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7 Development Pitfalls to Avoid With Your Next In-Store Technology

January 26, 2018

Next time you step into a department store, take a look at the technology around you. End-of-aisle call buttons. Credit card readers. Self-checkout kiosks that actually work if you're lucky.

More than three-quarters of respondents to 2017 RetailDive survey wanted businesses to adopt new in-store technologies. And they're more than willing to pay for it, with NCR Corporation's latest Unified Commerce Landscape report finding that retailers that invest in digital shopping tools can see a sales boost of 100% or more.

Some forward-thinking retailers have heard customers' calls and adopted helpful in-store tech. Just before the 2017 holiday shopping season, Target incorporated Bluetooth technology in around half of its stores. At such stores, Target's app can be used as a GPS to help customers navigate aisles, displaying Cartwheel discounts on nearby items to incentivize purchases.

Coca-Cola, while not a retailer itself, has modernized its in-store advertising with digital signage that recognizes user preferences from nearby smartphones. In real time, these displays can direct relevant advertising toward specific customers in the form of shopping lists or coupons. 

Where Retailers Go Wrong

Not all retailers have the budget of Coca-Cola or Target. So how do you build in-store technology that delivers an experience customers are looking for?

By avoiding the following design and development mistakes, a dedicated team can hit a high-tech home run:

1. Going straight from studio to store

When a fashion retailer approached Yeti about a wearable product idea, we immediately hit pause. Before building, we wanted to know whether the hardware and software would actually work together. By proving that it could cooperate with a prototype, we helped the clothier move forward with confidence.

Think of prototyping like a product insurance policy. You might be tempted to skip it to save money, but the risk just isn't worth it. Without prototyping, unhelpful features, poor UX design, and hardware hassles can all find their way into the finished product.

2. Wasting time with waterfall

When Target CIO Mike McNamara was hired in 2015, one of his first initiatives was to transition the company from waterfall to agile development. McNamara considers the switch one of his greatest contributions to the department store's bottom line. 

In a recent interview with InformationWeek, McNamara indicated that incidents of downtime that impact trade are down 50% year over year. He's particularly proud of the fact that Target's e-commerce site experienced some of its biggest trading days over the 2016-2017 holiday season with zero downtime. 

Like Target, retailers are increasingly turning to agile for efficient, cost-effective product development. Agile teams are on average 25% more productive and get technologies to market 50% faster than their non-agile peers.

3. Running up technical debt

Digital design and development is a balancing act between building new features and revising old ones. When teams don't make time to pay down technical debt in the codebase, the result is a sluggish product with a colony of bugs. 

Keep technical debt in check with third-party audit of your product's code. Another option is an application programming platform like CAST, which scans through code to spot bugs while also grading application performance, security, and scalability. For one retailer, Accenture used CAST to cut violations from 1,800 to 27 over a six-month period and reduced technical debt by 82%.

4. Leaving testing to the development team

Development teams are often tempted to "user" test their own products. After all, who knows the product better? The problem is, they're not the actual end users, so they can't hope to come up with iteration ideas that will actually benefit those users.

Instead of guessing how users might feel, try empathy mapping, which Yeti uses to paint a picture of who the product's users are. Then, check your work by user testing after each feature is finished. 

When Jet.com made changes prompted by user testing, it realized a 20% increase in customer savings, which caused customers to increase their cart value by an average of 8% . With user testing, everybody wins.

5. Ignoring infrastructural issues

It's possible to outsource the monitoring of an application's production environment, but here at Yeti, we prefer to keep our own eyes on application performance. Rapid adoption of our "Chelsea Handler: Gotta Go!" app overwhelmed our servers, but we caught the problem quickly thanks to a suite of monitoring tools. 

Whatever you do, don’t rely on users to point out an issue. Only around 1% of users report software errors, and WriteUpp’s Bob Bond explains why: “[Customers] are busy and don’t always want to describe the problem, or they get frustrated when you don’t understand where the error is.”

6. Stuffing teams into silos

Even for wildly successful retailers like Amazon, siloed teams can cripple product development. One former Amazon performance investigator admitted that at the e-commerce giant, "one team rarely knows what another team is doing."

Anthropologist Gillian Tett explains in "The Silo Effect" that silos have hobbled some of the best-known consumer tech companies in the world. He recounts how Sony debuted not one but two distinct Walkman devices on the same day. Different Sony departments had each developed their own product, oblivious to the other's work.

Agile is a great way to guard against silos. Because it requires constant interaction between teams, Yeti uses it to keep developers and designers in the loop with one another.

7. Delaying the in-store debut

A new product will never be perfect, so don't delay the launch date for a few bells and whistles. Save time and money by releasing a minimum lovable product that users can then help improve. Waiting to release the product means risking another retailer releasing a similar technology first. 

Farfetch's "Store of the Future," for example, was already a store of the past by the time it opened. The retailer had hoped to wow shippers with the latest technologies, but in reality, they were already in use elsewhere. Soho in New York had placed digital mirrors in its fitting rooms, and Bloomingdale's was using in-store body scanners for online shopping. Had the “Store of the Future” opened earlier, it could've won the race to show off the retail industry's latest tech. 

In product development, there's no such thing as a shortcut. Above all, don't skip prototyping to rush development and save money. Ultimately, you'll wind up doing just the opposite. 

When you've accepted the fact that the prototyping process is critical, check out our free whitepaper, "10 Tips for Prototyping Digital Retail Innovations." If you're already building, let us know how we can help with what you've got in store for your store. 

is a EVP of Tech | Founding Partner at Yeti. He found his passion for technology as a youth, spending his childhood developing games and coding websites. Rudy now resides in the Yeti Cave where he architects Yeti’s system and heads up project production. Follow Rudy on Twitter.

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