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Too much success reducing friction limits opportunity to wow customers

Too much success reducing friction limits opportunity to wow customers

Positive friction adds time

for productive interactions

Alasdair Lennox

Executive Creative Director



Brands have gone through a reductive decade, removing friction on the path-to-purchase to the point where consumers are whizzing by without seeing other temptations or offers. In 2020, brands need to also think additively, defining friction points selectively to create positive interactions.

The Starbucks mobile order is a great example of this. You order ahead, pick up your flat white where it’s already waiting for you at the counter, and walk right out—probably without ever looking up from your cell phone or saying good morning. Having worked so hard to strip out all the friction from this experience, has Starbucks stripped out the emotions as well? Being pain-free is table stakes these days and has become the new baseline for all brands. With so much focus on alleviating painstaking interactions, brands have moved away from the notion of also bringing joy. Friction can be a good thing.

The challenge with frictionless brands is that familiarity can breed disinterest and conjure the “been there, done that” feeling, leaving consumers uninspired and less willing to revisit. Is it differentiated? Will it be remembered? If brands want us to spend time with them, they have to set the stage for unlocking emotions as well.

I believe that brands today need to think less that the removal of friction equates to just a faster speed of service. They need to think more about what they can achieve by giving back to their customers the gift of time.

Positive friction opportunities

At FITCH, we see four opportunities that capitalize on this new understanding of positive friction and the currency of time:

Saving Time Removing friction and pain points from the user experience journey has led to increasingly simplified, yet undifferentiated brand experiences. In the grocery category, curbside pick-up has taken off as a free, time-saving option for consumers. It’s become a category standard. Increasingly, a number of brands are rewarding loyalty with generous time-saving gifts. For example, the Hilton Hotel Digital Key is built into the Hilton app and is available for Hilton Honors members to speed past the front desk and go straight to their room.

The check-in experience isn’t necessarily the time or place where guests wish to be engaged, so Hilton has had to understand, respect, and create alternative options. Instead, Hilton engages with a personal touch through text messages upon check-in to ensure the guest is still greeted. They’ve removed the friction but haven’t forgotten the personal touch.

Buying Time Consumers are also increasingly paying for premium services designed to have 100 percent of the friction removed, almost at any cost. Category leading Amazon Prime costs just $119 per year for a range of benefits, including delivery the next day or within four hours in some cities. Now, Prime members can also use their membership to speed through Amazon Go convenience stores.

Spend more time Conversely, some savvy brands and retailers have been experimenting with ways consumers can choose to spend a longer period of time. When positive friction is delivered correctly, consumers engaging in these experiences have an elevated emotional state. We’ve seen many good examples lately like the new Nordstrom flagship in New York City, where a guest can get a facial or have a glass of wine, all while shopping for shoes.

Gift of time The gift of time is about giving consumers back control of time that they didn’t think they had. It raises the consumer’s emotions positively and builds a sense of appreciation and trust for the brand. It’s simply the difference between the time we anticipate completing a specific shopping task will take and the actual amount of time it takes.

An example being when my cell phone contract ends, I start to dread the painful experience of renegotiating the contract, buying a new smart phone, etc. I generally plan to put aside a couple of hours to complete this task. However, I react with surprise and joy when it gets completed in just 30 minutes due to an innovated service experience.

This telecom brand has just given me 90 minutes back to what I was expecting that day, and now I can choose how to use this time. I can either get on with my life and the next activity for that day, or I can choose to spend some of that time with the same brand exploring other services.

While consumers will continue to expect quick service that saves time, brands still need to inject moments of joy to connect emotionally. When selectively added, this positive friction will leave a brand more memorable and the consumer more likely to return.

Gift of Time

The gap between the time people anticipate spending on a task, like buying a new cell phone, and the actual time they spend is a “Gift of Time” that produces a positive emotional response.