Retailers and designers need to think of the application and the technology to be incorporated across channels in terms of how it can fundamentally change the retail dynamic. The application needs to be more than an interesting novelty, it needs to address the unspoken, contextual realities of the people selling products. The application strategy need to be indispensable to store associates. That means thinking about how the tools will be used on the sales floor – will it detract from the interpersonal interaction or add to them; will it make the job of the sales associate more difficult physically as they go about their day with a device in hand; will it be an improvement or a hindrance?
In the rush to add the newest device to the marketing mix we often overstep the cultural and psychological limitations of the people to whom we are selling. We design with what we think would be useful in mind. But think for a moment about something like a farmers market or on a national scale, whole foods. Part of the reason for being in these locations is to escape the overly technologized world in which we live day to day. The people shopping are looking for a form of escape from mass production, using the setting and the food as a way of connecting with a romanticized sense of the past. They use the environment as a stage on which to teach their children and their friends about “purity” and “simplicity.” They use it as a form of self-validation to reaffirm that they are doing their part to be green. Does a digital display work in this context? It may, but it has to have more thought than simply adding an application or interactive sign.
The application, the device, the media may be interesting or novel, but will they help customer/shopper interactions? So understanding the culture of shopping and the larger context is the first step in developing a useful set of tools and a real strategy (as opposed to a set of tactics disguised as a strategy). Designing for an environment means thinking about more than designing a solution to a task.