Planning an in-store technology? 4 steps to prototype it like a pro

Planning an in-store technology? 4 steps to prototype it like a pro


By Rudy Mutter, EVP of technology and founding partner, Yeti LLC

Every retailer plans for an explosive product release. But after Samsung's infamous Galaxy Note 7 debacle, the Korean retail technology company is taking the idea a bit less literally.

How so? Before releasing the Note 7's smaller sibling, the Galaxy S8, Samsung used rapid prototyping to give the flagship smartphone a trial by fire. This time around, it extensively prototyped the battery, including an eight-point check, charge/discharge test, leak check, and accelerated usage test. Thanks to Samsung's diligence, pundits are praising the S8 as “the most beautiful phone ever.”

Samsung's story, however, is more than a cautionary one; it's a how-to tale for retailers prototyping technologies to augment customers' shopping experiences. Shopping has become an interactive endeavor, with 53 percent of consumers saying they'd pay more for valuable experiences. Half of in-store shoppers today say they're more likely to shop at retailers that offer assistive technologies.

How, then, can retail brands prototype the in-store technologies that customers want and avoid a Note 7-style backfire? The process involves four crucial steps:

1. Don't buy assumptions

Recently, a fashion retailer approached us about a wearable product. Rather than let customers be the ones to find out whether the planned hardware and software could work together, Yeti built a prototype that proved that the technologies could cooperate, allowing the client to move forward with confidence.

Before prototyping your own digital device, consider your riskiest assumption. In retail, it may be the presumption that shoppers will even use your product. Pay special attention to first-contact and onboarding flows. Are they seamless? Be sure customers see your technology as valuable to their shopping experience before diving further into design or development.

2. Stick to the list

When you're prototyping, it's easy to get carried away. Rather than waste time building features that users won't find valuable, define clear parameters. Focus first on initial customer touchpoints, unproven technologies, and unusual hardware integrations. Before moving forward, set a date when the prototype should be ready to test.

When working with PlayStation on a recent user engagement app, we limited ourselves to a design-only prototype. Why? A digital product's user flows can make or break the experience. By carefully scoping the project and testing repeatedly, we planned an engaging user experience for the app without breaking the bank.

3. Build on a budget

You don't need dozens of people to build a viable prototype. Be sure everybody is there for a reason. Although team needs vary from prototype to prototype, researchers, product managers, UX designers, and developers should likely be involved. Use agile processes to stay flexible and promote experimentation. Don't be afraid to use household items which can reduce costs and get the technology to users faster. As long as the prototype gets the point across, it doesn't have to be pretty.

Google Glass might not have been the hit the company hoped for, but it did a masterful job prototyping the technology. The mistake was prototyping for the masses rather than for specific use cases, such as surgeons performing precise operations. Still, because it took an agile approach, it was able to push out prototypes in mere days, test with users, and gather valuable feedback.

4. Test from start to store

The final stage of prototyping is also the most important. Get your product in front of as many target users as possible. Be clear about what you want them to test. For example, perhaps you're prototyping in-store kiosks and need customers to test an inventory search function. Record feedback, iterate, and test again.

If initial tests are successful, scale up. Neiman Marcus recently worked with Slyce to add a “Snap. Find. Shop.” feature to its mobile application. By first testing with its handbag and shoe categories, Neiman Marcus collected feedback about how it could save users time and energy when searching for products they'd seen in magazines. Armed with this data, the Dallas-based department store expanded the feature to all its men's and women's clothing accessories.

Like it or not, retail is changing. With online marketplaces swooping in to steal business, big-box retailers need new ways to delight shoppers. The best way to do that — at least without making Samsung's mistake — is to prototype the in-store technologies that customers are clamoring for.

Topics: Consumer Behavior, Customer Experience, Customer Service, Department Stores, Marketing, Merchandising, Technology

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