The perils and perks of live-prototyping

When your strategy is built around data, your priority is the means to collect and process a large enough volume to generate meaningful conclusions. No data, no insight.

Over the last few months Thought Den have been leading the experience design for CloudTags, an American-British company working with high-end retailers. They are firmly planting their flag at the intersection of physical and digital. For more on evolving retail look no further than the March article in Wired (print version only it seems)

CloudTags use data and design to help retailers consolidate then optimise their various retail channels. Give a man some data and his Powerpoint slide might raise some eyebrows; give a man the tools to harvest previously unseen data points and the algorithms to predict trends and he’ll raise more than a few eyebrows; he’ll raise the profit line.

Where Thought Den understand how people engage with digital in physical spaces, the CloudTags team are data analysts, decision scientists and door-openers. The following is a fair and frank report from the frontline of rapid prototyping, a dispatch on the trials and tribulations of testing technology live in-store.

It goes something a little like this.

Good News – One of the UK’s most prestigious high-end retailers, situated a few blocks from Harrod’s in Knightsbridge, have agreed for CloudTags’ technology to be installed in their Women’s Denim section.

Bad News – Jean shopping is the retail equivalent of pulling teeth. In addition to this, it’s known that women are less inspired by in-store technology than men. Jumping into the deep end, then, is our only real way of proving we can swim.

Good News – Shopping for jeans often requires a visit to the physical store. This is precisely the opportunity we need to show how physical shoppers can be converted into Omnichannel Customers. We also have a highly discerning audience to test new ways of navigating the range and volume of product and providing shortcuts to the best fit.

Bad News – Limited power points means we have far less flexibility for the installation of our tablet stands. Success depends on up-take so we’ll need the support of floor staff in our fight for visibility.

Good News – Delivering our experience through a tablet browser allows us to design, build and deploy a live version in record time. 90% of products are tagged. Google Analytics is firing. The experience is being used by real customers and generating real data.

Bad News – The first concept doesn’t test well with customers. It leads with the technology and doesn’t appeal to their immediate needs or sense of fun. This luke-warm start, however, provided our designers with two weeks of observation intelligence to take back to the drawing board.

Good News – Our second concept is embraced by floor staff and customers alike. Imagery plays a huge role in shopper decision-making so we deployed a more image-friendly update within five days. Staff are using the tablets to support customer conversations, pick-up rates have increased and customers are identifying themselves in-store through our tablets.

Bad News – Christmas is coming and the client’s technical team are swamped so we haven’t been able to integrate with their official product database. CloudTags staff have been itemising product like crazy to fill in the gaps.

Good News – Two more sections have ben rolled out. We’re operational in Women’s Denim on the 3rd floor, Men’s Denim in the basement and Wine on the 5th. If our customer interviews are anything to go by, jean-shopping would benefit from a complimentary wine service.

Bad News – Technology blackspots are raising their ugly heads. There’s nothing quite like a lead-lined shelf unit to block wifi signals and interfere with NFC chips. Context and surroundings play a massive part in the blended digital-physical shopping experience. Only through live-prototyping over a number of weeks can we really get a measure of how our technology will perform in this particular environment with its unique customer base.

Good news – The client is updated weekly with live performance statistics and progress reports on future iterations. This transparency is great for the client to plan ahead and the weekly iteration keeps the design and build team on their toes.

Bad News – Version 3.0 is delayed. CloudTags are a truly international team, with key players operating across the globe. Distributed working can take its toll, but if you want to work with the best decision scientists and experience designers, you have to make compromises.

Good News – The tech team have worked out how to ‘root’ the tablet devices, bypassing a number of operating system processes that were hijacking the NFC reader. The hardware isn’t designed to handle closely sequenced scans – a behaviour we could only have observed live and in-store. Product ‘scanning’ is now far more responsive.

Good News – The incoming CEO has created herself a collection using one of our tablets and emailed it to herself. Judging on her success with technology and data analysis at other high-end retail brands, the future is bright for this prototype.

~ o ~

The former Executive Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi, Paul Arden, said in his book Whatever You Think, Think The Opposite :

“Do it, then fix it as you go. Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you’ve got, and fix it as you go.”

Live-prototyping will continue to be an important part of CloudTags’ strategy going forwards. With the shopping journey becoming a seamless blend of physical and digital interactions, excellent service is more than just finding the right product. It is the right product at the right time, in the right place, for the right person. There really is only one way to design for context. Jump in there and get your hands dirty.


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