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Retail experiences

Retail experiences are built for merchants selling products or services in physical locations. These experiences should feel fast, simple, and reliable. They also need to consider the staff, customers, and the physical environment.

These guidelines will help you create experiences that are best suited for the retail environment.


Build for staff

Staff should feel confident

POS and other retail products should help staff get their jobs done with confidence. Retail environments can get chaotic, but staff members shouldn’t feel like things are out of their control. Staff members should be able to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. This lets them focus their energy on more important things, like building customer relationships.

Staff confidence is also important because it can affect a customer’s perception of a staff member and store. If a staff member can solve a problem quickly, their customers will see them as more competent.

Finally, staff rely a lot on muscle memory to complete common tasks, which means they’re often working super quickly. The experience we create should help staff feel comfortable when working at a fast pace.

Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Prioritize patterns and consistency. Things shouldn’t change and move around all the time. Lighten the cognitive load for staff members so they can focus on more important things, like how they’re interacting with their customer.
  • Prioritize speed. Experiences should be fast. When staff repeat the same tasks, every second counts. They shouldn’t have to wait for one task to be over for the other to start. The result for the customer? Less time waiting to be served.
  • Don’t distract staff. Motion should be minimal to avoid attracting attention to the screen unless absolutely necessary.

Staff should feel informed and knowledgeable

Staff have different roles and levels of experience. Different roles come with different sets of tasks. And high staff turnover means there's often someone who's unfamiliar with certain tasks. Even for experienced staff, new situations can emerge.

Staff should feel like they’re informed enough to handle new tasks and situations, especially when there’s a customer in front of them at the same time. Staff should feel empowered to solve problems on their own. They shouldn’t feel like they have to ask for help constantly or look up external resources.

Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Give merchants clear next steps for solving errors so they have a solution right away. Avoid linking out to external pages.
  • Don’t overcommunicate. Give staff the information they need, but don’t distract them with unnecessary details.
  • Think about speed not just as “number of taps.” For example, tapping three times on a tablet might be faster than scrolling down a page to find something. Trying to make sense of too much information on one page might actually take longer than that extra tap.
  • Keep content consistent between different areas. This helps staff members and customers recognize and understand actions and information quickly. They shouldn’t have to question something because of an ambiguous label.

Customers should trust merchants, and merchants should trust us

When thinking about trust, we’re not only thinking about how much the merchant trusts Shopify. We also need to think about how the system can build or decrease customers’ trust in merchants.

Customers should feel like they can trust the store and its employees. There are many situations in which we’re asking the customer to put trust in the system. For example, asking a customer to enter their personal information, like an email address, or make a payment. The customer likely won’t know that the store is using a Shopify system. How fast things are, whether things work—they’ll attribute that all to the merchant.

Our experiences should build trust. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Consider what the product feels like for a customer seeing it for the first time. Staff use the POS many times a day. Customers may be seeing it for the first time ever.
  • Consider cases where we shouldn’t compromise reliability for speed, such as payments and inventory accuracy. Make sure that staff and customers feel like they can trust this information.
  • Consider customer emotions and reactions in sensitive situations. One example of this is telling a customer their card was declined. We should give enough information to help the customer move forward while considering privacy issues. For example, we shouldn't say that there are insufficient funds. We also don’t want to make customers anxious (for example, don’t tell them it was declined if they just tapped too quickly).

Build for a retail environment

Using a device in a retail environment is different to, say, using it at home. Here's how to build experiences that allow staff to thrive in that environment.

Keep things clear amidst distractions and task-switching

Retail stores can be busy and full of distractions. There can be music playing in the background, customers coming and going, things getting knocked over, or phone calls coming in.

Staff members are often doing many tasks at the same time. These tasks vary from interaction with customers to managing the back office. They take place in different parts of the store. Staff can’t dedicate 100% of their attention to the screen. They need to get things done quickly and not have to think too much about each individual task.

Speed is important, but so is reliability. Staff need to be able to help customers and solve problems quickly, but not at the cost of making new mistakes. When it comes to areas like payments, clear and reliable information is especially important.

Build something that’s flexible for different POS setups

Whereas Shopify admin is usually accessed through a laptop or a mobile phone, the POS has three distinct scenarios in which it’s used:

  • Traditional countertop setup. In this case, the tablet is mounted (sometimes semi-permanently) to the countertop. It’s used mostly by staff members, but can also be flipped to face customers. Staff use the tablet at a distance farther than they would be when, say, browsing it on their couch. Lighting can cause glare and make readability even more difficult.
  • Mobile phones. Many stores are starting to focus on experiential retail. Other stores have limited space and they need to get creative. In both cases, mobile phones are often the answer: they’re portable and allow staff members to help customers anywhere in the store. These situations can also have challenges. Staff need to complete the same tasks on a smaller device, often without the help of peripherals like scanners or printers.
  • Countertop + mobile phones. Some stores have a traditional counter, but also have staff members selling from mobile devices around the store. Such stores might have their counter as a primary selling point, but use mobile phones for checkout to reduce lineups when stores get extra busy.

Some visual design elements help us make these situations work:

  • Font size is larger to make text faster and easier to read from a distance.
  • Colors are bold and have increased contrast to make components more visible in environments where lighting is highly variable.
  • Tap targets are larger to make buttons more visible and errors less likely in a fast-paced environment.

Account for many peripherals and devices

In the retail environment, staff rarely use only one device. For example, the checkout process happens in the Point of Sale app, but also relies on other devices, such as barcode scanners, card readers, and receipt printers.

It’s important to think about the role different devices have in each task. For these devices to stay reliable, they need to be connected, charged, and ready to use. The system needs to clearly communicate this information at the right time. This is especially important when it comes to troubleshooting.

It’s also important that the system has a neutral aesthetic so it fits with a wide variety of merchants. Stores can vary so much in style and aesthetic, and the POS app is a highly visible part of a regular customer interaction. This neutrality should come through both in the visual design and the voice and tone.