Interactive retail is an exciting new domain for unique user experiences and interfaces. Endless Aisle is iQmetrix's solution for a specific retail challenge: displaying products that stores didn't have space to stock on shelves. Over time, Endless Aisle grew to provide retailers added value through barcode scanning, checkout processes, and increased customer interactivity.
In 2017, the University of Regina opened a new behavioural lab. As part of iQmetrix's growing culture of user research, we challenged ourselves to design and run a next-level usability study to gain insights into customer behaviour. We built our own wireless store and watched people shop in it.
Our challenge was to plan and run a research study that would uncover:
Based on these questions, we designed and executed a research plan that would help us uncover answers and insights into customer shopping behaviour.
How does one build a realistic wireless store within a basic university multipurpose room? We needed and approach that would be cost-effective, quick to set up, and effectively mimicked a natural shopping environment. We focused on key customer needs in setting up three main “spaces,” and added a fourth in the second round.
1. Products for sale
Customers come into the store looking for the products they want to buy. These products needed to be prominent and follow typical wireless store design.
We set up a long row of tables with two product displays: smartphones and accessories. Each product display had a number of physical options for customers as well as an Endless Aisle screen displaying options available to be shipped.
2. Customer service stations
A natural sales environment includes customer service in the form of sales reps. These reps would be responsible for helping customers and activating mobile device purchases on the network.
We created two customer service stations, made up of the typical furniture and artifacts found in a real wireless store.
3. Customer lounge / ambiance
Most wireless stores offer spaces for customers to wait. Similarly, wireless stores will display signage not directly related to product displays, such as product or services advertisements.
We built a small lounge space off to the side, and set up a repeating slide deck of wireless ads. During early pre-testing, we discovered that ambiant music was critical.
4. Self-checkout (second round only)
For the second round of research, we wanted to explore an additional research question: would people would try to use Self Checkout if it was available?
To help us answer this question, we expanded our wireless store to include a “Self Checkout” station. However, since we were only interested in whether they would use Self Checkout, not how they would use it, the self checkout screen had only one function: to display an error if tapped.
The most realistic details of our fake wireless store were our sales reps. We recruited a range of individuals who were currently working as sales reps in real wireless stores to work in our fake store. They were there to help customers who had questions, ring up purchases, as well as “set up” customers’ phones when they made a purchase.
Because of their experience on the sales floor, this decision minimized training requirements. The main thing we needed to do was emphasize—and reiterate—the need for consistency.
An hour in the life of a study participant:
1. Fill out short questionnaire about your last smartphone/accessory purchase.
These questionnaires “primed” participants through their previous experiences shopping in wireless stores. Based on their individual purchase history, we determined what they would be asked to shop for in our fake store.
A moderator would provide instructions to each participant around what to shop for and where to begin. To make this process easier, every questionnaire was marked with stickers, which the moderator would use to provide instructions.
One to three participants would simultaneously shop for either a phone, or a case for a phone. Since there were only two reps available to help, sometimes one participant would have to wait for help.
4. Fill out questionnaire about shopping experience and technical ability
Once participants completed their purchase, the sales rep would direct them to the next room. Here, participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire that examined their shopping experience in our fake wireless store.
After filling in the questionnaire, participants joined one-on-one interviews for more in-depth, qualitative information.
After 9 days and over 150 participants, we learned a lot about customer shopping behaviour in wireless stores. While we had previously performed many field visits to real wireless stores in, the level of control the study environment provided helped us discover, understand, and validate several customer shopping patterns.
Customers have a script for shopping.
The way customers shop for specific items tends to mimic the way they’ve always shopped for those items. Customers "know how this goes,” and try to stick to the “script” as much as possible. As well, customers also expect others—such as sales reps and other customers—to stick to their own scripts.
The closer the store experience is to customer expectations, the more satisfied customers are. Interactive retail will not disrupt this script overnight. Instead, interactive retail solutions need to fit into existing customer scripts: change will come from incremental steps.
Tech needs to complement the physical store experience—not replace it.
Based on customer expectations, stores offer physical products on display, and sales reps to assist customers. Customers want to interact with physical products as well as interactive screens—sometimes at the same time.
The placement of interactive screens in stores has to work with how people move around the store. If customers are going to a sales rep for assistance and you want the sales rep to use a screen during the customer interaction, the screen needs to be where they are.
Customers make assumptions about interactive screens based on context.
Customers make guesses as to what Endless Aisle is capable of based on the physical setup, their prior experience, and other cues such as signage and sales reps.
The placement of screens in store design has a large impact on if and how they’re used by customers, as well as by sales reps.
As well, experience with other interactive solutions such as barcode scanners and grocery self-checkouts leads people to assume that most—if not all—interactive setups serve a single purpose.
Sometimes you mess up.
Every morning our sales reps would show up before the tests began, and we would brief them on what to do, what to expect, and so on. On day four of being in the lab, two guys showed up right on time and I went straight into the briefing. I explained what the test was, what we were looking for, the variables, everything.
When I was done I asked if there were any questions.
“... I think I’m supposed to be a participant?”
In my rush, I had explained the entire study to one of our participants. If you need coffee in the morning, drink your coffee in the morning.
You can pick up info at any time.
I spent roughly 72 hours over the course of 9 days in a room with sales reps. There were participants in the room for 30-45 minutes every hour. In-between sessions, we would chat about the level of realisim of our setup, as well as their own experiences in-stores. Many insights were the result of these conversations.
You have to roll with it.
Our plans constantly changed. Even the day before the study, we were clarifying our questions and making adjustments. There’s always something you didn’t consider.
Help people help you.
While our research team was experienced with usability testing and studies, none of our sales reps had participated in one.
One portion of the test involved sales reps sitting with a participant for 20 minutes straight during the “activation” process. The participant often had nothing to do during that time, and the rep was asked not to engage with them. As a result, some sales reps during pre-tests were letting participants leave early, because it was “just too awkward.”
We worked with our reps to find ways for them to occupy the time to improve their own experience—and keep consistency throughout the real tests.
Scheduling people is hard.
One of the biggest challenges in usability testing is recruiting participants. Thanks to the University of Regina, ours were easy to find and recruit, as students were offered credit towards one of their classes for taking part in the study.
However, finding sales reps was tricky. As the study drew closer, we recruited people who were currently working in wireless stores. In the future, I would recommend scheduling everyone involved in facilitating the study as early in the process as possible.