Designing the Customer Experience of the Future

At the 2016 Path to Purchase Expo, keynote speaker Jamie Sohosky, VP of Marketing Customer Experience for Walmart U.S., spoke about “Designing the Customer Experience of the Future”.  She examined some of the shifts in consumer lifestyle, mindset and behavior that are reshaping retail customer experience design, and illustrated how Walmart is delivering innovative solutions to evolve to these shifts.

One of the key highlighted shifts I believe to be most essential in designing the customer experience of the future is the increasing value consumers are placing on time, at times valuing saving time above saving money. Families are busier than ever before and their lives have become a juggling act. Over the past decade, according to Sohosky, the amount of time consumers have to shop has decreased by 13%. Customers have less time to shop, yet more to achieve. They want one-stop shopping options where they can get everything on their list in one smart and easy trip. Time has become the new currency of Americans, and retailers must design their customer experience for optimum shopping ease, speed and accessibility. One way that Walmart is getting customers out of the store more quickly is with scan-and-go-options, such as Walmart Pay, a new feature in the Walmart mobile app that enables customers to quickly, easily and securely pay in-store with their smartphone. Walmart Pay works at any Walmart checkout lane and with any major credit, debit, pre-paid or Walmart Gift Card. This supplements additional convenience-orientated features of the Walmart mobile app, such as the ability to create and store shopping lists, track gift card usage and manage Walmart prescriptions.

Another development in consumer behavior that retailers certainly cannot afford to ignore is the growth of digital; however, it isn’t just that people are spending more time on their smartphones, it’s that they’re using them in different ways than before. According to Sohosky, 72% of adults own a smartphone and yet the actual phone is the 7th app used on a mobile device by millennials. Consumers are no longer viewing their phone as a calling device—it is now a vehicle for buying, reviewing, researching, gaming, engaging and influencing. However, with growing usage purposes, naturally comes more hours spent on them, with adults spending, on average, three hours a day on a mobile device and checking their phone 144 times a day. Sohoksy expressed how people are spending so many hours a day on mobile devices that it’s literally changing the hardwiring of our brains and decreasing our attention spans.  She showed a comical video of a family having a crisis trying to survive several hours at home with the Internet down. After time passes in utterly agonizing boredom, they decide to go to the movies, only to panic upon realizing they do not have their mobile devices to lookup what’s playing! Digital has reprogrammed our minds and become our way of life. We immediately look at something and expect to be able to click and interact with it. We expect answers and solutions in real-time.

In order to adapt to consumers’ digitally-programmed minds, Walmart realized that they needed to make their in-store signage less dense and more digestible. They did so by decreasing the amount of text featured on their in-store signage and replacing it with icons that mirror those we are accustomed to seeing on our mobile devices, coupled with telegraphic photography.

Digital expectations are transferring to in-store, and Walmart has been aggressively working to meet them and grow the shopping experience across ecosystems while still maintaining a “one Walmart experience”. One way they are doing so is by merging the physical store experience with e-commerce. This is illustrated by  Walmart’s new pickup options, where items can be ordered online and prepared by a store associate for in-store pickup. This includes grocery pickup, a blessing for busy moms on-the-go who can even check-in via the Walmart mobile app to let store associates know when they are on their way.

Another shift in consumer behavior Sohoksy emphasized is the increasing lack of willingness to search. Consumers expect to be guided, an expectation driven by digital. One way Walmart is meeting this expectation is with their Walmart app, which offers an item locator service, called Search My Store. Customers struggling to find an item while in their local store can open the app and type in the name of the product they are looking for. The app pulls up a list of all brands currently in-stock for that particular product and the exact aisle number of each, along with product image, price and ratings. Another example of Walmart designing a guided in-store customer experience is in the way they sell Smart Life, a connected home automation solution. Walmart setup a series of large TV screens that screen-by-screen guides the shopper through each of the steps necessary to building a Smart Home.

From uniting e-commerce with in-store to leveraging technology to optimize in-aisle navigation and accelerate shopping time, designing the customer experience of the future means thinking of how to transfer digital experience expectations to in-store and enable busy families to spend less time shopping, and more time enjoying the good in life.

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