Why do we buy things? Whether it’s groceries or suits, furniture or dresses, a watch or a house, the fundamental reason we choose what we choose is because it makes us feel better. For some purchases, such as food, the reason we buy is that it doesn’t feel good to be hungry. But for most purchases, the reasons are more emotional – often, we buy something because we just plain want it.
No one understands this more than the big fashion designers. They spend incredible amounts of time and money on their designs, creating a user experience that attracts and keeps customers. Whether it’s Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors or Vans, the designers want you to love their stuff. And, of course, they want you to keep coming back.
Can those same traits be translated to technology? Of course they can! Apple knows that the user experience has made their company the largest in the world. Google knows that they have found the way to integrate many disparate things together (search engines, phones and maps, specifically) into one cohesive environment. This wasn’t blind luck or the accidental discovery of something… a lot of hard work went into these designs. Work that the top fashion designers would understand and be proud of.
However, it seems that as I look over most of the retail enterprise software that exists today, a good user experience seems to have been left on the cutting room floor. And let’s face it, while incredibly powerful, a spreadsheet is not a good user experience. In a retail environment where customer centricity is paramount to success, looking at your business through a spreadsheet couldn’t be further from the way your customers see you. There’s absolutely no way you can make decisions aligned to your customer expectations by looking at a spreadsheet!
Here’s what I think – we spent a lot of time on powerful technology and on process design and data integration, and we didn’t spend the same amount of time to ensure that users would love it.
It’s time for a change. It’s time that we devoted energy, money and time to the user experience.
When we, at JDA, started to envision Retail.me, we started with three key goals: 1) focus on the customer as the center of the planning process; 2) bring advanced analytics and a powerful recommendation engine to the process of planning and execution; and 3) create a user experience that is intuitive, powerful, and fun. Those are valid goals, especially the last one. We coined a new word – “spreadsheeting” – and decided that we wanted to, as much as possible, remove spreadsheeting from our new vision.
We were very fortunate in that we had the JDA Innovation Labs, in Montreal, to help us make this possible. JDA Labs has a group of people that are strictly devoted to user experience, or UX. Many of them came from the gaming industry, where user experience is fundamental to success. All have considerable experience in understanding how and why people use tools the way they do.
As part of our Retail.me UX design, we worked with a number of our partner retailers. Starting with the tools they use today, the UX team shadowed users, asked questions, made observations, took pictures and video, and made lots and lots of notes. Then, the team went back to Montreal and developed personas of each of the key stakeholders in the merchandising process, documenting their key actions, frustrations, cognitive peaks and valleys, and interactions with other personas.
This became our blueprint for design. With this understanding, we could then provide input to the Data Science team (also located in Montreal) on the areas in which Retail.me needed to bring advanced analytics in order to solve complex problems that today take tons of time. We also understood that collaboration, which in today’s world means yelling over the cubicle walls, needs to be built-in, an integral part of the experience.
Most importantly, however, the UX team understood how these personas accomplish their goals. They learned that spreadsheets are not the way to build assortments, and that the correct application of analytic information and recommendations can make the process faster, better, and far more intuitive.
There is no way to describe the impact that the UX team has had on Retail.me. I tell customers that “no spreadsheets were abused in the creation of Retail.me.” For us retailers who have grown up on a steady diet of spreadsheets and spreadsheet-looking software, this is as refreshing as today’s smartphones compared to the push-button or rotary-dial phones of the past.
While we may not have created the next Burberry Trench, we feel that users of Retail.me will gain tremendous benefit from all the hard work that went into its cutting-edge design. In fact, the only way to really understand the impact of the user experience within Retail.me is to see it for yourself. The future of retail planning, in all its UX style, is at www.jda.com/retailme. Please take a look; we think you will love the, ummm, experience.