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The Impact of Wearables on Customer Experience

Patent disputes aside, Amazon’s 1-Click is emblematic of one of the most important customer experience paradigms: that creating a path of least resistance for customers is essential. This is obviously true for online experiences, where bottom lines can be drastically affected by mere milliseconds. Every little bit of friction can be measured in lost dollars.
But should offline experiences be treated any differently?
The answer: absolutely not — though, until recently, the ability to reduce friction has been bound by the laws of physics (and technology).
Think about what it often takes to be a customer: your name, phone number, credit card number, ID or driver’s license, usernames, passwords, billing and shipping addresses, loyalty account, age, gender, dress and shoe sizes — and not to mention any other personal preferences you bias toward, like specific product categories, styles, colors, quantities, or brands. Today, providing that data is a waste of time and a source of friction. From finding a store associate and wandering the aisles to checking out (and waiting in line for others to checkout), it adds up. And that’s just in a retail setting. The same kinds of friction exist in industries from banking to hospitality.
One of the most exciting aspects of wearables is that they are poised to change that. Sure, our smartphones have gone a long way in removing friction in the physical world, providing us a gateway to the ever-expanding Internet of Things. But, whatever the friction it removes, you’re still probably swiping and typing. With wearables — like a smartwatch — you might not even have to raise a finger (just a wrist) to be uniquely identified in the offline world.
They are, in effect, like Amazon 1-Click’s and Google Chrome Autofill forms “in real life.”
The implications for in-person customer experiences are significant. For starters, wearables are almost guaranteed to transform payments — with the simple benefit of saving customers time, eliminating the need for a less-secure physical credit card, and reducing checkout wait times. But more broadly, imagine a situation where a store is able to identify and “know” you the moment you walk in (assuming, of course, you want them to). To a certain extent, your smartphone was capable of this, but with wearables, you create a scenario where you, your data, and your preferences are seamlessly synced with the environment around you. The opportunities for customization and removing friction feel truly like the stuff of Star Trek.
Again, that’s just retail. Imagine a hotel without check-in desks or room keys. ATM’s without debit cards or pin numbers. Or never needing to pull out a drivers license again.
In the meantime, early adopters need to be careful before they assume that wearable tech will always work and have contingencies in place for when it doesn’t. Technology, as we know, can sometimes add more friction than it was created to remove. It would be amazing to arrive at an airport, and check-in without needing to show your ID… until, of course, the battery on your watch dies and they won’t let you board the plane.

Photo credit: Maurizio Pesce

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