What In the Hell is Retail Friction, Anyway?

In his recent piece for Forbes, good friend Jon Bird reminded us that not all effective retail is friction-free. Jon’s point: Given a time-based definition of friction (i.e., slow is bad and faster is better), there are plenty of situations wherein slower is better.

Much better.

Higher price point brands across the segments provide a multitude of examples.

But let’s pause for a moment.  Hit rewind.

“Friction.” Is it just about speed?

Or, is there another operative, usable definition? One that helps us understand what friction is—and how it creates or destroys value in retail?

Decision science offers an answer.

Friction is any barrier in the shopper’s decision-making journey. It’s any barrier (large or small) that causes pause or creates decision doubt. It’s any barrier that increases what the psychologists term cognitive stress.

When you experience this friction (whether in a store or in a meeting with your boss), you begin to expend more energy. The pupils of your eyes dilate.

Indeed, if there’s a heavy-enough load of cognitive stress, your blood glucose level will drop. And time pressure amplifies it all.1

Think for a moment about the common, everyday barriers to in-store decision-making. Things that have nothing to do with biometric check-in, instant check-out, and Amazon Go*.

Things like a lack of way-finding and signage. A lack of help—either human or automated. A lack of ratings and reviews and recommendations. A lack of go-with suggestions that prevent the second or third trip to complete the project. A lack of expertise about products and solutions.

A lack of my sizes on file.

A lack of shipping and billing information that’s readily accessible when I check out.

Getting re-dressed to find the different size.

Hypothesis: Whether the store is fast (the new autonomous stores) or slow (a wonderfully rich immersive luxury experience), those who provide lowest-stress decision-making will win.

Next step action: Examine your shopper journey through a decision-science lens.

Tell me what you think.


1Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, 2011

Published on Categories RetailTags , , ,
Jon Stine

About Jon Stine

Global Director Retail Sales at Intel. Jon Stine leads Intel’s global sales and strategy for the retail, hospitality, and consumer goods industry sectors. His CV includes leadership of North American retail consulting practice for Cisco Systems, and a prior stint at Intel, where he founded the company’s sales and marketing focus on the retail industry. His perspective on technology’s value in the industry has been shaped by advisory and project engagements in the United States, across the European Union, and in India, Australia, and the People’s Republic of China, and from 15 years of executive sales and marketing experience in the U.S. apparel industry, working with the nation’s leading department and specialty stores. At Intel, his current areas of research and engagement include the future of the store in this new digital age; how and where retailers turn data into competitive advantage; the role of technology within the new cross-channel shopper journey, and, the critical business and IT capabilities that industry success will demand going forward.