What The Friction?!

What is retail friction, why it exists and what can be done about it?

What The Friction?!
Milo Latham
Milo Latham
June 7, 2022

Friction is everywhere, it’s what stops the world being really slippy. It can be good (car brakes), or bad (carpet burn), but that's enough science for today, let’s talk retail. Friction in retail is anything that can slow down or complicate the customer journey. If we stop to think about what exactly that could be, we start to realise that the entire brick & mortar experience is rife with friction; getting to the store, finding the items you’re interested in, dressing rooms, queues, email receipts… you get the idea, this is a blog, not a list.

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Friction, and the removal of friction, is a hot topic in retail right now as brick & mortar stores try to compete with e-commerce. Many stores have come up with solutions to streamline the in-store experience; Uniqlo for example has self-service checkouts where shoppers can just chuck their items into a basket and they are instantly added to their bill, or some stores, such as Crew, have mobile POS systems that let sales assistants complete transactions anywhere in the store.

Perhaps the current greased-up nemesis of friction is Amazon with their Just Walk Out technology, where shoppers only have to scan into the shop at entry and are then free to grab what they want and just walk out (hence the name, get it?). At the Retail Tech Show in April, Max Gill, EMEA Lead of JWO Amazon said, “Customers really value convenience, and they will prioritise retailers based on that convenience.”

source: Uniqlo

However, the problem of friction may be more complicated than it first appears. The in-store shopping experience should be seamless, not soulless. A completely frictionless experience would be something akin to curb-side pick up where items are just thrown to shoppers as they walk past the store. Whilst that does actually sound pretty cool, it misses the point of why people come to the high-street over e-commerce. Getting the right items at the best price is only one part of the physical shopping experience. It’s social, experiential and fundamentally, human. Take Sales Assistants for example, they aren’t just there to slow you down, or vie for a cheeky upsell, they’re a major reason some people shop in-store; to get advice, find out what’s new, or, if you’re a regular, to catch-up. Sure, there might be a future where a visit to Primark involves lying on a hoverboard, being served by robots, but if you’ve ever seen WALL-E, you know that might not be the dream scenario.

source: Disney

At Slip, we see in-store friction as good and bad. People love incredible customer service, memorable experiences and social environments, but we believe there’s no place for unreasonable checkout queues and room for technology to make the journey frictionless, and fun.

No. More. Faff