Physical experiences are still key for successful digital initiatives
- Posted on May 23, 2019
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
The last decade has seen a digital technology explosion. From social computing to virtual reality, our focus has largely been how we can transform the way we conceive of and interact with our world. This shift has fundamentally changed, or at least begun to change, nearly every aspect of modern life -- relationships, buying habits, how we accomplish our work.
While it’s obvious that not all digital initiatives are successful, are there some patterns that can help identify keys to success?
A couple of years ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed the most common currency denominations – Ru 100 and Ru 500 bills—from circulation in his country in a move to curb corruption and “black money.” While the move was not explicitly a digital initiative, one desired outcome was to better track transactions through digital systems capable of identifying untaxed or counterfeit money. Unfortunately, the shift forcefully transformed a country where 80% of all transactions were cash-based to a nearly fully digital transaction model – owing largely to the ban’s focus on “small” bills. The effect was chilling -- from overrun ATMs to the inability to pay everyday expenses from hospital fees to airline ticket & baggage purchases. There was simply no infrastructure to support the change for vast population swaths.
Now consider some recently successful digital projects. Amazon, the Seattle retail leviathan, fundamentally transformed how many people shop, and over the last few years, even interact with their homes. Somewhat curiously though, Amazon has also recently begun to open physical book and grocery stores – even buying Whole Foods. They’ve mixed their digital initiatives – buying online, home delivery, and digital music – with a more traditional (physical) buying experience.
Given these two examples, could one key to successful digital experiences be continuing some connection to the physical? If so, in what way?
In that context, there appear to be three patterns that enable successful digital initiatives that integrate physical experiences: offering a digital-physical proxy, enhancing existing physical experiences, and reducing physical limitations through supplemental digital experiences.
- Provide a proxy
In the Indian currency example, the biggest limiting factor was a sufficient proxy for simple cash transactions. India’s population has a high unbanked rate – those individuals that simply do not have a bank account. This condition was one factor that led the prime minister to institute the ban and it presented a huge hurdle for the currency transformation; there were simply too many economic transactions that went untracked, untraced, and used potentially counterfeit currency. However, there was no readily available physical cash transaction alternative – especially for the unbanked populations.
Enter companies like Square, PayPal, and Humaniq. Each provides a variety of electronic payment and banking technology that help to overcome many of these challenges. Importantly, they implement digital technologies in a way that constitutes a proxy for a traditional physical experience. These physical proxies enable successful transformation.
- Enhance traditional physical experience
Another key digital initiative success criterion is enhancing traditional physical experiences. While fully digital experiences are compelling, often on their own, digitally-enhanced physical experiences have proven just as compelling. For example, Meiji grocery stores recently introduced the ability to shop using your smart phone – scanning UPCs and checking out. This digital experience, introduced through a mobile app, enhances the overall grocery store experience by enabling shoppers to avoid the checkout line. The same application also provides coupons and any “loyalty” credit, all within an integrated experience.
- Reduce limitations
Finally, while physical experiences are key, they also impose limitations. As such, successful digital initiatives should seek to reduce those limitations. For example, Microsoft, Accenture, Avanade, along with Italy’s biggest grocery cooperative, Coop Italia, partnered to create the “supermarket of the future.” The market, built for Expo Milan in 2015, used off-the-shelf sensors, like Microsoft’s Kinect sensor, and cloud-based cognitive services to transform how shoppers interact with the physical shopping space. When a customer pointed to, grabbed or faced products, the various senor data from Kinect-enabled machine learning models to send detailed product information to digital displays – everything from ingredients, nutrition information, carbon footprint, or a wine pairing suggestion. These displays improved the experience and reduced barriers to product information discovery. It also addressed a key limitation in many retail locations - linking physical signage carrying price and other stock details with the traditional labor necessary to keep those displays current.
Make this real
Many digital initiatives still need physical experiences. Digital experiences can enhance a physical experience, provide a physical proxy to supplement a digital transaction, or the digital experience reduces physical experience limitations – physical is still a key to digital success.
Here are some ways to discover if your initiative could benefit from a digital-physical mixed experience:
- Journey Maps - a tool to help you discover how your user population may interact with the digital solution, helps uncover various usage dimensions, as well as the group’s context.
- Design Thinking -a process that helps frame and clarify problems and solution, uses design techniques to help define, ideate around, and solve for, tricky issues or problems.
- Testing - it may be obvious; testing is critical to success. However, when experimenting with digital-physical experiences, it’s particularly important. Testing, combined with rapid prototyping, will enable your team to better understand solution usage dynamics, as well as identifying potential success criteria that may not have previously been considered.