had to send them an email requesting an equivalent refund once the order had been processed, and even then, I only received $25 off, not 25% off, and only when I checked the bank account as I received no notification of the refund. This is an example of not just friction but creating work for the customer. In an example of offline to online (O2O) environment friction, for my birthday last year, my father sent me a physical gift card from the same fashion retailer. I was unable to redeem it online as they were only redeemable in physical stores, which is inconvenient in itself. To add insult to injury, the retailer has reduced their physical store footprint, and now my two closest stores are each 40+km away. Needless to say, after placing an online order I sent them another email, in which I included the gift card number and requested a refund for the equivalent amount. Which to their credit I did receive, but it shouldn’t have to be that hard. I only buy from them because they have a specific product range I like. I now deal with them begrudgingly. Not the best way to engender customer ‘loyalty’.

What is Frictionless and why should you chase it?

Consumers assume retail experiences that transcend channels and devices. Frictionless shopping is a seamless, customer-centric experience typically spanning both online and in-store across all stages of the purchase journey. It starts by understanding individual consumers’ needs, expectations and preferences and then applies that knowledge to every interaction. It eliminates anything that doesn’t add value and negatively impacts the consumer experience, such as requiring consumers to dig out loyalty cards or wait for paper receipts to print. The use of technology, particularly real-time analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), are major contributors to the experience...

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