Cruising Along the Frictionless Highway
ATLANTA — Through the years, the convenience store industry has been trying to fine-tune the shopping experience for customers, making it fast, simple and not so painful. Key to that is removing the friction.
As Steven Rodgers, vice president of sales at HAVI Global Solutions, noted: Friction is a good thing for certain things, but not so much for retail.
Over time, "frictionless" has taken on different forms in the convenience channel. Speaking at the 2019 NACS Show on "The Frictionless Journey" panel, Rodgers discussed the evolution of the definition. Before, it meant pay at the pump, cashless transactions, and easy-to-navigate store layouts. Now, it has come to mean personalization, speed, one-click shopping, an anticipation of needs, and mobile payments.
Customers' definition of frictionless has evolved, too — putting the word "ideal" at the center. In fact, 73 percent of consumers think checking out is the biggest retail pain point, and 43 percent cite a poor experience as a reason for leaving a brand.
Explaining that c-store retailers do not need to be perfect at every aspect of the frictionless experience, Rodgers said there is a basic framework to follow:
- Ease of access or the time elapsed from first contact to payment;
- Multichannel alignment;
- Payment options;
- Positive friction; and
Positive friction, he explained, are the purposeful pauses in the shopping journey that are used to build customer relationships. These include offering recommendations for companion items, verification that the consumer wants to make the purchase, and enhancement.
Earlier this year, Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Holmes Oil Co., parent company of 26 Cruizers convenience stores, began rolling out frictionless checkout to its stores through a partnership with Salt Lake City-based Skip, a frictionless technology provider.
When approaching the frictionless solution, the company kept four key issues in mind, according to Nick Peters, IT director for Holmes Oil.
- How can we differentiate this from our competitors?
- Is there a market need?
- Adoption of cutting-edge technology?
- Does it fit our branding initiatives?
"Cool technology is great but if it is counterproductive to what we are trying to sell our customers, it is pointless," Peters said.
As the rollout began, the company made sure to communicate the new technology to its customers. It all started with the employees.
"Employees matter — don't forget that," he stressed. "I understand we are in a world where we are trying to optimize labor, but if the employees don't buy in, you should pack it up. Just like any other initiative where we are trying to create an experience, they matter."
Holmes Oil used the friends-and-family approach for the initial launch, testing the frictionless technology with its employees first. Through the pilot test, the retailer found that quick and concise messages work and when people use the checkout solution, it sticks.
"The hurdle is not people continuing to use the app, it's getting people to use it the first time," Peters explained.
There were other headwinds, including:
- Customer and employee reluctance, notably around security concerns;
- An awkward feeling with a new shopping experience;
- Unbanked customers; and,
- Technology is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Another challenge for retailers is the lack of industry benchmarks with cutting-edge technology.
"How do you know when you have a win? Or what a win is?" Peters posed.
He believes whether it is the number of transactions or customer frequency, retailers need to define their own benchmark for success.
The 2019 NACS Show is taking place Oct. 1-4 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.