In retail, customer experience and the “cool factor”

December 19, 2013 By Mark Hurst 2 Comments

Before we head into the holidays, just a few more thoughts about customer experience.

This recent NYT headline caught my eye: Tech Companies Press for a Better Retail Experience. Great, I thought, the retail customer experience is getting more attention. (Goodness knows retail stores could learn a thing or two, as I wrote about in my experience in Williams-Sonoma.)

The article rightly points out the importance of the customer experience:

Behind all the investments in retailing is one of the technology industry’s favorite buzzwords: “user experience.” It reflects a belief that companies need to obsess not only over details of product design, but also the environment in which the products are presented to the public.

But then we see examples: in a Verizon Wireless store, a customer is sitting in a leather chair! Google is building mystery barges! The new frontier of user experience, it seems, is upping the “cool factor.” (You can guess which retailer is named as the gold standard: Apple, of course.)

While I agree that the Apple Store creates a great user experience, I’d offer this rule of thumb: Good customer experience does not always equate to the “cool factor.”

Sure, Apple has done well by being cool, but to most retailers, I’d say: you’re not Apple. Most companies need to find out what their customers want from them, not from Apple, and deliver on those unmet needs.

Customers want what your company can deliver that your competitors can’t. It’s dangerous to lose sight of this, as Walmart learned when it tried to become Target: a roughly billion-dollar mistake. (The entire case study is in Customers Included – recommended reading.) In other words: Create a good customer experience for YOUR company.

According to the article, AT&T has started fitting its retail stores with “reclaimed teak paneling.” I have to wonder if that addresses the key unmet need of AT&T customers.


  1. Jerome December 19, 2013 7:39 pm

    If you dont invest in employees you cannot do good user experience retail. Period. Most of these places pay shit and treat staff like commodities. Ergo, customers soak up the results and vote with their feet and mouse fingers :)
    Simple equation.

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  2. Gary Lancina December 20, 2013 10:40 am

    Great perspective. Reminds me of a sign I posted on my office wall years ago: Cool does not equal Profitable.

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