Reduce Retail Friction


From the title, you may think this article is about a new type of grease or lubricant, but it is not. It’s about making it easy for our customer base to shop with us both in our brick and mortar and our online businesses.

This new term “friction” came on the scene as part of the digital disruption we are in and has several prefixes attached to it; “Customer Friction, Sales Friction, Service Friction,” and so on.

One of the important strategies showroom owners must include in their business plans is to identify – and then reduce – any points in their process where the customer experiences friction. This is difficult as the friction points change as rapidly as the Internet and e-tailers alter the rules of the sales game.

In 2012 Cyriac Roeding of shopkick said, “The next five years will bring more change to retail than the last 100 years.” Well, those five years have passed, and there have been so many changes in the way we do business. Some behaviors have fallen by the wayside, while others stayed and we do all we can to keep up to date with them. Today’s shopping experience is all about incorporating digital into what we do daily. Procrastinating any longer will have severe consequences and time is running out to get things done.

The role retailers have played for centuries has radically changed.  The edge where the changes we must address and the day to day status-quo meet is the breeding ground for customer friction.

Friction can start fires, and fires mean there is a loss of revenue at the top and bottom lines.  To learn where the customer friction is in your business requires a trip down the self-awareness highway.  It is time to grab your leadership team or, if you are a small business by yourself, sequester yourselves away to do a firm assessment of all the physical and digital customer touchpoints that impact the customer experience. The goal is to create a digital or physical customer interaction that is seamless.

Friction Defined

As the population is becoming more comfortable with the digital shopping experience, the increasing ease of the digital interaction creates friction when the brick and mortar & Internet retail worlds are incongruent.

Online retailers strive to make each step in the consumers’ buying process easier to find and buy what they want when they want it.  When not adopted or addressed by brick and mortar stores, these enhancements chip away at the confidence the client has in them, implies there will be difficulty in transactions at the physical store, and causes loss of the revenue they would spend there.

Barriers Create Friction

The primary cause for friction is when there are real or imagined barriers in completing aspects of the sales process. Some hurdles cause friction that can be addressed in a short timeframe and have results.

Old School Sales Process

The immediate goal, as I see it, is to achieve a “frictionless” sales process.  So many retail teams are still unaware of the negative experience they are providing. It’s not that the clients are being treated poorly on purpose, but they are not being treated the way they want or have come to expect.

Clients can’t often articulate the disconnect they feel when they go to the brick and mortar store. I see timing as a chief reason. If we are fortunate, the customer enters our stores at the trial-and-test phase of their journey, but the sales team often relates to them as if they are still in the discovery phase.

This demands that store leadership embrace an entirely different way of thinking about the sales process. It means that you must place yourself in the buyers’ shoes when you analyze every interaction. Genuinely caring about the full customer buying experience and then designing it – from initial attraction to creating a raving supporter – comes down to one question you must ask about every touchpoint: “Will this action provide my customer with a superior level of service that they want and will share with others?”

Pricing and the Smart Shopper

Pricing has been a volatile topic ever since the dawn of the big box retailer, and the Internet has added transparency and put a microscope on it.

In the niche we work in, the transparency of shopping online has caused several disturbances to the pricing strategies we once considered to be standard. Our customers are becoming more price-sensitive than ever.

Increasingly, the common denominator in the consideration phase of the buying journey is price. According to *GfK, a source of marketing information: “More than half of all shoppers (58%) compare prices between stores, an unmistakable sign that price is a key influencer of purchase.”

This is not new information, yet some showrooms were slow to respond to the new pricing norms while others maintained the status quo and had their showrooms and their Web catalogs priced above IMAP.  This one neglected change in the pricing strategy had eroded sales performance and stimulated Showrooming* and Webrooming**. Both trends will remain a standard part of the customers’ research phase.

Transparency of pricing online is the end of the old model of in-store dynamic pricing when products are sold through different channels or to different clients at different pricing structures.  Consumers want the price to be the same across the board whether they buy from a brick and mortar store or an e-tailer.  The way to reduce friction here is to simply ask yourself whether you are consistent with IMAP policies in your store and online.

Order Fulfillment

Another high impact area spawned by the Internet is the expectation of immediate product availability. Once the discovery dance is done and the customer is in the showroom to see, touch, and buy the fixture they want, it now becomes about fulfillment.

We have all been shaped by the ease and speed of the fast food drive-thru. Order at one end and pick up at the other. It may work for cheeseburgers and fries, but not so well with many of the lighting and accessory categories we have.

The way to reduce any fulfillment friction point is to be flexible and creative in the ways you provide products to your clients.

Drop shipping for omni-channel purchases or delivery of an in-store order all must be seamless the same way it is felt by customers who purchase online. Many of the categories we sell daily can be efficiently drop shipped, and the success of this strategy depends upon the partnership you have with your vendors and their policies.

Check Out

Slow lines and inefficient check-out processes are bottlenecks that create anxiety in shoppers.

Providing a streamlined experience during check out must be a top priority when reducing friction. There is something in the way people’s heads are wired; ownership can’t happen fast enough once they have completed the steps of their buying journey. Therefore, customers hate a tedious check-out process. Taking a lesson from some of the top online e-tailers, the one-touch “payment and shipping” buttons are reinforcing with people that once they’ve decided on making a purchase, the check-out process is done quickly.

With the increased use of mobile wallets, does your credit card processor offer the use of either scan or tap features? This is the real-world equivalent of the online one touch payment.

Expediting your check-out process won’t win you any awards, but a difficult or convoluted process may get you a bad review when everything else went right.

Omni-Channel – What Are You Waiting For?

The customer is in control of the buyer’s journey, and showrooms give customers the opportunity to buy from them at any step in that trip. Start the omni-channel buying experience now and then continuously improve it.

For many, the phrase “omni-channel” is just a buzzword, yet it defines how the 21st Century customer wants to do business. While many showrooms have incorporated both a product catalog and a shopping cart into their Web presence, most do not employ a strategy that encourages their clients to seek out this additional revenue-generating resource proactively. 

After investing time with customers discovering their needs and preferences, it seems logical to invite them to view a Wish List you have filled with the fixtures they liked along with other suggestions. Let them know if they make a final decision on any item in your digital catalog, they can buy it then.

All too often when customers leave the showroom without making a purchase, they are given some product catalogs and tasked with re-connecting with the sales team. With omni-channel, every customer must be invited to look at your specific online catalog and followed up with until the sale is made.


The road map to success with internal and external customers calls for clear, consistent communication. Start with a documented communication strategy.  In the showroom, speaking to clients is a daily occurrence, but what are we saying, how are we saying it, and when is it being said?

Step 1: Define a communication objective for each client touchpoint that you have; for example, pre-sale, greeting, post-sale, pick-up/delivery, customer service, and on-going. The objective is to determine an outcome you want from each client interaction. Build on this foundation of customer contact situations, then add more that are unique to you or your showroom.

Step 2: Scripting and role-play are the tools of highly skilled professionals, no matter the occupation. It is hard work to develop, and then implement, this type of training, yet it provides a measurable return.

When sales teams hear the word “script” they cringe — often it’s because they have never been exposed to the use of a script or have not used a script appropriately.  Much of the misunderstanding comes from the word itself; one immediately thinks of a movie or play where the actors must memorize their lines.

This is not the case in a sales situation. Some important information needs to be repeated in a consistent and correct way, yet most are about the context of the message and role play is the way to assure the message is delivered. Bullet point the critical parts of the communication and role play the scenario, letting the team choose their words. Once the information is expressed, critique only the points where the context was lost.

Step 3: Whether it is a Thank You note or you’re letting the customer know about the status of an incoming order, create standards for timing client communication.  When thanking a customer for their business or their time, my recommendation is that you send a note as close to the real occurrence as possible.

When providing clients with information about an incoming order, just before the mid-point in the order’s arrival lead-time, give the client a call or text that lets them know how everything is going, whether it’s good or bad. Waiting for an item always seems to take longer than is expressed, and this communication relieves some client stress and reinforces

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