Simulating in-store experiences with physical prototyping

The Customer Experience (CX) team has been working with our Co-op Food colleagues to look at how we can improve customer service in our stores. When the CX team help the wider Co-op business solve problems, our process usually involves prototyping. Because we often work in the digital space, our prototypes are often on a screen too.  

This challenge however focuses on in-person experiences in our stores. So, for this piece of work, testing in a physical space and in a more tangible way felt more appropriate. 

Before trialling in a store, we wanted to test our ideas in a low-risk environment where we wouldn’t be in the way of day-to-day store life but where we could still involve colleagues who bring other expert knowledge.  

We used a ‘desktop walkthrough’ method to simulate the in-store experiences. 

We are writing this post to share: 

  • why we chose the desktop walkthrough method as a prototyping tool 
  • how we used it to get a better understanding of our trial logistics 
  • what we learnt about using a less familiar method 

Exploring the problem with a team of experts 

To discover how we can improve customer service in store, we needed to understand the current customer experience and identify pain points.  

We formed a small team of colleagues across Food Operations, Insight and Research, and store managers to help us focus on the right things. Each discipline has its own perspective and involving the right people means we’re more likely to focus on the right things.  

Defining the problem and prioritising 1 concept to tackle

Based on our research, we identified 3 areas we could explore that would help our customers receive (and our colleagues to be able to provide) better service. They were: 

  1. Technology – how might we use new and existing technology to make improvements across different parts of the customer journey? 
  1. People – how might we help our colleagues to prioritise service through training and recognition? 
  1. Insight – how might we make better use of the insight we have on our customers, colleagues and stores to make improvements to customer service? 

We chose to explore the ideas focused on people because we identified the most amount of value, opportunity and feasibility here. We specifically wanted to look at how we might recognise colleagues who were great ‘customer service advocates’ in stores.  

We defined our hypothesis and used it to develop a plan for our trial in a real store. We established the basics of good customer service, and we defined the role of a customer service advocate.  

Choosing an inclusive and lightweight way to test  

To choose the right prototyping method for the scenario, we revisited what we wanted to learn. Our learning objectives were to: 

  • get a shared understanding about the end-to-end customer experience 
  • understand the important interactions between colleague and customer journeys 
  • identify other problem areas so we can address them 

We decided to try a desktop walkthrough because: 

  1. It brings experts from different areas together, in one room, without distraction so we could explain why we had arranged the walkthrough and what we planned to do afterwards in real stores. Each person has a unique perspective and can raise challenges the rest of the group wouldn’t necessarily consider. 
  1. We could figure out our next steps without getting in the way of or taking time away from in-store colleagues. 
  1. We had a hunch it might help us realise things relating to the physical space we otherwise likely wouldn’t have with a different method. For example, shelving and fixtures tend to be tall and make it difficult for colleagues to see each other providing good service.  

The set-up 

As the name implies, the walkthrough takes place at a desk. The Format team shared a generic store floor plan which we printed out and laid on the desk. Then we added 3D card shelving, tills and self-checkouts on top of the paper layout to recreate a mini-scale, realistic-as-possible store. We used figurines to represent colleagues and customers. 

photograph shows 3D card shelving, tills and self-checkouts on top of the paper floor plan
We added cardboard tills, self-checkouts and shelving on the floor plan.

Walking through scenarios 

We chose to walk through common scenarios for store colleagues. For example: 

  • opening the store  
  • navigating around the store at the times when there are fewer colleagues on the shop floor  
  • operational tasks such as unloading deliveries or scanning gaps on the shelves – times where a colleague is less available to directly help customers  
  • customer interaction trade-off scenarios like helping a customer to find an item while being asked over headset to pack a Deliveroo order 
image shows the full floor plan and has figurines at either side that represent customers and colleagues
We grouped customer and colleague figurines around the floor plan as we walked through scenarios.

We also took note of real colleagues’ shifts, lunch breaks and list of tasks too so we could get an idea of how busy the space would be. Weaving this into our walkthrough brought an additional layer of understanding for the people in the room. 

A desktop walkthrough meant we got a bird’s eye view of colleagues moving through our model store for the duration of their shift. It also helped us see where, when or why colleagues interact with customers. 

image shows the back of a colleague figurine facing the store floor [plan and other figurines in the distance
Customer team member number 3 is in the stockroom dealing with a delivery here

Building value for our CX team and the wider community 

Our desktop walkthrough was a quick, cheap way to prepare for an in-store trial. Bringing our ideas to life in this way meant we picked up on things that might not work in stores and we could adapt our concepts without wasting time or money. A lot of this was down to 2 ex-store managers who joined us for the walkthrough – their input was invaluable. Their first-hand experience of working in – and running – stores meant they could sense-check our assumptions which made the scenarios we walked through far more realistic. We made changes to our experiment plan based on their insight and we believe this contributed to the success of our first store trial. 

Since our desktop prototype we have progressed to trialling our customer service advocate concept in stores and continue to learn and adapt. 

Steph Clubb, Lead CX visual designer  

Hannah McDonald, CX strategist 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s