Interactive design in retail environments
I originally wrote this post for the Your Favourite Story blog and I have given it a more personal twist here.
The future of physical retail environments is digital: With the public very much on board when it comes to smartphone and website experiences, the stage is set to blur the lines between the physical and digital retail space.
I have ben working with Your Favourite Story for Mercedes-Benz to utilise the power of digital experiences across 130 Mercedes retailers as well as various pop up shop retail spaces. With the strategic use of large vertical touch screens, for low information density experiences, and small touch table screens, for more information heavy experiences, Mercedes-Benz has ultimately been able to deliver more personalised and detailed digital experiences that are closely tied to the physical space they occupy.
This post will detail some of the insights I have discovered on this journey.
- While there are several new horizons in this space (virtual reality and augmented reality being the latest of these), it’s always important to the foundations of good design. In this case User centered design and using the hardware to solve a well defined user problem is a strong way to create compelling experiences for touch screens.
Example: You do not need to recreate a vehicle digitally if the actual vehicle in question is in the physical space: Use the digital environment to extend what is already available. A solid user experience and well planned user centered design is more important than using the latest gadgets for their own sake.
- The expectations for hardware performance has been set high with Apple and Samsung's touch devices. Acquiring the most powerful machines to drive the experiences gives designers and developers the best possible platform to address user needs. Having the ability to maintain set of devices across 100s of locations is a challenge that is best addressed at the planning stage and not after.
- The nature of digital products means much user behaviour and sentiment has to be inferred through trackers and analytics. Physical hardware gives a qualitatively rich opportunity to test digital products with users directly: It’s possible to see how users behave not only with the digital product but within the physical space it resides in. Using this can support confident design changes based on solid evidence as well as the usual analytics insights.
Example: We visited retailers and pop ups to obverse user behaviour, talk to staff and produce presentations for the agency to both confirm assumptions and react to unexpected outcomes from users.
- Flexibility is required when designing digital products for multiple screens. Respecting each platforms unique limitations allows you the better chance of solving the defined problems.
It turns out vertical touch screens are both smartphones and desktops at the same time: Smartphones tend to support small, intimate forms of content and make use of gesture based interactions. Desktop devices tend to be best placed for functional interactions and more precise detailed interactions. Vertical touch screens present a unique challenge on three fronts:
a. They require smartphone style gesture interactions,
b. While occupying a very public space and…
c. Users often mistake them for passive TVs rather than an interactive experience.
It’s reasonable to place interactions on smartphones in the top left, top right and bottom 100px of the screen. Interactions at the bottom of a 40 inch vertical screen would require the user to crouch down to tap them. Interactions in both corners of a large screen require a deceptively large arm movement that some users can find strenuous.
Pitch/zoom and swipe interactions need to be considered differently to the same interaction on a mobile device: With vertical touch screens, users often pitch/zoom with a finger on each hand, making a single, large and strenuous gesture when the interaction doesnt require it. for this reason, pitch/zoom has usually been abandoned in favour of +/- buttons for example.
- The biggest challenge when it comes to blurring the lines between the physical and digital retail space is user perception, namely mistaking an interactive experience for a passive one. Without suitable onboarding, even the best design can be on the back foot if it’s met with confusion or anxiety from the user. Your Favourite Story has been experimenting with additional motion sensing hardware to address this directly while focusing closely on various ways to design and present the initial or default state of these screens.
The initial visuals and calls to action frame the digital experience within the physical space allowing an interplay with both. When done well, this can enhance the experience of the user. By using both digital analytics and qualitative research of user behaviour, it’s possible to to create a strong digital product that can be directly linked to sales.