To make sense of a great many of the trends in retail is not easy. Experts abound and a simple google search will give you some comprehensive, free slide decks. But how do you make sense of these trends in practice? How do you take it from words on a page to specific actions?
Understanding the notion of friction allows you to do just that, because one can use that framework to evaluate your retail business quite effectively.
In The Necessity of Friction (1993) Keith Griffin, writes about the traditional view of Economics and it can be summarised as follows:
The core of late twentieth century economics consists of a set of assumptions which, taken together and seen as a whole, constitutes an image or vision of a self-regulating system in which friction and inertia are largely absent. Friction in both senses of the word is generally ignored: there is neither dissention and conflict nor is there resistance to relative motion. The economic system adjusts smoothly to disturbances; markets clear instantaneously; competition ensures that resources are used efficiently.
But, as any practitioner would know, and Griffins acknowledges, friction is real and it is every consumer’s bugbear.
What causes friction in the retail interaction?
The answer to this simple question will make sense of all the retail trends coherently.
Customers want zero friction. Remove friction, and customers are happy.
Price/cost is a friction point, and customers always want the best price (i.e. least friction). That is an easy one. Identifying a comprehensive list of friction points, specifically to your business, and developing specific strategies for them is harder.
Some examples are captured in the image below. The way to use it practically is to evaluate every customer touch point and assess the level of friction at that touch point.
· Epistemic Friction (e.g. product knowledge)
· Fit for Purpose/Quality
See figure 1 for a simplified, partially completed example.
Like any relationship, it is better when the friction is removed.
Retailers fail when they don’t recognise the friction.
How does this relate to evaluating trends?
The growth in ecommerce and social marketing is directly proportionate to online sales as it effective removes the friction of poor face-to-face serves, removes the friction of sales staff that lack product knowledge. And it is also directly proportionate to the friction caused by over-priced offers.
The growth in mobile phone usage (to shop or supplement shopping activities) directly reduces the friction related to the effort/ duration of shopping activities. And so too is the trend of customers who increasingly argue about RRP.
My hypothesis is this: It is not the trend that drives/impact our business so much as that it is our inefficiencies (friction) that cause the trends to emerge in response to that friction.
Consequently, if we become proficient at identifying friction, we will be better able to (a) anticipate the trends and (b) proactively respond to trends in good time. In fact, if we reduce friction efficiently, we will be less impacted by the trends, whatever they may be.