Retail UX Strategy Trends

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A column by Janet M. Six
June 17, 2013

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss some factors that are currently impacting trends in retail UX strategy.

In my monthly column, Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers our readers’ questions about a variety of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].

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The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:

  • Ronnie Battista—UX Practice Lead at Slalom Consulting
  • Leo Frishberg—Product Design Manager at Intel Corporation
  • Adrian Howard—Generalizing Specialist in Agile/UX
  • Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant

Q: What do you see on the digital horizon that will impact retail UX strategists in a big way?—from a UXmatters reader

“The far-reaching changes brought by technologies that are just starting to emerge from labs will have profound impacts on products, services, and business models in the next five years,” responds Leo.

“With the decreasing influence of the desktop metaphor as a primary means of interacting with digital systems, the approaches that businesses take to delivering on their promise will be fundamentally based on user experience. As a result, businesses will be looking for mature, seasoned designers who are familiar with not only the ever-changing landscape of user interface technologies, but also with the business implications of these changes. These business impacts include the cost of implementing world-class user experiences, the potential for differentiation from their competition through the use of user interface technologies, and the ways in which these technologies can promote delight. All of this will continue to be the provenance of UX design.”

Retail UX and Mobile Technology

“There are two things that will soon affect retail experience design in a big way,” asserts Jordan:

  1. mobile integration—Various retailers are already exploiting massive mobile integration opportunities. This is happening now; it’s no longer on the horizon. Many retailers are already accepting mobile payments and mobile coupons. Mobile loyalty programs are also becoming more common. In-store wayfinding via mobile devices is starting to take off, too. While Google still doesn’t have a solution that really fits the masses, a handful of solutions already exist that make this possible. However, I think there will be a rise in contextually relevant, pushed notifications. The length of time a customer spends looking for a product might trigger an alert to a customer service agent. Once that agent helps the customer, he might generate a virtual coupon to encourage that person to make a purchase decision.
  2. virtual shopping—The connection between online shopping and in-store shopping will become stronger. Users can already browse a product catalog online and pick up their purchases at a store and vice versa. I believe retailers are going to start re-examining the retail shopping experience as a whole and figure out how to integrate virtual shopping behavior into the retail shopping experience. Stores like IKEA, with their huge showroom footprints, will be able to reduce those footprints by allowing users to shop virtually while in a store. I’ve already seen some examples of how this can work. An IKEA pop-up store allowed users to sit in a café-style environment, using an iPad to browse virtual showrooms, then see hard goods when they were ready. Another early example is the fitting-room interactive mirror that the Forbes article ‘Dressing Rooms of the Future described.”

Frictionless Commerce

“Frictionless commerce is an emerging theme that I think holds the potential to significantly impact retail UX strategy,” states Ronnie. “Making it easier for people to part with their money using digital solutions is nothing new, and there is a constant stream of evermore innovative ideas that retailers are successfully piloting in numerous forms around the globe. From PayPal’s ability to quickly process online transactions to the emergence of Square and virtual wallets, we continue to evolve toward easier, frictionless payment mechanisms. Now, with the next wave of mobile technology that Google Glass is leading, people will have the ability to access product information in real time and make both planned and impulse purchases with little or no friction.

“Digital access to in brick-and-mortar retail stores is nothing new. In the future, a shopper who we’ll call John would go to a big-box retailer like Best Buy to shop for and buy a TV. When he found one he likes, he would look it up online or scan its barcode with his mobile phone to read reviews and find out who else offers the same TV at what price and where. He would then use this information to get a better deal in the store. Indeed, many of us are already doing this now, but it’s taken a while for the technology to catch up. Critical mass has emerged only in the past few years with the near ubiquity of smartphones that provide 4G Web access.

“Not long from now,” continues Ronnie, “another shopper who we’ll call Mary might sport a wearable technology like Google Glass. With its head-up view and hands-free interactions, Google Glass reduces the friction of one-eye, one-hand mobile interactions.

“Mary might simply walk past Best Buy and receive geotargeted marketing for a TV sale to which she’s opted in. But Mary needs more: profile analytics show that she does not purchase consumer electronics without doing significant research. Knowing this, the system can help her to avoid the friction of comparison shopping when making large purchases by providing her with immediate access to the review sites that she trusts, coupled with the latest pricing from other online and in-store retailers. If Mary decides to purchase, but doesn’t want to stand in line to pay by credit card, she can make her purchase entirely friction free by completing it with a voice-activated virtual wallet that is digitally tethered to her eyeglasses.

“Of course, how such capabilities eventually manifest themselves may turn out to be quite different, but they will happen. Such trends—both successes and failures—will emerge organically through countless channels. UX Strategists will play an integral role in helping retailers to understand and adapt to these new interaction models for the retail shopping experience.”

Cross-Channel Selling

“Ohhh!” exclaims Adrian, “What trend to pick? There are many general UX trends that are going to affect retail experiences—along with the rest of the world. For example, the number of projects that require UX input is going to continue to outstrip the supply of new UX professionals.

“However, looking at retail UX strategy and the proliferation of mobile devices, I think the oncoming train is cross-channel selling. The current problems that we encounter when designing for mobile devices and tablets are going to look trivial in comparison to the challenges of building services that work everywhere—whether on the 1.26-inch display of a Pebble watch or a 62-inch TV screen in the living room.

“Cennydd Bowles wrote a great blog post on ‘Designing with Context that I suggest everybody should read. When you combine the UX issues of designing for context with those of designing physical retail stores, you have a real strategic challenge on your hands.”


Showrooming is like a swarm of locusts that is plaguing certain types of businesses,” warns Jordan. “This is where customers go to a nearby retail store to see, hold, and try out a product, only to buy it at a discount from Amazon or some other online retailer. In my opinion, this is just a new expression of an age-old problem. Businesses can choose whether to compete on price. Most brick-and-mortar stores have higher overheads than virtual stores, so it may be difficult for them to compete directly on price.

“While I hate to say it, if brick-and-mortar stores are simply playing middle-man—buying wholesale merchandise and marking it up for sale—they’ll probably need to evolve or will die. This doesn’t mean that local retailers will all be going out of business. There’s a lot of stuff that you can’t get from Amazon; and many people aren’t willing to wait to receive their purchases or do the extra work of shopping online just to save a few bucks. But any store that is about to die because of showrooming should consider this: there are many horror stories about disreputable vendors from customers who have bought stuff on just about any online retail site. Once customers hear these stories, I wonder how willing showroomers would be to leave their local stores, where quality and delivery are guaranteed?” 

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research.  Read More

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