So yesterday morning, the thing that I wanted was a black, v-neck jumper and the chosen interface to get it was Mark & Spencer at Marble Arch.
Most of us grown-ups are pretty are familiar with the way a department store works, but between going through the front door with a pocket full of cash and waltzing out the same door in a smart new outfit, a few things need happen.
Imagine for a second that M&S was a website—first, let’s take a look at the store’s information architecture, the way laying out the shop’s stock in a particular way is supposed to guide customers to their goal. Here are some possible clusters (based purely on the stock-keeping-unit, the basic building-block of what’s on display, as opposed to customer motivation or sales increasing) for a guy looking to buy a jumper:
- all men’s jumpers together
- all black jumpers together
- all v-neck jumpers together
If the store manager didn’t like that layout, the architecture might reflect the stocking infrastructure or the scheduling of the shop’s ‘front-end’ display:
- all recent arrivals together
- all unsorted but barcoded knitwear together
- all returned men’s singles together
- all discontinued lines together
If the manager wanted to get a bit goal-oriented, she might decide to group things according to how the user shops:
- all workplace / uniform knitwear together
- all casual knitwear together
- all back-to-school separates together
I’m labouring through all this because now (actually six days after the fact) I still can’t work out what M&S’s ‘information architect’ was trying to achieve. Was he was trying to get me efficiently through the store, quickly reaching my targeted purchase?
I never found the right jumper, or when I found it, I wasn’t able—through a process of comparison—to ascertain if it was ‘right’
Perhaps the layout of the store (like the infuriating Italian motorway rest-stops that guide you through a maze of produce before you can exit through the only door) was trying to get me to purchase ‘accessories’ or ‘add-ons’—the extra bits that if I saw them on the way to finding my jumper I might pick up as well?
The more time I spent trying to figure out why shades of black, v-neck jumpers were spread across the four corners of the second floor the less I was inclined to browse the otherwise perfectly nice items on sale.
From a design point of view, the fact that I quit the application—I left the store without finding a jumper—means I didn’t find the thing that I want, that the application failed in its purpose. I’ve been buying black v-neck jumpers at M&S for years so something must be very wrong indeed:-)
The web allows shop designers to apply TheThingThatiWant design principles to their virtual shop floors. This means that all the various factors that impact on what is put where in the store (selling sweets at the check-out, avoiding ‘but brush’ in the aisles and so on) can be applied differently to different people. A crude example might be that as women tend to like to browse and men want to go straight to a given sku and leave, the store interface could include both a search by sku interface and a new this season browsing tool…
I don’t think this is the last time I shop at M&S, but the more I think about it, the more I need to shop online.