Quick serve: How Target and West Elm meet the demands of instant gratification

John Morell
More from Shop.org 2017

View coverage of Shop.org, held in L.A. Sept. 25-27, 2017, on the event recap page.

Consumers want things when they want them, and figuring out how to address the ever-present demand for instant gratification was a popular topic Tuesday at NRF’s annual Shop.org conference. Tammy Everts of Speedcurve moderated an afternoon breakout session with Luke Chatelain, vice president of innovation for West Elm, and Grace Glenny, senior director of site merchandising at Target

The main takeaway? “Milliseconds count,” said Everts. “A page load delay of just 100 milliseconds, a tenth of a second, can be enough for a customer to change his mind about an online purchase. If the delay is one full second, that’s almost an eternity.”

Everts discussed her focus group work looking at how consumers view the speed of consumer retail portals. When a potential buyer is faced with a slightly slower website, it affects not only whether the consumer will actually make a purchase but the overall impression of the retailer. “If they see the site as slow, they’re also finding fault with things like the layout, the merchandise and other elements that don’t have a bearing on loading speed.”

The trio discussed how one of the next big challenges for retailers is to streamline their mobile sites enough to allow consumers to make a seamless transition from purchasing on desktop to purchasing via phone. 

The need for speed

Although retailers can’t control the internet speed coming from a customer’s router, they can use some technological tricks to maximize the “impression” of a quicker website. Chatelain talked about some techniques used by West Elm including:

  • Client-side caching, in which parts of the website’s framework are stored and don’t have to be reloaded when the customer moves to different pages around the site.
  • “Lazy loading,” in which, say, product pictures and text change but the frames around them are left in place to reduce load times.
  • Single-page apps that reduce the size of an ecommerce website without taking away any of the capabilities.

The must-have app

Target’s emphasis on user experience has been focused not just on speed but how to make the Target app so valuable to the company’s customers that they need to have it. Target believes increasing shopping through the store app will meet its customers’ speed needs and increase sales around the margins. Some of its innovations include:

  • An app function that allows consumers to map out where a particular item is within a store and direct them to it, which is helpful for customers visiting a Target with a different footprint from their local store. 
  • An ability to combine Target coupons through its Cartwheel function with the store’s branded REDcard credit card. The idea is to ease the checkout process, whether in-store or online.
  • Gamification of some functions, such as an ability to see how different bikini tops and bottoms work together. The objective is to make use of the app fun.

Three big points the panelists emphasized to get to instant gratification:

  • User behavior is context sensitive. Don’t assume people who buy on one platform will buy on another.
  • Performance issues are unpredictable. Retailers need to be nimble enough to adapt to different download speeds.
  • Even the tiniest of changes to download speed can increase sales.