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A Market of the Senses: Digital Devices in Physical Spaces
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A Market of the Senses: Digital Devices in Physical Spaces


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Presented at UX Australia, August 2011. …

Presented at UX Australia, August 2011.

The presentation is a study of user research performed on Best Buy’s iPhone app. The original intent of the study was to explore the effectiveness of the app’s ability to scan QR codes (two-dimensional codes) within Best Buy stores. The report produced from doing this work went far beyond what we set out to do.

Is this the future of shopping? When scanning worked it was an incredible success. Consumers loved the ability to read customer reviews, get product information and full technical specs with the item right in front of them. It was the best of both worlds, all the information of the internet and the physical object together! Access to that detailed information allows consumers to research products in real time, as they shop and engage with sales associates.

Are we ready for the future? Unfortunately the store environment is not designed for users to engage with a mobile device while shopping. Customers were not sure what to scan, manufacturer’s codes compete with those in the store. The placement of codes is not accessible for all. Overall, there was a lack of context in the store – nothing encouraged the use of one’s mobile device.

How do we fix the problems? Undoubtedly mobile devices will continue to enhance how we shop, not only accessing consumer information but with helping to navigate stores and find products. Integrating digital experiences into retail spaces is imperative for enhancing the way we shop. Mobile and store design teams need to collaborate to develop unified experiences where digital tools are easily incorporated into the retail landscape.

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  • Hello, I’m Bob Burns. I’m going to start with a short film clip.
  • Video:
  • So, I began working in interactive design with Studio Archetype in NYC during the dotcom boon of the late 90s. Studio Archetype was founded by Clement Mok – who is primarily known for his work on the original Macintosh graphic interface. Studio was acquired by Sapient and I became part of their site development team, but our projects were always focused on customer driven experiences. And those principles and focusing our work on user needs were an important part of all teams – design and development - from ideation to build. Also, at that time we modeled everything off of brick and mortar experiences, and it’s interesting, and what I will be discussing, in part, is how that is changing, in particular how mobile devices are causing that shift and how the relationship is less of one experience replicating the other and becoming more peer to peer.
  • Currently, I am the User Experience Manager for the Emerging Platforms team at Best Buy. Best Buy is the largest retailer focused on consumer electronics in the United States, where it accounts for 19% of the market. It currently has more than 1,150 stores and also operates in Mexico, Canada, China, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
  • So, I went to film school at New York University, and in part that is why I started this talk with a film clip – at heart I am a cinema studies major.But I also wanted to use that clip to put the idea of creating a better shopping experience in a historical context.
  • The idea of shopping as entertainment, of the ability to compare items, of consulting with sales associates and making shopping more convenient – this sort of everything in one place concept - is not new.
  • It’s actually quite old. It can be traced back to the mid 1800s. One of the best examples coming from New York’s Gilded Age, and its Ladies Mile, which it was called due to the department stores located on Broadway where women routinely shopped. The area served as a social center for shoppers and diners, and for entertainment.It originated as a commercial district in 1862, and the development in this neighborhood followed a pattern of specialized mixed-use - Broadway served as an entertainment center with concert halls, galleries, restaurants and department stores,Sixth Avenue served as a retail center for department stores, and Fifth Avenue became a center for offices.
  • So really what we are often looking at when discussing “new concepts” in shopping aren’t exactly new, they are evolving and adapting based on a changing consumer.Last year, the trends research and innovation company PSFK released a Future of Retail report, which they have updated this year and they continue to call out a number of concepts they see as indicators of the changing retail landscape. This is one they wrote about in a brief article titled, FUTURE OF RETAIL: Duane Reade Flagship Store Is More Like A Department Store Duane Reade is a chain of pharmacy and convenience stores, primarily located in New York City, and it’s known for its high volume of products in rather small store layouts.
  • And I want to quote the article “Duane Reade’s newly minted flagship store in lower Manhattan offers expansive in-store services including access to fresh food vendors and a variety of personalized beauty services. The 24hr, 22,000 square foot pharmacy will host in-house beauty bars for makeovers, nails and hair in addition to apportioning space for fresh sushi and fruit smoothie offerings.”
  • And that sounds a lot like the Farmer’s Market at the Hillsdale Shopping Center. Which is not to say it is a bad idea, the Farmer’s Market is gone –but the Hillsdale Shopping Center, at well over 50 years old, remains and is one the few major shopping centers to remain in private ownership.
  • And it isn’t only PSFK, who point to this type of experience as indicative of the future of retail. Nielsen,,, and Citi, among others, have all called out evolving store formats as a significant trend. Though not one format in particular wins out – supercenters will flourish, but so will small pop up stores, both low end and high end grocery stores will be successful.The one factor agreed upon is the increased use of smartphones as part of the shopping process.
  • And actually Nielsen, in their 10 Predictions for 2015 went so far to say that “Smart phones will be the primary enabler of shopper engagements” But that is actually a very broad statement as mobile presents many opportunities and ways for a customer to engage.
  • First, there are mobile apps – and these are all areas in which Best Buy is operating – this is the terrain of Best Buy’s emerging platforms team.
  • These are screenshots from our iPhone app, this is Best Buy’s primary app, we also have a version for Android. In addition, there are numerous “affinity” apps that other teams have created, for marketing or loyalty programs.
  • There is also the mobile web, and though many people will immediately think apps when the conversation turns to mobile it is actually the mobile web that has been the biggest area of growth for retailers.
  • So as the UX manager with increasing traffic to our mobile website happening on my watch, of course I want to believe that people are drawn purely by the user experience but the reality is regardless of how it works this is where consumers are turning – though I would like to believe it works quite well.
  • Then there is how do devices work in the world, and this is a really important point because whenever anyone speaks of mobile experiences they are inclined to mention context and the ability of the device to allow you to interact with it anywhere. So how it works with in a store is critical, and there are two technologies that are really leading that.One that receives much interest is Near field communication, or NFC. NFC allows for simplified transactions, data exchange, and connections with a touch. So a smartphone with an NFC chip could make a credit card payment or serve as a keycard or ID card. Also NFC enabled devices can read NFC tags on retail displays to get more information or an audio or video presentation. One thing to note is that along with their simplicity they are also secure, so when we discuss something like mobile payments – clearly NFC is top of mind.
  • The other is QR codes (an abbreviation of Quick Response code) A QR code is a two-dimensional code that is readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and mobile phone cameras. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded could be text, or a URL, or other data – such as interacting with an app.The QR code is common in Japan, where it was created in 1994, and it was designed to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed.In addition to Japan the technology has seen frequent use in the Netherlands and South Korea, while the rest of the world has been slower in the adoption of QR codes.
  • In September of 2010 Best Buy added QR codes to all product fact tags in all of our U.S. retail stores. The fact tag is the product information you see being scanned here. So there was a fairly significant redesign of the print tag and we also added a QR reader to the Best Buy app, if you scan a code with our app’s reader it will take you to product information within the app. If you scan a QR code with a reader on your phone it will direct to the product information page on our mobile site.And Best Buy was the first US retailer to use QR codes on all of its products.
  • So there was a somewhat incendiary article on, in March of this year, stating QR codes were on their way out and would be replaced by NFC technology. And this comment was based on Google Places switching from QR codes to NFC. When Google Places first launched it used QR codes, and a business could have a sign in their window with the code and if a passerby scanned it, they would be taken to the Google Places page with information about that business. Then in December of 2010 Google began creating signs with NFC chips and by March of 2011 had phased out QR codes. Which makes sense for one sign in one place – in that instance an NFC chip is a good idea.
  • But Best Buy went with QR codes. Why? Well our goal was different, we wanted to have access to additional information on every product in every one of our stores, not one sign. QR codes are very easy and very inexpensive to produce, NFC requires a chip embedded in every target and that chip needs to be programmed. Also, all a customer needs to interact with a QR code is a camera and software to decode it (which is free). While NFC requires a device which is able to generate an active NFC field.So for our goals QR codes were the best choice.
  • And really the NFC vs QR code battle is in many ways imagined. Because of its security, NFC will definitely play a role in the development of mobile payments and there are other things, like checking in at a place which only requires one target, where NFC is a good choice. But for quantity and print, QR codes definitely have an edge – fast, cheap and easy will always have a place.Also, though QR codes are part of all of our US stores, we are also working on efforts that will take advantage of NFC technology. So we are covering our bases and we really see both of these working together.
  • And it is hard to avoid grand pronouncements when considering what will be, like “In the future we will all drive automated cars”. And such statements always make me think of Minority Report but not the futuristic interface of that movie, but of the automated cars. Because in order for us all to be driving those cars the entire landscape would need to change, we would need all new roads.And this is supposed to be 2054.
  • And really the future, as it is unfolding right now, is more like the Terry Gilliam movie Brazil. Where all sorts of technology, old and new, live side by side.
  • And there is no better way to experience this than to go out into the world, with your very modern and futuristic mobile device, and see how this works.
  • So, since we haveQR codes on all our fact tags and an app that allows customers to scan the codes and access additional product information, we did a study which consisted of 6 one-on-one shop-a-long interviews, conducted at three Best Buy stores in and near San Francisco, CA.
  • And this study was done with the user experience firm Bolt | Peters. And they are fantastic to partner with and their insights and expertise were invaluable to this project.
  • But even more than that is they are incredible proponents of remote testing. So, this entire study was streamed live to everyone working on these mobile products. And I really felt this went beyond remote usability and was more remote field research, as we were streaming live footage of customers shopping, using the app and scanning QR codes. And I am this strong believer in going outside of the lab and truly watching people use the products you have created – that is the best thing any interaction designer can do in order to learn about their work. So allowing a larger audience access to this really made the project successful, it was like a person was being shadowed by 12 people at a time. Which you really can’t do.
  • And reaction to the app and to QR codes was overwhelmingly positive.
  • When users successfully scanned QR codes, they were delighted to find exactly the kind of detailed information that they were looking for, and they loved the simplicity of the interaction. And this was seen as a best of both worlds scenario – where you are in the store with the product in front of you but you have immediate access to everything a web experience offers, like customer reviews and technical specs.
  • It was also compared to being able to view the product while you are also reading the back of the box.
  • And this woman said something, that we observed quite often, but she clearly articulated and that was “What I like about the app is if I didn’t do any research beforehand I know all this is here” – and that is what we saw almost everyone doing – researching products as they were in the store. And if there is something that you could truly see happening today, and say this is the future of retail, then this is it – this ability to research in real time.
  • And we have seen this shift elsewhere, certainly GPS and smartphones have allowed a completely new way for us to navigate – getting directions is no longer a prior activity, we are able to figure out how to get where we want to go while we are on our way there.
  • And in terms of purchasing, we see this happening with mobile apps like Moviefone and Fandango, that allow a user to buy movie tickets – we now have the ability to find out what movies are playing nearby, when and purchase the ticket, potentially while walking out the door.
  • Also the Open Table app, allows immediate access to all this information – what restaurants are nearby, when are tables available.
  • And this has been a major change in how we move through the world, from once consulting maps and newspapers and making calls to a very seamless ability to navigate and make choices while in motion and this has been fostered by having this information being accessible at all times, often via a mobile device.And we often think that this increased use of mobile, and this unlimited access to information and the ability to transact will lead to this totally self-serve world but that is not what we saw at all. It really led to increased engagement, when customers accessed product information they could then talk with a sales associate about a comment in a customer review or about technical details , it also allowed customers to compare products in more complex ways and with a greater sense of confidence. But of course there were some issues.
  • Video
  • So, to quote one of the participants in this study “I like scanning, when it works” And that is rule number one, it has to work – not everyone recognizes a technical failure, most don’t, they fear they have made an error. One of the women in the clip said that, “Did I do something wrong?” And that is the worst possible scenario. Now, the emerging platforms team is an agile environment and it can de difficult to do usability testing in agile, at least traditional testing. We have only done testing with a prototype once, and it didn’t have as much impact as testing with what is actually live and being used by costumers as we did here. And when you test in this manner, you often go beyond looking purely at the UI and does it work or not, as happened in this instance.First and foremost what we found were a lot of technical problems, and this was after having gone through QA testing. Real life situations truly test a product, and what we found was the app’s ability to scan didn’t always work, it often didn’t work, and weak wifi signals caused the app to be incredibly slow – as we saw with the guy at the end of the clip – which was very frustrating for customers.
  • Then there were definite UI issues, the biggest was the lack of a “how to” aspect to the app – there needed to be more guidance and better setting of expectations, and this is tricky because too many instructions mean this is complicated and we want to assure people this is easy. Also, scanning a QR code requires you to do nothing – when working properly it scans automatically. Instructing someone to do nothing is one of the hardest things to do – especially as our phones increasingly become our cameras. We want to tap somewhere, there needs to be interaction and affirmation.
  • Then there is the fact tag, which also provided no information regarding what a QR code is and what to do with it. Which was made increasingly difficult as there is other information fighting for your attention.
  • And then we put them in hard to reach places.
  • And that last point is probably one of the biggest lessons learned – because this app wasn’t about designing for a screen, or designing for a device but designing for an environment.It has often been thought that mobile users are primarily engaging with the web or apps, when they are “elsewhere” – away from easy access to a laptop or desktop. But that has been found to not be true. Best Buy’s own surveys show primary engagement with the mobile web is at home, and Google has done similar studies stating the same. Shopping will often come in second place. And part of the reason is spaces need to invite and encourage mobile usage – one third of consumers have stated they feel self conscious  scanning a QR code or barcode in a store. But there are environments that have encouraged this type of engagement…
  • Like museums.First, let me say I think it is important, no matter what industry you work in, to look outside that industry. I have done interaction design for health care, finance, travel and retail and you always need to look beyond what you believe to be your area of expertise and look at what others are doing.
  • And the reason I think museums are a great example is the audience is wide, in terms of types and also in terms of why they are there – to take a class, see a performance, do research or view an exhibit – and that experience in particular, of viewing an exhibit, the ability to navigate the space is critical. And museums have been figuring this out for years, with signage and kiosks, and with devices that provide audio tours.
  • So this is a program called Art On Call, that is at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN – where Best Buy is headquartered. This was started in 2005. And it is very smart in its simplicity, all it requires is a phone and you can use it when you want, there is no set path.
  • The placard for many of the works of art, will have the art on call number and four digits for that piece – so all you do is call and enter the numbers.Let’s give a try….
  • Audio for this image can be found here:
  • That was the filmmaker John Waters discussing the art of Joseph Beuys in Pig Latin. And if you are a fan of John Waters, you know he is an avid art collector, and a fan of Joseph Beuys and of pig latin – which he has had his characters use in his films.And getting it is part of the joy, this additional interaction isn’t purely for information – it also exists to entertain, to delight.And that is another thing museum’s get. Don’t just educate, but entertain. It’s also interesting in discussing the museum experience to look at how retail can be influenced by museums. Actually there is an exhibit in Sydney right now at the State Library of New South Wales called On Sale! Shops & Shopping in New South Wales, and I highly recommend seeing this exhibit, it suggests that as online purchasing continues to grow the future of retail may be more of a museum like experience. To quote the exhibit “Perhaps, in the future, shops will be more like art galleries, museums or libraries, where customers visit carefully curated spaces tailor made to suit their needs”
  • Another great example is Tesco’s HomePlus and their virtual grocery store. In case you have not seen or heard of this, here is a short video.
  • Video:
  • So, they got a lot of things right. First, they created an entire plan – scanning QR codes is the first step, the item is then placed in an online cart and then shipped to you.
  • And it is very simple, these are backlit posters – that is all, and there is nothing else you can do but scan the QR code.
  • And this isn’t a replacement, this didn’t create a huge interest in shopping in the subway, it created more people with accounts online. So this was all part of a larger ecosystem, and connecting and strengthening all the pieces.
  • iAnd this is something routinely documented, one device does not eliminate another but changes how someone engages with both. So a customer may go online on their phone very often but for very short periods of time and this often corresponds with this person then going online via a laptop or desktop fewer times but for longer periods of time.So what does this all mean for Best Buy and what do we do?
  • Well, we learn what is and isn’t working, and look around more at who is inspiring us – and we make some changes.And here is when I like to note that the because the Emerging Platforms team is agile, we have frequent releases and we are always updating and improving our products. And mobile is constantly evolving as an industry, devices are changing, operating systems are changing – so update, improve, refine – the customer expects it.First, we focused on the features that were unique to the app, this was the reason why people use it. So we put them front and center and improved the UI for to make it easier for people to use these features.
  • And we added other features that took advantage of what the mobile device can do – like notifications. We asked what can the app do that mobile web can’t, retail apps speak to loyal customers – so we looked for opportunities that connect with this segment.
  • And the most important thing we did, was we shared what we learned. As I said earlier when we did the work with Bolt | Peters it was all streamed live and it was watched by people involved in different aspects of QR codes – developers, interaction designers, product managers – and the report produced from this study was shared across teams, with VPs and SR VPs - this was as important documentation to me as it was to anyone who worked in store design.So we had some serious conversations with these different groups, and looked at what elements of the store we could fix, and the technology was improved and signage was improved.
  • And our work has paid off, just yesterday there was an article in the New York Times titled App Smart:Stalking the Retail Aisles With a More Focused Purpose – it’s a review of several retail apps including Best Buy’s, Target’s and Westfield’s - to quote the article “Of all the apps I tried, Best Buy’s was the most reliable and filled with features.”The QR code project at Best Buy that were very ambitious, in it’s scope and it’s timeline, and much of what was done was very successful. But in going about the work teams were often working very separately and that is the challenge of being multi-channel, to work across teams and doing this study helped connect those teams. People are multi-channel, life is a multi-channel experience. Multi-channel is not a 21st century phenomenon, despite it’s current buzzword status - David Jones has been multi-channel since 1890. But companies aren’t multi-channel and working across channels is the big challenge of creating seamless and engaging experiences.
  • Thank you and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments, the best way to do so is via Twitter.
  • Also, I’m somewhat obsessed with pop music and you may have noticed the slide titles are all song titles – so here is the full list of songs and artists.
  • Transcript

    • 1. A market of the senses: Digital devices in physical spacesBob BurnsUser Experience Manager, Emerging Platforms | Best Buy
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 2.
    • 3. Who are you?
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 4. 9 to 5
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 5. Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 6. Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 7. Ladies Night
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 8. What Comes Around
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 9. What Comes Around
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 10. What Comes Around
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 11. in the year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 12. Hanging on the Telephone
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 13. C’mon, Get happy
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 14. C’mon, Get happy
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 15. Let’s go
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 16. Let’s go
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 17. Credit in the straight world
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 18. Credit in the straight world
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 19. I turn my camera on
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 20. Video killed the radio star
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 21. ask
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 22. Yoshimi battles the pink robots
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 23. Light years
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 24. Lifetime piling up
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 25. physicaL
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 26. physical
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 27. With a little help from my friends
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 28. Tv party
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 29. success
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 30. Express yourself
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 31. Express yourself
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 32. Express yourself
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 33. Modern love
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 34. Modern love
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 35. Modern love
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 36. World in motion
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 37.
    • 38. 99 problems
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 39. 99 problems
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 40. 99 problems
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 41. I want to take you higher
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 42. Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 43. Art Class (Song For Yayoi Kusama)
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 44. Lost in the world
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 45. Call me
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 46. Artistsonly
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 47. Artistsonly
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 48. Pidgin english
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 49. Lost in the supermarket
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 50.
    • 51. SupermodEl(you better work)
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 52. SupermodEl(you better work)
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 53. SupermodEl(you better work)
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 54. Jerkin’ back n’ forth
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 55. Re-make/re-model
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 56. Re-make/re-model
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 57. Come together
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 58. Finest worksong
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 59. I will follow@hello_bob_burns
      Bob Burns | August 2011
    • 60. “Who Are You?” The Who“9 To 5” Dolly Parton”Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?” The Waitresses“Ladies Night” Kool & the Gang“What Comes Around” The Beastie Boys“In The Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)” Zager & Evans“Hanging on the Telephone” Blondie“C’Mon, Get Happy” The Partridge Family”Let’s Go” The Cars“Credit In The Straight World” Young Marble Giants“I Turn My Camera On” Spoon“Video Killed The Radio Star” The Buggles“Ask” The Smiths“Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots” The Flaming Lips“Light Years” Kylie Minogue“Lifetime Piling Up” The Talking Heads“Physical” Olivia Newton-John“With A Little Help From My Friends” The Beatles“TV Party” Black Flag
      “Success” Iggy Pop
      ”Express Yourself” Madonna“Modern Love” David Bowie“World In Motion” New Order“99 Problems” Jay-Z
      “I Want To Take You Higher” Sly & The Family Stone
      “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” Spiritualized“Art Class (Song For Yayoi Kusama)” Superchunk“Lost In The World” Kanye West”Call Me” Blondie“Artists Only” The Talking Heads“Pidgin English” Elvis Costello“Lost In The Supermarket” The Clash“Supermodel (You Better Work)” RuPaul“Jerkin’ Back N’ Forth” Devo“Re-Make/Re-Model” Roxy Music
      “Come Together” The Beatles
      “Finest Worksong” R.E.M.“I Will Follow” U2
      Bob Burns | August 2011