In-store shopping is outdated. A one-sided sell, a one-sided purchase. Add some display curation and a few gaudy sale signs sprinkled in between and you have the modern day mall experience. “We’re going to change that,” we decided.

Photo Credit: Liv Lo

Given not much has changed over the years despite the thriving growth of online marketplaces like Amazon and Zappos, our team (consisting of stars from Apple Pay, Yammer and Living Social) knew sooner or later there would be a need for a more integrated and personalized in-store experience to match the richness of online shopping.

It’s a tad ironic that online, you feel empowered while the feeling is quite the opposite when you’re shopping at a mall.

Photo Credit: Clark Street Mercantile

Problem Space.
Consumers continue to shop at stores, though studies show that 51% will use their mobile devices to compare prices and get more product details. Moreover, consumers who connect with social media during their shopping process are also 4x more likely than non-users to spend on purchases. In the consumer's mind, different ‘channels’ do not exist—mobile, web and store are one extended, interwoven interaction*. They simply want to engage when, where and how they want. How do we create a more aligned experience to modernize in-store shopping for the digital age?
We polled a national sample of 40 random consumers at airport terminals, shopping malls and boutiques stores who used digital devices to shop. Our questionaire consisted of behavioral questions to learn about their shopping habits and to gauge their willingness to embrace new platforms.

A rough iOS prototype was built with the hypothesis: “Consumers who shop in-store will be interested in scanning products to find the best deal and learn more about the product.” We user-tested the prototype with 20 consumers for general usability and to check our initial assumptions.
We learned quickly why most apps the Apple App Store go to the graveyard after a single use: Utilitarian apps only work when you use it everyday; unless consumers have a reason to come back, the app, no matter how beautifully-designed, will be quickly forgotten.

We learned most people gravited towards our ‘Discovery’ tab, because the content was fresh and new. It also functioned as a way to learn how to use the app without going through a first-time experience (FTE) tutorial.

Tote quickly shifted from solely an in-store experience towards becoming fashion content hub with collections curated by influencers with a heavy emphasis on social.
Our workflow reflected that of a Snapchat addict. As you shop, you scan. You engage both online and within the store, all at your own convenience. It mapped towards consumers’ pre-existing tendency to look up items in a store, thus introducing social engagement and building in perks felt like a natural evolution.

After the initial rollout, we interated on small usability issues throughout the app. This included: how to illustrate the magical processes that happened in the background when you snap a photo of an item in-store, find its exact price and URL online, then add it to your profile. Voilà! The Tote Concierge Dot was born. 

Other tweaks included a call-to-action color study which eventually led to a design language overhaul (people found the purple a bit much) and a new web experience to support collection curation and discovery.
Tees and tote bags came naturally, but what still impresses me to this day is what we were able to accomplish in a short 6-month timeframe. An iOS app. A website. A launch campaign. With research, design and development collaborating every step of the way, we were able to share our diversity of ideas, both driving and navigating as a collective. Rare shit. And the result was damn beautiful.

We created a place for you to follow your fashion influencers, shop your favorite finds and curate your own collections to get featured on Tote. Now, where you at?

Tote was acquired by Pinterest in November 2016.

Foresee Experience Index (FXI): 2015 Retail Edition
*Deloitte Digital: Navigating the Digital Divide (2015)