The holidays are right around the corner, which means it’s prime-time for shopping, both in-store and online.

So, when you see more traffic coming your way, what’s the instinctive response? If you’re like most retailers, the number one answer is to reduce friction in the customer experience. However, it may not really be that simple.

Let’s take a closer look at eCommerce friction and see if there is a better answer to the question.

What is Friction?

In the most general sense, the customer journey begins with awareness of a product, and ends with a purchase.

“Friction” describes any point during that journey at which customers experience resistance. It can be a complicated checkout process, requiring customers to create an account before making a purchase, or broken features on your website or app. In any case, friction is a barrier to your customer completing a purchase.

Here’s the rub: you can never completely get rid of transactional friction. Every business has certain friction points that are innate and unavoidable. For example, you must collect a customer’s shipping and billing information before you can call an online purchase complete. It’s friction, yes, but it’s impossible—at least for now—to do business without these crucial steps.

Obviously, we tend to think of friction as a bad thing. After all, you don’t want to make your customers work harder than necessary to give you money. Instead, you want to remove as many barriers as possible between your customers and your products.

Thousands of retailers have introduced practices like recalling shopping history, saving payment information, and one-click checkout as means to reduce friction and drive conversion. These techniques can help oil the wheels and make your processes more customer-friendly. But that said, I want to throw out an idea that might seem a little counterintuitive at first: not all friction is necessarily bad.

When Friction is Actually a Positive

A shopping environment with a lot of friction can deter buyers. At the same time, an environment with too much focus on reducing friction can create unanticipated vulnerabilities for you and your customers.

First, reducing some barriers to complete a purchase opens the possibility for fraudsters to attack you. Lower standards for front-end verification, for example, will obviously correlate to more fraud exposure. You could end up with a wave of cardholders filing chargebacks because you accepted transactions from a fraudulent user.

That one’s pretty obvious, but there are other points in the customer experience where some friction isn’t a bad thing. For example, a verification page during the checkout process is friction, but it serves a valuable purpose (asking customers to verify that all product, shipping, and billing information is correct). The amount of friction that step generates is less detrimental than the potential consequences of doing without.

Making your customer experience genuinely “frictionless” can both incentivize bad customer behavior and create unreasonable customer expectations. Buyers get used to the idea that they can dictate the terms of the customer experience. They start to feel they can have whatever they want, whenever they want it. The result: an increase in friendly fraud and return fraud (you can learn more about that here).

That’s why we need to stop thinking about friction as something to avoid in every case. Instead, you need to distinguish between “positive” and “negative” friction.

Exploring “Positive” Friction

Negative friction puts barriers between customers and their desire to complete a transaction. It gums-up the works but does little to prevent fraud or chargebacks. Examples could include slow or inconsistent site performance, long and redundant forms at the checkout stage, or forcing customers to create an account before they can do business with you. In each of these cases, you’re putting unnecessary barriers between yourself and people who are trying to give you money.

Compare that to positive friction, which creates deliberate and reasonable limitations that just barely impact the shopping experience. However, positive friction goes a long way to help prevent fraud and chargebacks. Here are just a few tools and practices that can be described as positive friction:

  • Ask for the cardholder’s CVV (Card Verification Value) at checkout.
  • Make account creation optional.
  • Require a complex, unique password for each account.
  • Offer 3-D Secure technology for customers who opt-in to the service.
  • Ask customers to verify their order before submitting.
  • Employ geolocation and IP verification on the back-end to flag potential fraud.

Positive friction tends to be a passive experience from the customer’s perspective. In all the above cases, the specific mechanism helps prevent criminal fraud.

Many applications of positive friction have the bonus effect of forcing customers to slow-down just momentarily and verify their purchase. This is different from negative friction, as it doesn’t rely on tedious extra steps that will annoy customers. Instead, they allow for the customer to be sure they’re happy with the transaction. The buyer barely notices the extra second of consideration, but it goes a long way toward preventing buyer’s remorse, which is one of the most common causes of friendly fraud.

How to Maximize Positive Friction

Here are a few easy ways you can maximize positive friction, minimize negative friction, and improve your overall customer interactions:

  • Auto-populate form fields during checkout.
  • Allow for secure, alternative payment methods like PayPal and Apple Pay.
  • Be sure your customer service contact information is clearly-visible on every page.
  • Provide live customer service for as many hours a day as possible (24/7 is ideal).
  • Employ a third-party answering service to help with after-hours calls and peak seasons.
  • Allow customers to save items in their cart and come back later.
  • Provide a shipping calculator so buyers know their current total while shopping.
  • Let customers review their browsing and purchasing history when shopping in-app.
  • Provide product discounts and suggestions based on past shopping history.
  • Offer a bonus for accepting store credit in place of cash during the return process.

One helps. One hurts. That’s why distinguishing between positive and negative friction is essential. If you can foster the former and minimize the latter, then you’re setting yourself up for true eCommerce success.

Want to uncover more tips and tricks to make this your best holiday season yet? Download the free eCommerce Holiday Handbook and get all the latest info!

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