We All Like A Bit Of Friction Every Once In A While

Friction keeps the Burj Khalifa from falling over Image: Shutterstock

We’ve all been there haven’t we? It’s usually when we’re running late and absolutely, definitely, MUST have that frappe latte, maccy whatever with an extra shot, splash of bamboo milk and a muffin to go.

Or it’s when we realise we’ve run out of pole line caught tuna (psst — there’s no such thing) because we’ve got eco friends coming round for tea.

In both scenarios, all we want to do is get in and get out, pronto. No fuss, no bother, no questions, no small talk, quick payment and out.

But let’s face it, we all like a bit of friction from time to time(don’t be childish at the back) but we’ve been inured to the fact that in retail friction is somehow bad. Well, I think it’s rather a good thing (tuna and macchiato aside).

Now, for those of you who know me, you’ll know that I’m rather partial to a nice watch and even nicer cars (sometimes). Little extreme examples perhaps but you get the picture.

Because when we take the plunge and either go for a new Rolex (other makes are available) or an exotic sports car (let’s leave it at that shall we) part of the pleasure and excitement is in the thrill of the chase. After all, wouldn’t it be rather boring if we just said to ourselves, ‘right-o, I’ll have that one thank you very much’, order it online and hey presto it arrives a day or so later. Where’s the fun in that?

No, far better to do our research online then go on the prowl. Now, this journey could sometimes last days, but I’d venture that weeks or months might be more realistic. Once took me nine months to find the car I was looking for. What a great time I had.

As I write this, there’s a four wheeled friend sitting in a dealer nearby which must be wondering what it’s done to upset me. After all, I’ve seen it several times and driven it. But I’m biding my time. I like the fact that I can’t make up my mind, I like the fact that I’m looking around, talking to all sorts of people — friends, social media contacts, dealers, anyone I meet in the street, all to finally reassure me that yes, I am smart, I am clever, I have made the right choice.

And all this represents friction. But just as we can have good bacteria and bad bacteria in our gut, so too can we experience good friction and bad friction. It all depends on the journey.

Supermarkets are especially prone to friction, the entire experience of shopping in them is built on friction. Wouldn’t it be better to start taking a leaf out of the airlines book? Speedy check-outs for those customers who choose to pay a premium for the privilege. Pack our bags, take them to the car. Not too much to ask is it?

As opposed to being asked to work there in the self-service checkouts. Let’s face it, if grocers were running the airlines, we’d all be serving ourselves a G&T.

So, it’s important to understand what it is you are offering your customers, because most likely it’s not the product itself but the journey and the experience which matter and are remembered the most. That last flight you took, were you soooo grateful to have arrived alive? Or did you remember the surly flight crew?

Oh, and the Burj Khalifa? Yes, its 128 individual concrete piles driven into the Dubai desert which keep 160 storeys of man’s finest engineering from toppling over. See, friction ain’t so bad.

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Andrew Busby

Global Industry Leader Retail at Software AG, founder Retail Reflections, best selling author, former Forbes contributor, global retail influencer.