Enhancing Customer Experiences With Positive Friction

BY Sara Plavsic

Many businesses worked intensely in 2020 to make sure their online platforms were ready to handle a surge of pandemic-driven digital shopping. Amid this effort, some marketers may have noticed a paradox.

On one hand, retailers normally invest to attract the attention of customers – to create a strong brand impression with compelling messaging and positive, memorable experiences. But when it comes to online shopping, it sometimes seems that the goal is to deliver a shopping experience where the brand practically disappears; the customer browses, purchases and receives shipment so seamlessly that the brand delivering this frictionless experience is all but absent.

Smooth, intuitive user experience is worth striving for. No one would argue for annoying interruptions and delays as tactics for getting your brand noticed. But our research suggests that customers are open to gentle nudges and positive surprises that add value for them. Brands that deploy this kind of “positive friction” effectively can enhance customer experience and deepen relationships.

To create effective positive friction, retailers need personal insight into their customer’s needs & expectations.

Positive Friction is any experience that pauses the shopping process or disrupts customers’ expectations, but ultimately brings joy or delight. Examples include:

  • A recommendation of a product to complement a current or past purchase.
  • Notice of a sale on a favourite item.
  • A brief, optional quiz to help a customer narrow down their choices in a fun way.
  • A delivery that arrives not on time, but a little early.

To create effective positive friction, retailers need personal insight into customers. A pop-up blasting out news of a sale is not the kind of friendly tap on the shoulder that will gain positive attention; but messaging that relates directly to a purchase the customer is considering might be just the positive push they need to take that action. Data on customers’ shopping histories and preferences can support targeted interactions that help them feel supported in finding what they need and want. So, the ideal case is the customer who’s comfortable sharing personal information because they trust that the brand will use it to improve their experience with relevant and meaningful messages and offers. 

There’s some inherent risk in pushing your customer’s attention toward your brand in a manner of your choosing, not theirs. It’s important to get positive friction right – otherwise, it’s just friction. But for brands that can find ways to add value and pleasure to a routine shopping experience (especially when many customers are limited in their activities, and craving interaction and fun), the potential to build loyalty is worth the effort.

You can read more about positive friction and how brands can deliver a frictionless commerce experience in our recent report, 2021 Delivering Frictionless Commerce: A guide to understanding customer expectations and growing brand loyalty.

Insights included in the 2021 Delivering Frictionless Commerce Report were synthesized from over 3,800 interviews with North American consumers, conducted between August and October 2020. Topics covered include:

  • The six dimensions of frictionless commerce: Fulfillment and Multi-Channel Alignment; Security and Payment Options; Ease of Access, Design and Navigation; Personalization; Positive Friction; and Customer Service.
  • Consumer satisfaction across a range of sectors, including clothing and apparel, personal care, sporting goods, home furnishings and electronics, food and beverage, and more.
  • Industry-specific analysis of the drivers of brand loyalty by category.
  • Custom questions provided to subscribers.

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