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Reverse Engineering Your Digital Transformation

Have you thought about the experience gaps that might exist for your company as your customers begin to return to the physical aisles? Have their expectations, habits, and processes been modified by the forced digital transformation we all made in early 2020?

COVID-19 transformed the way consumers interact with your brand. There’s no shortage of data to show that more people adopted curbside pickup, tried new brands, and shopped digitally. Additionally, people cut back in-store shopping and eating in restaurants. In the process, their expectations shifted, creating new lifestyle habits enabled by convenience and accessibility.

So, what do we mean by reverse engineering your digital transformation? Some of our clients offered buy online pick-up in-store (BOPIS) for the first time. Others upped their digital offering, adding more assortment to their website. These new channels changed the way customers interacted with their stores, giving customers a digital hub to replace the physical aisle.

But now vaccines are rolling out across the country and consumers will begin to leave the digital checkout page and return to the checkout counter. In a recent Online CARAVAN® omnibus survey, 59% and 53% of those surveyed anticipate going to a dining establishment and going back to in-store shopping, respectively.

As consumers return to the physical aisles, there will be experience gaps when we blend new habits and expectations with past behavior. The answer is in your hand.

Your app or mobile website is a digital hub that can continue to empower customers and put them in control of their journey. How can you connect this digital hub to your physical locations to impact your customers in-store experience? Start by identifying your experience gaps.

What are Experience Gaps?

First things first, what are experience gaps and how do they impact your customer journey?

Experience gaps are the spaces between what your customer expects and what you deliver. We often find gaps through your call centers and feedback mechanisms you have in place. But many times these gaps are hard to find and can emerge across silos and departments, the unintended consequences of company-wide initiatives, a lack of coordination, or changes in consumer behavior.

So how do you uncover seemingly hidden problems? The LIVE 8 is our way to categorize areas of experience gaps, giving us a clear perspective of the customer experience. By focusing on these principles, we identify and eliminate experience gaps, creating impact for consumers and organizations.

Let’s review a few examples we’ve observed of in-store experience gaps that were created or closed by a digital hub.

People First and the Cart Building Gap

According to an online CARAVAN® omnibus survey 69% of those surveyed cut back in store and increased online shopping for non-essential items.

When we put ourselves in our customers shoes and think about the online retail experience, what are some of the habits and behaviors likely adopted with increased online shopping?

Ease of cart building is the first that came to our mind. Browsing and searching available inventory is frictionless in an online setting. Users can filter categories, scroll through seemingly endless options, and view what others purchased, all from their phone or computer. Shopping is easy and seamless.

Let’s look at a recent experience Founder Tricia Houston had at Kroger:

“Our family was exclusively online grocery shopping early on in the pandemic. As the year progressed, I found myself trying new brands and flavors, anything to make meal time interesting. One new item became a non-essential staple in the Houston household, Cleveland Kraut, Roasted Garlic Flavor.”

When online ordering it was easy to remember to add this “non-essential” item to her cart. There were plenty of reminders built into the eCommerce experience from past order history to ‘don’t forget this item’ reminders.

Now that we’re returning to physical stores the experience shifts, habits take over, and gaps start appearing.

“Recently we’ve been going to the physical store more. And on my last trip to Kroger, with a full cart and ready to check out, I texted my husband asking about any last-minute additions. He asked for Cleveland Kraut! “
Easy enough to grab off the shelf and call it a day, right?
Well heck, I’ve only ordered this online for curbside pickup. I’m standing in the frozen food aisle and trying to decide where to look first…… My first guess is produce - nada. Meat section, dairy, - all a no go.’

Tricia’s once frictionless shopping experience turned into a futile, time-consuming task that left her frustrated, her full cart of groceries a little warmer, and her family sauerkraut-less. What was easy to add to her cart online, didn’t translate to physical cart building.

The Solution

This gap isn’t clear until you put people first. Working through the what-ifs of how consumers interact with your digital and physical channels. This gap wasn’t caused by anything Kroger did poorly nor is it an unintended consequence of a corporate action. Consumer expectations shifted.

For Kroger, the solution is already in place.

Tricia remarks, “I had the answer in my hand. Kroger’s app allows me to browse inventory and add to shopping list. Once on my list, Kroger updates me with the aisle and availability.

A simple solution that leverages a number of tools from Kroger’s digital transformation. Now it’s simply a matter of communicating new tools to their customer base to help them develop new habits.

Further, there are plenty of ways to use digital tools to reinforce in-store shopping expectations. Tracking purchases and syncing them with email reminders or app notifications is a great way to activate customers who might be browsing unknown aisles. Utilizing your digital channels to push in-store promotion is nothing new. But personalizing these promotions to in-store purchases takes the online experience into the physical aisles.

Restaurants Leveraging the Digital Hub

Over the last year, we’ve seen restaurants across the country take an all-hands-on-deck approach to retrofitting their operations to handle social distancing and contactless orders. Now that we’re all heading back to indoor dining, how can restaurants leverage the digital hub to improve the experience?

Well, one gap we’re all aware of is the act of waiting for an open table. Even with evolving reservation systems, diners often have to wait 15 – 30 minutes for an open table. What if diners could reserve, check-in, and be notified that their table is ready from their phone?

We started to experience this before COVID with the increasing popularity of texting diners, but this still requires a few friction points of exchanging personal information, waiting in line to speak with a staff member, and then returning in time. With a seamless app experience, diners can arrive and check in without waiting in line.

Many restaurants have further improved the menu experience, replacing hand-held menus with QR code-enabled digital menus. These menus can be easier to read, provide valuable analytical insights into where diners are looking, and provide restaurants with an efficient method to update dining options as the day and week progress.

Creating a one-stop digital hub where diners can choose to manage their reservation, consider their menu options, provide feedback, and even pay can take the strain off staff and provide a sense of control over the experience for customers.

Given the digital choice, diners can pick the experience that is best for them. This is both inclusive and empowering.

Start by Shopping the Competition

Good experiences are invisible, but we know one when we experience it. Often, experience gaps in your own processes become apparent after you experience a “better” process with less friction. We believe in the power of competitive audits. Simply going out into the field and trying new buying and dining experiences. Pay particular attention to the purchase steps below as they are ripe for gaps, we even listed some industry leaders to get to you started.


Over the last year people across the country reset their expectations to be able to instantly add needed items to their cart. In the same way that users are building shopping carts from their phone, in-store fulfillment presents plenty of opportunity to improve the in-store customer experience by leveraging your app or mobile website.

First, look at what’s not possible. Where might a customer hit a roadblock? People have always been able to head to customer service and place an order for an out-of-stock item. But this scenario has a lot of potential for friction from long lines to the service desk to poorly trained customer service reps.

So, how can we enable customers to adopt new digital tools to create a frictionless, in-store shopping experience? Well, Sam’s Club figured it out with the Sam’s Club app.

From the Sam’s Club app, you can build a cart that not only offers fulfillment through curbside and ship-to-home, but also lets you check out your physical items right there in the store. From the digital hub in their hand, your customers can seamlessly complete their omni-channel transaction without finding an employee or dealing with the stress of communicating their need to the customer service counter.

By allowing customers to fulfill their orders with multiple channels, Sam’s Club enabled their clientele to take their shopping experience into their own hands. This not only removes friction from the experience, but frees up staffing to handle inventory, customer engagement, and other demanding tasks.


Using your app or mobile website extends beyond fulfillment too! Returns can be a time-consuming process for both the customer and the team member processing the transaction. By putting the onus on the shopper to process the return, companies can save on labor and physical space while creating a frictionless return process that plays right into our new COVID induced habits.

Think about your own experiences returning items to retailers. What experience do you find easy?

For us, Target is doing a great job with their app. Once signed in, users can view their purchase history and create a return receipt from their phone or desktop. Shoppers then have the option to return the item to the store or mail the item in from the comfort of their home. For in-store returns, customers simply bring the barcode created with the return and deliver the item to a waiting team member. This staffer scans the barcode with all information present to complete the transaction. No cross-checking old receipts, no extensive training on point-of-sale systems; just a smooth customer experience.


The digital hub is perfect for two-way communication. Just like for returns, fulfillment, and cart building, customers are expecting to return to your digital hub where they placed an order to give feedback and rectify mistakes.

You already created a quick and seamless service with the forced digital transformation, now it’s time to provide the same experience for product and service feedback. By leveraging your digital hub to process and resolve troubleshooting issues you are preventing helplessness and empowering your customers to make right what is wrong with less effort from your staff.

This also allows you to personalize future communications based on feedback received. Very positive? Send a VIP offer for an invitation only event! Meanwhile, negative feedback can trigger a series of customer recovery efforts to build back trust.

Don’t Stress! Start Small to Go Big

Your company might not be as fortunate as Kroger with a built-in solution in place or Sam’s Club with an omnichannel fulfillment system. Aligning in-store inventory with freshly launched digital storefronts might seem like a challenge too large to tackle. Thinking about how to get the dev team to sync in-store purchases with online accounts could be a touchy subject.

If you can’t make a direct change, what’s the workaround? Communicate, communicate, communicate.

In the case of omnichannel fulfillment, communicate to your customers how they can best obtain an out-of-stock item missing from the shelf. With feedback, leave a clear pathway in your app or on your mobile site to troubleshoot issues and enable your recovery team with the tools to rectify a situation. There is a ton of opportunity still to come from the digital transformation brought on by the pandemic. The best step you can take to move your organization, department, or team forward is identifying that gaps exists at all. Start with an experience audit to get a 360° view of an existing experience.

Want to run your ideas by an EBG Experience Designer?


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