Customers can access products and services via the web, mobile devices, or brick and mortar stores. Creating a seamless experience across these channels requires a comprehensive plan for the user experience that begins with the user’s first thoughts about the product and continues through the purchase and use cycle. This emerging trend is being successfully implemented by a handful of organizations that can undoubtedly boast a long list of return customers.

REI shoppers can purchase items online and get free shipping if they pick up the item in the store.  Once in the store, they have access to “endless aisle” kiosks that help them to find and order items they do not see on the shelves.  Store signage has urls and QR codes to enable research on mobile devices like smart phones and tablets.  Merchandise has barcodes that enable price checks on the multiple scanners throughout the store, and receipts and product packaging have the REI url.

The scenario above works because it begins with user expectations, not services; it guides rather than presents; and is seamless rather than product driven in execution. When REI designed this system they did not just build a website, they created a user experience that spanned their brick and mortar store, the web, mobile devices, kiosks, barcode readers, QR and bar codes. They created a cross-channel, service-oriented, end-to-end solution for REI’s business. The experience is cross-channel in that information is passed from one device to another (e.g. on the web and in the store), it is service-oriented in that the customer’s expectations of a connected experience are being met, and it is end-to-end in that the customer journey from researching a potential need to using the purchased product is taken into account. REI has taken a holistic approach to the user experience.  For sales-based organizations (whether B2B or B2C) to thrive in the coming years, we cannot just build isolated websites, but must start building end-to-end solutions to customer needs.

An interconnected future is coming and in a few iconic cases (e.g., Nike+, iTunes) already here.  The distinction between products and services is becoming blurred as information is passed between devices.  Cars were once just products, but with the advent of Zipcars, the product is becoming a service and the product/service becomes a seamless system.  We must begin thinking of service systems rather than isolated devices and channels, products and services. Now more than ever, a comprehensive user experience strategy is needed.