The redesign brought a lot of improvements, driving the store to generate an unmatched 66% YoY growth and win lots of awards. Customer feedback was great, instead of waiting in line, now people waited in the lounge area, and a rep would call them when it was their turn.
Yet, the team felt they hadn't cracked it entirely. When observing customers in the store they noticed that instead of spending the available time exploring the store and the other services provided, the customers just sat down, or spent time on their own phone.
The new store was built around the idea of exploration, but no one was exploring it. The only time the customers were interacting with the company was at check-in, and during the service time. All the wait time in between was a lost opportunity to engage with them. The team knew it had to crack this last piece of the puzzle to deliver a really valuable experience.
Not a new problem after all
The first idea was to look at competitors, and how they were solving the problem. But when the team looked at them, it seemed everyone was doing the same thing. The team realized that unless it really changed point of view, it had no way to come up with innovative solutions.
The team then started looking at other industries.
It studied Dunking Donuts, and learned how customers wait in line in front of a selection of donuts and other products, stimulating their desire for more sugar-induced pleasures.
It studied Sephora, and in particular the check-out line. The line is always long, but somehow Sephora managed to turn the wait into a profitable opportunity for the company by stocking the line area with all sorts of merchandise, stimulating the need for impulse shopping and keeping customers busy. Similar ideas are employed at other retailers, like Barnes & Nobles, and Best Buy.
Finally, the team decided to spend an afternoon at Ikea. Not only has Ikea revolutionized the shopping experience for furniture, but also has created stores that act as vacuum tornados for their customers: once you get in, it’s hard to get out. They achieve this by strategically placing merchandise throughout the store in ways that customers can use and experience it, and by creating paths that swirl through the location and force customers to get exposed to all product categories.
A new retail experience, reinvented
Using all these insights, the team redesigned the Time Warner store experience once more. By now, TWC had been acquired by Spectrum, and the rebranding was also an opportunity for a new store experience.
Reality Interactive completely redesigned the store layout creating paths that customers should follow while waiting in line for a service representatives. A digital service bar becomes the cornerstone of the new store, offering customers the opportunity to solve their problem in self-service, or learn about new products while waiting in line. Instead of expecting the customer to actively exploring the store, they are guided in the exploration, are presented products along the way, and are exposed to new products and services while walking down the line.
How can you do it
There are many ways to connect with your customers and learn from them. For example, I recently worked for a company in North Carolina that provides its product managers access to market research created from customer interviews. The problem is that the research is conducted independently by a third-party, and the product managers are only given the moderated content of the interviews, with no access to real customers. On top of that, the third-party charges the company $2,000 per customer. That makes research extremely expensive, and also not effective (as the feedback is diluted and filtered by a third-party).
The most important takeaway I’d like for you to take is that creating a culture of user-centered design and employing Design Thinking techniques should not cost a fortune. Certainly, there are companies that build in-house Design labs and User Research labs. But finding customers, connecting with them, and learning of new ways to improve your product can be done in a much simpler way.
For example, in one of the teams I worked with, we were able to take that cost down to $25 - the cost of an Amazon gift card we gave to every customer that accepted to spend a few minutes with us for an interview. We cut off the third party, and looked for customers on our own. We just intercepted them at a branch, or invited them to meet with us using Craigslist. And because we were talking directly with the customers, we were able to learn much more from them, and iterate multiple tests in a short amount of time.
This reduced the cost, provided better feedback (and observation opportunities) and improved the speed of testing.