How to Re-imagine Retail Using Design Thinking
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How to Re-imagine Retail Using Design Thinking

By: Martin Granström, Sr Director, Head of Design, Sam's Club

"Design thinking” has recently entered our collective buzzword vocabulary, but it is much more than just office jargon. With the right understanding and application, design thinking can guide a company’s entire critical strategy.

I entered the retail space a few years back, joining a small design team at Sam’s Club whose main purpose was to look at the member facing side of eCommerce. Fast forward to 2020, we now have a robust end-to-end experience team managing every aspect of the Sam’s Club experience, from eCommerce, in-club shopping, to associates’ ways of working.

But this progress certainly did not happen overnight. So how did we adopt a companywide design thinking process and implement its principles to best serve all our stakeholders?

End to End Experience: The End All Be All

At Sam’s Club, we are all about designing delightful experiences for our members and associates. And to continue engaging our end users, it is important to have a team whose priority is developing focused value propositions for all of our products. Enter: the end to end experience teams, also known as our cross functional teams with skills from different technologies and areas. This structure and its culture of inter-department communication is one that enables our team members to grow in their work and produce better products, therefore allowing us to accomplish new initiatives with faster speeds and leaner teams. In fact, it has worked so seamlessly in the eCommerce organization that we have taken our learnings and leveraged these ways of working across the entire company.

Killing several birds with one stone

In order to maximize the amount of time associates have to help members, our experience teams build digital tools to optimize daily in-club tasks. Recognizing the learning curve that comes with new technology, we put into place a “design system,” a centralized set of established patterns and standards for all associate-facing digital tools. So once associates have used one application from their digital toolbelt, they have the knowledge to use them all. This streamlined design process both eliminates the associate frustration of re-learning new interfaces and allows experience teams to manage their products at scale.

Designing for the physical and digital

The boundaries of physical and digital within retail have blurred. As our members and associates increasingly lead omni-channel lives, it was imperative for Sam’s Club to design integrated in-club and online experiences. Balancing the nature of a warehouse club with the rising consumer shift toward eCommerce, we realized it was not about designing one perfect product but rather finding the right balance and creating integrated experiences to best suit the needs of our stakeholders.

For Sam’s Club, this meant investing in technologies and services, such as Scan & Go and curbside pickup that help our members take advantage of our physical locations while leveraging the speed and ease of digital tools.

Becoming a design-led company

Design thinking is about understanding the people we are designing our products and services for. Therefore, in the retail industry, design thinking should not solely be the domain of designers. It should be everyone’s job.

Sam’s Club believes this integrated, human-centric strategy will deliver a competitive advantage. And in our volatile COVID-19 environment, the early implementation of design thinking has paid off. The company’s existing infrastructure, well-oiled experience teams, and solution-based processes have enabled every part of the organization to move with agility and empathy during the pandemic, empowering wide launches of new seamless experiences for our members and in-club associates.

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