Think context before content and technology

We’ve all been there. Standing in a store next to a screen, that someone put there, with the intention that you would interact with it. But the screen can’t do what it is supposed to. Or rather, it can’t do what you think it should be able to do. So you don’t see the point. You don’t understand why someone has spent time and money setting up the screen. You shrug your shoulders. And then you leave.

The mistake most retailers commit

The biggest mistake most retailers commit is to think technology and content before context. To have that good idea or existing solution, which is either versioned or copied for use as instore in their stores. But when the user, out in the real world, uses the installation, it doesn’t fulfill their needs – which is as good as saying, it doesn’t work at all. For what works in the safe environment at home, on the users’ laptops or smartphones, does not necessarily work out in the public space.

A great deal of the customer’s experience of your brand and your business is the physical experience they have in the store. Physical experiences are rooted much more deeply in the consciousness of customers, as more senses are stimulated. Which is why digital instore experiences shouldn’t stem from other successful digital solutions, in the effort to create an omnichannel experience. In stead, it should focus on its own separate project with vision, mission, and goals, based on what the physical store can offer the customer, that the other channels cannot.

Context is not just the physical environment

When we talk about context, we are talking not only about geographical location and surrounding descriptive features. It’s also your customers' current situation. It's their mood, their attitude, and how the surroundings are constantly redefined when customers interact with your products, your employees and each other.

It is also the customer's user journey – when on their mental and physical journey, the visit to your store is located. And how the physical and social flow of the shop is progressing when customers are in your store. There are multiple considerations you need to go through before setting up the vision, mission, and goals for your new digital instore experience.

Physical shopping is a social phenomenon

As opposed to online shopping, physical shopping is an experience you often share with others. Both with those you shop with, be it friends or family, and the other customers in the store. This change in context means that you need to have a different approach to both content and technology.

For example, the risk of losing face becomes clearer if you expose your customers to non-intuitive interactions with the technology in your store – or if they can’t figure out the content. On the other hand, there are great opportunities to give customers an experience in the store, which they can share with each other and talk about when they return home. The social aspect suddenly has a much more profound impact than when you make a solution for mobile or desktop.

When hygiene suddenly becomes an issue

There are also a number of other barriers associated with interaction with digital displays in the public space. Several studies have shown that there are major hygiene barriers related to interacting with digital displays for commercial purposes in public spaces. One aspect that becomes paramount when you need to choose interaction forms and gestures.

Asking the customer to swipe on a large, dirty display, located in a store in the center of Strøget, can suddenly become an unpleasant experience for your customer. Especially on black graphics or dark pictures, where greasy fingers become even more clear.

I was recently in a Nike store in Berlin, where they had placed two interactive displays right next to the benches where customers would try shoes. And since most people are two or more together when shopping in a big city, it resulted in no-one coming to the interactive displays. There were too many customers in the way waiting for the one trying on shoes.

These aspects and social practices may seem to be common knowledge and common sense. However, they may be very difficult to predict unless you have been out of the field and done your research.

The digital, interactive, social, and physical go hand in hand

There’s no doubt about it, context is crucial for the user's experience of your product. You have to go out there, and see and experience it on your own body. Reflect and think. Test your ideas on customers and return home and customize. Assess if your new digital instore solution has changed existing practices in the store. Only when you know your context, can you come up with the right content dressed in the right technology, at the right place.

At Adapt, we use a tool in both the analysis and development process. It helps us to take into account a wide variety of aspects that influence customer experiences with digital instore solutions. The illustration below outlines how a digital instore experience is the sum of social, physical, interactive, and digital aspects.

instore space



One of our own examples

For our customer, Bjerregaard Security, in collaboration with Adapt Mobile, we’ve developed an instore concept and developed the ‘Choose my shoes’ app, which acts as a virtual shoe-assistant. Through a number of individual – but carefully selected questions – the virtual assistant continually helps the user find the most optimal safety shoes. The best match is calculated based on the user's specific needs and the characteristics of the shoe. Once the customer has completed the questions, the best suitable models will appear on the screen and light up the shelf in the store via an LED light.

The app also aims to provide the customer with a fun and educational buying experience. The solution has therefore been developed with the user at the center, with a clear and user-friendly design in the app. We took readability into account and created a visual setup that makes it easy for the customer to quickly understand and navigate throughout the app.

If you’d like to know more about why and how your business should think context before content and technology when making digital instore experiences, I’m here to help you. 


Heidi Jørgensen 

UX Lead & Strategist