‘Frictionless’ is the annoying word of the year
Through a special arrangement, what follows is a summary of an article from Retail Paradox, RSR Research’s weekly analysis on emerging issues facing retailers, presented here for discussion.
The promise of a “frictionless shopping experience” has come up so many times this year that I’ve started to cringe whenever I see or hear it.
Why? Because frictionless means different things to different shoppers and doesn’t necessarily mean profitable for the retailer.
Filling up my grocery cart, emptying the cart onto the checkout conveyor and then taking the whole load out to my car is not frictionless. Neither is bagging the groceries myself (i.e., Amazon Go).
For me, frictionless would be having the store put my groceries on the conveyor, then bagging and taking them to the car. Even more frictionless (if they could get their produce-selecting right) would be delivering the whole thing to my house or letting me do the drive-up thing to pick it up, à la Walmart’s new process.
Of course, it would be great if dollar stores and c-stores had Amazon Go’s “Walk in, walk out” technology. But as I think of those stores, their budgets and the technical skills when one of the various and sundry pieces of equipment required of those cashierless checkout fails, I find it hard to believe this will be profitable for a retailer. There’s also the matter of shrink and lost impulse sales.
But let’s explore another level of friction: online’s endless price changes. Having to spend time scouring the web until you find the item you wanted — or a similar “off-brand” — at a price close to what you expected to pay.
How about in-store pickup? Calling the store to find out if they have the item, being told its out-of-stock, then starting your search all over again.
The bottom line for me is that, while it’s great for pundits like us to throw frictionless around, it has to really mean something. And terms like frictionless mean different things to different people. I think the simplest rules of thumb are, give the people what they want as long as you can make money doing it at the same time, and don’t make promises you can’t keep.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How well do you think most retailers understand consumers’ definition of “frictionless”? Do you have similar concerns about the promises of frictionless shopping experiences as those expressed in the article?