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Reducing Friction

A Better Experience vs Reducing Friction

Friction is often the antithesis of conversion. Friction often makes things take too long or too painful to do. The task at hand isn't completed in a timely manner or at all.

Plenty of talk around commerce these days focuses on reducing friction—and rightfully so. But it's important to consider friction as part of the whole experience, not in a vacuum, in addition to who is being subjected to the friction.

For example: Customers commonly try on shoes in a shoe store. Most of the shoes stay in the stock room until a customer wants to try them on. Let's say there's a popular shoe in a popular size that customers often try on. Customer A tries on the shoes but doesn't like them. While Customer A is trying on the shoes, Customer B asks for the same pair. The most frictionless approach for a sales associate would be to let Customer A hand over the shoes they just tried on to Customer B.

But this is a bad experience. Customers want their purchases to feel new and unused. If the shoes just stayed out in the fitting area or were handed over directly from a customer who just rejected the product, this isn't a pleasant experience.

In the example above, the better experience is for the sales associate to take the shoes Customer A tried on, put them back in the box, return them to the stock room and bring them back out to Customer B. This interaction has more friction for the associate, since he has to pack the shoes up, walk from the floor to the stockroom and back, and then unpack the shoes. This is also more friction for Customer B, since she has to wait longer to try on the shoes. But this provides a universally better experience for Customer B. Now, Customer B's shoes feel fresh from the stock room, even if it is the same pair Customer A tried on minutes before.

The quality of the overall experience is directly related to the subject and context of the friction. Less friction doesn't always mean a better experience, especially when factoring in the subject of the friction. In this case, more friction for the sales associate (the subject) meant a better experience. Letting Customer A  do a task that they normally would not do, such as handing a pair of shoes to Customer B, leads to a worse experience, even though it would have been less friction for the sales associate and Customer B.

When building the next generation of commerce interactions, enabling the best possible experience should always be the goal. Reducing friction is often a part of this, but it should not be the exclusive consideration. Sometimes more friction for the sales associate, and even the customer, leads to a better experience for the customer, and that is perfectly fine. 

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Richie Siegel, Head of Customer Insights

Richie is an entrepreneur whose interests span everything from operations to design. He has worked in media, technology and fashion industries, most recently founding a menswear line based in New York. At NewStore, Richie leads NewStore Labs, which explores new frontiers of commerce in the mobile age.

Topics: reducing friction