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Head Rush

I am an online shopping addict. I’m also a huge fan of cities and worry about ours (Seattle) maintaining its livability. Turns out I am my own worst enemy. Oops.

There’s a lot of research showing that cities only work if the street level of the built environment is alive. Banks, though we need them, don’t provide the kind of visual interest and foot traffic that makes a city alive. (I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been to a bank branch in years.) Neither do hair and nail salons. Restaurants and coffee shops are good, too, but one of the most essential street activators are retail stores with cool stuff in the windows. And they need shoppers to come in and buy stuff to stay alive.

shutterstock_85913521My theory is that I started online shopping for three reasons: (a) I am chronically short on time and online shopping is most efficient on a per item basis, (b) I’m cheap, so adore buying things on sale, which is easy to do online, and (c) online shopping is easier to do when you are tired than shopping in person (and the time I have to shop is generally after I’ve done everything else I have to do). I became actually addicted, however, for an entirely different reason: when I shop online, I am rewarded with two distinct endorphin releases–once when I click to buy and again when I open the package.

As a result of my addiction, I’ve become habituated to the online shopping experience. The UX for online shopping means using a lot of filtering to see only what is most relevant to you. It also means really seeing only one item at a time and being able to “hold” items by means of your shopping cart as you look for other potentially better items.

Other interesting aspects, although not yet fully developed on most sites and therefore not as habit forming, are features such as related or affiliated items (derived by social or curated or algorithmic means). As online shopping gets more robust with the addition of better customer tracking, data and AI features, there will be even more stickiness and habituation by integrating past purchases with potential new purchases (wardrobe analysis).

So what the heck can I suggest to brick-and-mortar retailers? At this point, they have got to address both my addiction to online shopping and my habituation. It is as if I’ve been getting paid to eat bonbons in my bathrobe in bed and they need to get me to stop doing that and get back to eating kale in my soccer kit in the kitchen for free. Sounds hard.

I have a couple of ideas though. First, to address the fact that I’m habituated to the online UX, brick-and-mortar retailers need to offer some of the functionality that online retailers offer. Why not thin down what’s shown on the floor and keep the other sizes in the back? Why not offer items face forward rather than racked like a closet? And why not offer both an actual and visual “hold” feature in the store, so you can easily look at what you’ve been browsing in the aggregate instead of crammed onto two hooks in the dressing room? And of course there’s so much retailers can do if they have actual data on what you’ve purchased to leap frog online offerings by anticipating what you will want and proactively luring you into the store to buy one or two specific things in your size instantly (ideally through geolocation so they can get you at the precise moment you are passing by).

For the addiction factor, there is really only one solution: Brick-and-mortar has got to find a way to give me a bigger endorphin rush than online–either by exceeding the two hits I get or making them bigger somehow. There are a couple of ways that could be done. Nordstrom and a lot of other stores are experimenting with one idea that I think all retail should adopt–serving alcohol inside the shopping experience.

Another obvious idea is to replicate the box delivery endorphin rush by shipping something extra to customers at home after they’ve purchased something at the store. A company called Validated tries to do this by offering free transportation or parking for shoppers after the purchase. I’m not sure this is enough of an endorphin releaser (seems more like an irritant remover)–I’d like to see a special, branded gift come to the house instead (or as well). If I buy a dress, send me coordinating stockings as a gift, right? There must be other ideas too.

Brick and mortar retailers will still need to make it cheap, but perhaps they can afford to be cheaper because of reducing return exposure and because of easier upsell possibilities once I’m there. They can work to address the tiredness factor in lots of ways, including by showing me things while I’m sitting down with my feet up. They’ll still not be open 24*7*365, but if they look at the hours that their customers actually shop they could profitably vary opening hours accordingly. Maybe 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. is a better target than 9 a.m. to noon if you are selling to women who work? Efficiency I’m not so sure how to address, but pay by touch will help, as well more data driving selling inside the store.

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