Despite what the eComfluencers will tell you in tweetstorms, site optimization can often lead to experience homogenization. The more focused you are on driving business down the funnel as quickly as possible, the higher the likelihood for adverse effects like churn, chargebacks, and returns.

Not all friction is bad. A frictionless flip flop is dangerous, a frictionless tire lethal, and frictionless sex boring. Too much friction in any one of these things is also, ahem. Undesirable.

So let's bust some bubbles: "frictionless" eCommerce should not be a goal as a brand marketer.

Function over Friction

Frictionless experiences do not build a brand. What we should be seeking is the right balance of friction and function. In fact, we've been speaking about this since the early days of Insiders. From Insiders #005: Not All Friction is Bad:

This is a call to return to the type of friction that clienteling provides - a few minutes investment of time in a relationship can guide people to making considered purchases and create real lifetime value.

Discourse — conversation — and relationship all require a small element of friction. This is what took us by surprise in our newest research piece, Service is the New Storefront. When we asked customers how they preferred to reach a customer service agent we were astonished to see that most customers equally preferred phone to online chat; and they preferred those channels 2-3 times more than other automated systems. Why?

Customers will endure friction to ensure accountability. Image: Future Commerce

Personalized Accountability = Good Friction

It comes down to accountability. People trust other people to take ownership of the customer experience at relationship inflection points: points along the customer journey where a junction appears and the customer could churn if they have a negative encounter. This critical juncture provides an opportunity for a brand to wow the customer, and win them over. Why endure the friction of a phone call? Because the customer wants to know that the brand will take accountability. 87% of customers feel more loyal to a brand after positive CX, and 37% say they will spend more if they encounter it.

Good friction = personalized, accountable, interactions.

Here's the kicker: customers are aware that they hold this power, and they're using it to their advantage. Advantage point: friction. This time, customers introduce the friction upon the brand to solve their issue. CX, CS, CRV — the business or eCommerce abbreviation matters far less than the principle.

Now if there's good friction, there's also bad friction. In our study we found that bad friction equates to anonymity — the brand doesn't know (or care to know) the customer, or every journey is one-size-fits all. In these cases, the experience is self-service, and usually a challenge with providing personalized recommendations or escalations due to the nature of the channel. For this reason, Site FAQs and Social Media often fall short — they don't believe that these channels will allow them to get their needs met, which will result in an additional step. This additional step is a waste of time — so good friction channels can also result in bad friction!

The solution is being proactive. If 9 in 10 of your customers will feel more loyal after a positive CX interaction, you should be purposefully driving more interaction to that channel. If 1 in 3 will spend more after that interaction, you should be purposefully driving more interaction to that channel! The opportunity is clear: service can be your new storefront. But you have to design the journey to drive a customer there on purpose, not by mistake. Because, after all, mistakes are themselves bad friction.

Get the full deep-dive on our newest report by downloading it over here: