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Friction in Digital Commerce

By May 25, 2023No Comments
Digital World

We’ve had several recent conversations with DCA members about reducing friction. But do we always want to reduce friction?

Low-friction commerce is good. We see products we like, we transact with a few clicks, we don’t have to fill out forms – it flows. But would no-friction commerce be even better? What do we give up in a pure one-click world, for example? Making commerce more interesting, more informative or more fun – like gamifying a rewards or loyalty program – surely involves some effort and friction. So – if we don’t want to eliminate friction, how can we think about what to keep and what to kill?

Here’s an analogy I’ve been pondering . . .

The folks who design cars generally want to reduce friction. But . . . friction keeps a car’s tires on the road, keeps your hands on the steering wheel, keeps your butt in the seat – and makes the brakes work! So there’s some friction that’s good. Call it productive friction – engineers don’t eliminate it, they optimize it.

But friction in the engine is unproductive. Combustion engines lose 60-70% of their energy to friction and use what’s left over to create motion. Electric motors are more efficient than gas motors largely because they have less friction. That’s a big part of their promise (nerd link here). Bicycles are more efficient still because their “engines” are so simple. But bikes rely on friction, too – tires, brakes, handlebars, seat.

So what does this mean for digital commerce? We’re looking to identify unproductive friction so we can reduce it. But along the way, we are also looking to identify productive friction so we can optimize it. (You don’t want maximally grippy brakes or maximally grippy tires – it’s a Goldilocks thing.)

Now, if all this has you thinking of the classic Steve Jobs riff on bicycles – here it is. Inspiring, and worth a minute of your time.

Questions DCA Members Are Asking:

  1. What are the points of productive friction in our consumer experience?
  2. Where is the unproductive friction?
  3. Can we quantify the impact of unproductive friction?
  4. Can we leverage data analytics to develop targeted solutions?
  5. How can we foster a culture of experimentation to identify and address friction in the consumer experience?
  6. Are there unintended consequences associated with reducing friction?

Related DCA Resources