by Thomas Brandenburg
Having an appreciation for and understanding of data is incredibly important for the type of work we do. Increasingly our systems are able to collect an amazing amount of data, and so it’s important to not only know how to use it, but also understand at a higher level how it can be leveraged to improve the service.
1. What do you consider as the disruptive trend(s) that are affecting the retail industry that seem most promising?
Everything is about convenience, and that often means these industries need to move online. We live in a world where you can get most things brought to you at a touch of a button: fast food, clothes, cars, etc. The easier you make it for a user to obtain a good, the more likely they are to use your service. There have been a couple of industries that this has been hard to do with, such as grocery, but we’re moving in that direction and I wouldn’t be surprised if ordering groceries online becomes as much of a default behavior as ordering a book or electronics. The same could be said about apparel: we’re starting to see more and more services address this sector.
2. What are the biggest challenge(s) of scaling services in your specific retail sector today?
The biggest challenge is the personal nature of food. When you purchase a specific monitor, that monitor is the same for every single person who purchases it. The same is not true about an avocado. Some may want it ripe, and some may not - it is very dependent on personal preference and also context (do you expect to consume the good today or at a future point?). When it comes to Instacart and other services like it, that seek to leverage the infrastructure that exists all around us instead of building everything out again (such as having our own inventory), it is also hard to have a 100% gauge of what is in stock at any given time. Because of this, we work very hard on this concept called replacements, which is essentially trying to figure out what is a good substitute in the event that an item you ordered is no longer available.
3. What brands or retailers come to mind when you think about service innovation in this industry?
Amazon is a clear innovator when it comes to retail: recently they announced a service which will allow you to try clothes for a certain period of time before deciding if you’d like to buy them. The types of products that are strongly oriented around personal taste, like food and clothing, need different approaches than traditional e-commerce. I also think Walmart is doing some interesting work by allowing click-and-collect: allowing customers to pre-order things such as groceries online and having them pick them up at the store vs. delivery.
4. Besides having a mindset and the skill set for service design what other knowledge, experience or skills do you see as valuable for a designer to have in his or her repertoire today?
Having an appreciation for and understanding of data is incredibly important for the type of work we do. Increasingly our systems are able to collect an amazing amount of data, and so it’s important to not only know how to use it, but also understand at a higher level how it can be leveraged to improve the service. Data is another representation of our users that we should be facile with, especially when it comes to the new advances in computer science around machine learning. I wouldn’t say a designer needs to know how to do any of these things, but understanding how that can feed into an experience, and how to partner with data scientists and people give data insight, is incredibly important.
5. What would you like to see happen for the future of service design in retail?
I’d like us to be more and more comfortable with how technology is increasingly playing a role in every industry, including retail. Sometimes it feels like retailers are overly concerned with their present business, at the cost of seeing where things are going. It’s important to have service designers who can think long term about these things, and who can persuasively argue for why investing in such a future is important.
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