Usability testing, fundamentally, seeks to understand the ease with which a user can find what he or she is looking for in a particular environment. The retail industry has always had a unique interest in understanding the usability of its environments as customer confusion and frustration can quickly translate to lost sales. While a variety of tools have been available to retailers who wish to test and improve upon the usability of their online environments, retailers who would like to better understand the usability of their offline (brick-and mortar) environments have had very limited options. Fortunately, recent technological advancements have changed that.
Currently there are numerous companies offering tools that can be employed by retailers to test the usability of their offline environments. One such company is Euclid Analytics. Euclid was founded in 2010 and is currently contracted by over 500 brands operating in 45 countries worldwide (Euclid Analytics, n.d). Euclid offers retailers the ability to gather a variety of information about the customers visiting their offline environments, including the length of customer visits, where the customer goes within the store, how much time the customer spends in each location, and how frequently the customer returns to the store. Euclid’s data collection tools are unique because they do not require retailers to install expensive analytic-specific hardware in their stores, nor do they require customers to install retailer-specific apps on their smartphones; instead, Euclid collects customer data by employing the retailer’s Wi-Fi connection and linking that connection to the customer’s smartphone (Shu, 2016).
Customer information, once collected, is anonymized, aggregated, and displayed using the Euclid dashboard. This dashboard incorporates a variety of data visualization tools, which allow retailers the opportunity to analyze their data and make changes to their stores in order to improve sales (Datoo, 2013). Retailers could, for example, improve store pathing by adding additional displays to areas of their stores that receive the least amount of traffic or allocate additional staff to the sales floor when their stores are statistically the busiest.
Euclid’s data collection tools have two obvious drawbacks, however: First, because Euclid relies on connectivity between the retailer’s Wi-Fi and the customer’s smartphone, Euclid cannot collect data from customers without smartphones or customers who have their smartphone’s Wi-Fi function turned off while shopping in the store. Second, customers are likely to have privacy concerns with regard to the data collection process, despite Euclid’s assertion that all data collected is anonymized. Nordstrom discontinued its use of Euclid’s data collection tools after customers voiced dissatisfaction over being tracked while shopping (Clifford & Hardy, 2013). If customers feel that the collection of their in-store data is an invasion of their privacy, then the data collected, regardless of its value in improving a store’s usability, will, on the whole, hurt the retailer more than help.
Fortunately, there are ways retailers can maintain customer trust while collecting useful information that will help improve their stores’ usability. Retailers need to be up front about the types of data they are collecting, how they are collecting the data, and how the data will be used. Retailers should also ask customers to opt in rather than require them to opt out of having their data collected while they are in-store (Datoo, 2013). Incentivizing the opt-in process by providing special offers and discounts to customers who agree to have their data collected can improve the size of retailers’ potential data sets.
Analyzing the usability of offline environments seems to be the next frontier of usability testing and I, for one, am particularly interested to see how things unfold. In order to test these environments successfully, however, companies such as Euclid Analytics and the retailers who employ their data collection tools must be sensitive to the fact that customers who may be comfortable (or at the very least, resigned) to having some of their personal information collected online may react very differently to having comparable information collected in person, even if it is, in fact, anonymized.
Clifford, S. & Hardy, Q. (2013, July 14). Attention, shoppers: store is tracking your cell. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/15/business/attention-shopper-stores-are-tracking-your-cell.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1
Datoo, S. (2013, October 11). What information can retailers see when they track customer movements? The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/oct/11/information-retailers-track-customer-movements
Euclid Analytics. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://euclidanalytics.com/#
Shu, C. (2016, January 14). Euclid analytics raises $20m series c to track consumer behavior in retail stores. TechCrunch. Retrieved from http://techcrunch.com/2016/01/14/euclid-analytics-raises-20m-series-c-to-track-consumer-behavior-in-retail-stores/
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