Lo-fi testing driving customer engagement

Customer with trolleyIn a rapidly evolving retail climate, creativity and customer engagement is setting innovators apart from the laggards. A foregone conclusion by industry executives, albeit a hard one to administer by all, is that the pace of innovation and creativity has to stay ahead of market trends.

To this end, brands such as Walmart, Staples and The Home Depot have set up innovation labs to create, test, adapt and execute. In these labs and across global retail, brands have adopted key elements from the highly successful digital user experience practise of lo-fi testing to maintain their creativity and relevance in customer’s lives.

Essentially, lo-fi testing is a simulation of different experiences such as a new store design, kiosk usage patterns or engaging with a pop-up shop. The testing engagement can range from role-play interactions to full-scale recreations involving active user participation, can be staged in a studio or workshop, and also conducted in the final retail environment.

As retail gets increasingly channel-neutral, co-creation is the fundamental premise for lo-fi testing. The benefits to retailers are:

  • Companies can cost-effectively test the relevance of brand, service design, process, functionality and product fit in customer lives in an almost real situation.
  • It allows for customers to be involved in the design process.
  • It provides better observations of their reactions to the physical environment, as well as service and content experiences.
  • Staff and internal stakeholders can be better engaged.
  • It avoids tunnel vision and sticking to familiar design deployments by pushing brands to review engagement ‘outside the box’.
  • It is more creative and responsive to customer needs; allowing real-time alteration of the testing environment.
  • Brands can produce market concepts that are more efficient and likely to succeed.
  • Companies can ensure they remain on purpose.

The benefits of lo-fi testing are numerous, especially in projects involving a high level of physical engagement with environments or products. In our experience, many myths have been debunked and assumptions proven wrong during lo-fi testing.

So what can retailers expect from lo-fi testing?

  • A mock-up resembling the real world (or as close to).
  • A testing environment made from simple materials such as paper and cardboard that is developed iteratively, allowing for constant refinement.
  • Photo and video feedback capture of how customers engage with the space.
  • A deeper understanding of what customers do, whether they know what to do, what works and doesn’t, if their behaviour is consistent with expectations, if you need more signage, less bench space, more digital content, less barriers between staff and customers, so on and so forth.
  • The opportunity to make amends as you go and retest almost instantaneously to generate tangible improvements to solutions.
  • The ability to capture key outtakes – positives, improvements required, potential risks, etc.

Additionally, lo-fi testing takes brand teams outside work environment to look at the situation without mental and organisational roadblocks, enabling a more creative assessment of customer needs.

In a world steeped with customer uncertainty, lo-fi testing helps in observing and controlling simple elements such as whether customers turn right or left after entering a store and how that impacts floor design. As we aim to synergise digital and physical spaces, it gives us an understanding of the roles these spaces play in customer lives.

To truly engage across every channel, we need to understand customer’s behaviour on a much deeper level. And lo-fi testing helps establish that, along with validating why customers will come to the space/store. It helps manage seamless transitions from physical to digital to mobile and back again if required.

In a hyper connected reality, lo-fi testing helps make sense of patterns in customer behaviour in a way that can translate to better service design that yields return on investments.

Karen Spear is GM of MashUp. She can be contacted at [email protected]






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