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A better shopping experience

Enhance service design


The client, a leading global retail chain, felt the need to upgrade its customer experience. It has been a while since a comprehensive review took place, and with the advent of digital technology, and trends such as consumer awareness of quality and preferences for locally-sourced items, the client felt an upgrade was worth exploring.


The client was facing narrow profit margins due to pressure, not only from brick-and-mortar competitors, but also from online sales such as Amazon. Even though the client had an online presence, they saw a need to retain a significant physical presence.

The team:

  • Design director
  • Design lead
  • > Two experience designers
  • My role: conducted research, generated personas, defined the narrative and helped derive a solution.


And enhanced customer experience that would address key pain points while incorporating digital technology.


A reputation for an enhanced, state-of-the-art customer experience, leading to increased foot traffic and sales.

How we did it

Research - Competitive

To understand trends I read articles on customer demographics

Interesting to note that millennials were more apt to purchase in-store, or make brick-and-mortar part of their experience. They had the time to spare and a preference to see and touch, especially new products. Their older counterparts enjoyed the convenience of online shopping given their busy lives, which include taking care of children, managing a household, etc.

We researched current trends, like this supermarket in Milan, Italy:

Some features:

  • Information about products prominently displayed, in a way that didn't see intrusive
  • Low shelves so customers could see each other, creating a sense of a "community marketplace"

And Amazon Go's digital shopping experience, which features self-checkout by simply removing items from the shelves:

We also visited a few retail stores. Our selection was based on the client's competition, as well as stores with unique customer experiences

One grocery store, Wegman's, had in-store cooking demos of meals to-go that were conveniently located, events for children and a tour of local high school students learning about locally sourced food.

I reviewed Home Depot's app-to-store experience.

  • Pros: app was easy to navigate, included chat customer service and a map of my local store indicating where I can find my item. The sales associates were helpful and knowledgeable about the products, which were prominently displayed with prices.
  • Pain point: in-store navigation.  The one directory of the store was located at the entry.   app included a directory but I was unable to get coverage, especially as the store was located underground. This is a challenge with retail space in Manhattan. Nevertheless it demonstrated the limits of technology.

Other observations about retail stores in general

  • Aroma: some stores infused a scent at the entrance. Wegman's had a soft, pine scent Home Depot had its plant/garden section at the front, which gave off a feeling of fresh outdoors, a nice change from an urban environment!
  • Environment: Apple does a nice job of creating a "clean calm" environment, using a minimalist design approach
  • Checkout: Always a pain point, many retailers employed self check-out, and some like Apple and Sephora had sales associates checking out customers on the floor. This seemed to work better for Apple given the relatively smaller variety of merchandise and that the associates wore clothing that allowed them to stand out.

Research - customers

We observed shoppers, noting the following habits; using a list? Looking lost? Carrying a basket or using a cart? Frustrated? Distracted? Where were the store bottlenecks located? Checkout experience? I shadowed one customer while shopping at Wegman's grocery store.

Accessibility: We noticed some shoppers were unable to reach the top shelf. Below is a photo that illustrates a more positive experience.

We also Interviewed some users

Pain points:

  • "I can't find anything here. They keep switching things around"
  • "The store app doesn't work because I can't get service"
  • "The checkout is slow"
  • It's a pain managing the parking lot, between my 3-year-old, finding a cart and loading my car.
  • "Everything here is nicely displayed"
  • "I can find what I need"
  • "The salespeople are very helpful."
  • "They have good quality products"
  • "I like the free samples"

Research - store associates

I made a point of interviewing store associates to understand their experience in helping customers, as this is an integral part of the shopping experience. I observed and discussed how they look up inventory for customers, technology at the register, the training they receive and what they like/dislike about their jobs.

Pain points:

  • "This [hand-held device] allows me to scan the bar code and see if and where we have an item in stock. Only assistant managers and above are allowed to have one, and I always have associates coming up to me asking to look up an item."
  • "I keep forgetting my employee ID when logging onto the register. It's a long number and the register times out when I haven't used it for 15 minutes. I also need it to punch in, and there's not always an open register so I have to have my manager adjust my hours" 
  • "I have autonomy over my products. I used to own a deli and now I run the deli department here. I know my stuff and get to handle quality ingredients. This helps the customers when they have questions or need suggestions"
  • "Great management. They move us around to different jobs so we can lean the store and the products."

Personas & journey mapping

We created "Sarah" a persona representing a suburban mother. Although are researched showed a focus on millennials, Sarah represented one of the client's target customers, and we felt that she gave us the opportunity to explore some interesting design challenges.

We developed a current state journey map by writing down for Sarah's journey, whiteboading the experience, and clustering key points, identifying pain points. We then discussed opportunities, etc. in order to define the narrative.

Defining the narrative

Based on our research, we constructed Sarah's shopping experience.

Sarah usually orders her groceries online, but in this case she won't be home to receive them because she needs to pick up her daughter at soccer practice. She logs on to her account, selects her "ususal" shopping cart plus a couple more items. At the checkout she opts to pick up her order in the store, at the location closest to where she will be.

Sarah then remembers she ran out of cleaning supplies and forgot to order tomatoes for a recipe. She drives to the store, her GPS locates an empty spot. Upon entering the store the air is infused with a scent that evokes a feeling of "fresh." Although Sarah doesn't notice this, it makes the experience more pleasurable. Upon entry, Sarah scans a bar code on her phone against a reader, so the store has her payment, rewards club and other information.

Using the store's app, Sarah types in the items she needs, and . Aa map appears noting where to find each one and with GPS, provides directions. She has a question, the sales associate advises her on which product is better for cleaning granite countertops and the best way to apply it.

Shelf height is limited to four feet. Sarah says "good morning" to a friendly customer on the other side of the aisle. She selects an item and scans the bar code on her app. Sarah has a lot to carry so she opts to have it added to her order that she plans to pick up.

Produce experience: Sarah sees tomatoes displayed in the produce section. A transparent screen hovers above the display that lists everything about the item - origin, nutrition, recipes, and where to find the ingredients. A scale is conveniently located for Sarah to weigh the item and print a sticker w a barcode. Sarah scans the barcode to her phone - the item is instantly paid for and she can carry it out of the store.


We delivered to the client a plan that followed Sarah's journey based on our narrative, and include the following:

  • Digital innovations to enhance the customer experience when necessary
  • Assignment of store staff as "customer service associates" with subject matter expertise on the products
  • Services geared toward car usage, i.e. parking lot enhancements, assistance for loading purchases, covered shopping cart corrals, conveniently located
  • Neat, vibrant display of products upon entering the store. 
  • The store as an "event". For example, a BBQ cooking demo in time for Labor Day weekend, featuring sales on grills, supplies, food. Include music from a local band.
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