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Removing Friction: Bypassing grief for the ‘cognitive and effort misers’

Friction is often triggered in retail spaces due to a lack of speed of service

Dr Anshu Suri is the UCD Garfield Weston assistant professor of marketing, where she specialises in retail, lecturing both at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

She has coined a term for her students to describe online consumers, calling them “cognitive and effort misers”, by which she means they want as little grief as possible.

“They don’t want any kind of pain or friction points, or they will just abandon their carts. Online cart abandonment averages 70 per cent, but in certain instances it can go up to as much as 95 per cent. This poses an issue for retails looking to keep consumers engaged,” says Dr Suri.

She advises her students to think about the customer journey before they get near a website.


“Amazon had a patent on one-click payment until 2017 which made a huge difference to their business. Having easy payment facilities really does provide friction-free shopping.”

It’s particularly important to accept wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. They lead to higher conversion rates

—  James King, Elavon

Likewise, Dr Suri sees recommendation systems also creating better shopping experiences and reducing abandonment rates.

“People have more information than ever before. An average shopper can have up to 10 tabs open at any given point, so it’s hard to cut off competitors.”

One example of a retailer using this knowledge to their advantage is Wise, the foreign exchange platform. Dr Suri explains that it displays all the competitor rates on the Wise home page.

“It may seem counterintuitive, but it does two things. The first is that Wise provides all the competitive pricing in one place so consumers do not need to open multiple tabs to find other prices. Secondly, it embodies a feeling of trust, so consumers may see cheaper prices, but still choose to stay with Wise.

“Sometimes trust is stronger than convenience,” says Dr Suri.

James King, head of professional services for Europe, Elavon, argues that allowing digital wallets substantially increases throughput.

“It’s particularly important to accept wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. They lead to higher conversion rates, as these wallets already contain the customer’s billing and shipping address and card details. And with in-device two-factor authentication to verify the buyer, they’re extremely secure,” says King.

“Digital wallets securely contain personal details, billing address and delivery address, along with the payment details, but depending on your target market it may also be useful to offer Real Time Bank Transfers which are really popular, the further you go into Europe.

“The offer of Buy Now Pay Later is also rising in popularity, particularly for businesses in the higher ticket value world,” says King.

Dr Suri adds PayPal to that bracket.

“Many online retailers integrate platforms like PayPal to give shoppers increased confidence. If a sale does go south, there are protection mechanisms for consumers so there is less risk in buying on a smaller or unknown site,” she says.

King also advocates for increased support for low-risk transactions.

“If your website has a high volume of low-risk transactions you can also make great advantage of a catchily named concept called Transaction Risk Analysis which is offered across the payments industry. TRA, as it’s called for short, is something we’ve won awards for at Elavon and it allows online retailers to remove friction in the payments process for the sales of goods and services up to, in our case, €500.

We set up a virtual queueing system. As soon as the customer enters the shop, they can scan a QR code which puts them directly into a queue

—  Paul Prior, Three Ireland

“Whatever size your online business, having a professional website is vital. Accurate descriptions, clear images, reliable delivery and an easy returns process is important, so customers can trust what they’re buying and feel comfortable that if it’s not what they hoped, they can return it for a refund,” says King.

Of course, in a world where “metaverse” is a term commonly used, online shopping is increasingly becoming an immersive experience where digital and real life become blurred. For Paul Prior, head of digital at Three, it means adopting a phygital approach where the store becomes in part reliant on digital services.

“We’ve upgraded our stores (to the tune of a €27 million investment) to integrate online and in person – bringing physical and digital into the same space. Many people prefer to shop in person, but they are also used to extensive digital information and help – we have incorporated both,” says Prior.

Three looked at friction triggered in retail spaces, and one of the issues is speed of service, or lack thereof.

“So we set up a virtual queueing system. As soon as the customer enters the shop, they can scan a QR code which puts them directly into a queue. This eliminates the pressure of finding a member of staff.”

Three has also done its homework on how people do research on their purchases, with some people wanting lots of information before a decision is made. And while Googling is helpful beforehand, customers who want more information do not always want to take up too much of a sales assistant’s time in a shop. In answer to this, Three has developed a discovery table where customers can physically place an item onto the digital table and it will provide all the information needed, allowing customers to spend as much time as they want researching the product.

“The discovery table will also do product comparisons and can provide the information in the form of video, speech or text – again depending on how the customer looks to assimilate information,” says Prior. “Also, if there is no one to serve you directly, you can save that information on your phone and make the purchase later at your convenience.”

Prior points to Three’s behavioural analytics in helping customers to make the right decisions. For example, a customer might choose to have their GPS set up so that when they pass a Three store there may be a personalised offer available to them.

“We can also provide automated and hyper-personalised service prompts if it appears a customer might want more information or assistance online, directing them to make an instore appointment perhaps. Everyone wants to be treated differently and we do just that. We are all unique flowers,” says Prior.

Jillian Godsil

Jillian Godsil is a contributor to The Irish Times