Traditionally, user experience conversations focus on usability, user interface, and design, all related to human computer interaction. This approach unfortunately limits the role of user experience in companies’ strategic planning, because for most businesses, the digital space is but a part of their clients’ touch points with the products and the brand.
Here’s an example. Costco has a multi-channel retail business model, leveraging both a brick-and-mortar store front and a website. There is also a catalog as a third channel.
When you look at costco.com, you’ll find that it’s well designed. Very clean, visually pleasing, easy to navigate, clear information architecture, straightforward checkout process, good readability of product description, providing added value through consumer reviews, providing authentic and well-laid-out detailed product specifications, etc. In a word, the site does its job well if Costco has a Web-only business model!
The key here is “Web-only” vs. multi-channel. The vast majority of UX and design professionals assumed a Web-only business model, and thus fail to influence the overall distribution strategy of the companies that they work for, because many of those companies leverage multiple channels to deliver services and goods to clients.
From an outsider’s perspective, there are many lost opportunities in the current Costco multi-channel strategy and implementation, if you look at the overall consumer touch points and shopping journeys. Many in-store shoppers are not aware of the fact that Costco.com has a different and probably more comprehensive inventory on the website. For example, I’ve seen a larger selection of laptops and home decor items online than in store. I am savvy enough to know that I can go to the Website instead of the physical store, but many older, less tech-savvy shoppers will just go to the physical store. To expose shoppers to more inventory, there should be an in-store messaging strategy that points shoppers to the website for additional selection.
What about the Costco.com side? To integrate the website and the physical store channels better, there should be a client experience strategy that connects the in-store shopping history with online merchandising. As soon as one’s logged in on the website, a list of recommendations can show up based on what the user has bought in the stores.
Of course, without knowing the detailed monetization model and constraints of Costco, we cannot recommend a comprehensive multi-channel customer experience strategy. For example, there might be cannibalization between the two channels. There might be inventory and supply chain constraints. That said, the take home message is, we should start with the premise that client experience is not about the Web, the iPhone app, the social media, or the physical store — it’s about all of the above and how they talk to each other.
By Frank Guo