By Kevin McGuire, SVP Product


For retail merchandisers, customer-friendly presentation and product placement make huge differences in success. This is why I can’t help but shake my head when I look at our mobile phones and see that they’ve learned nothing from merchandising. To illustrate this point, let’s see how a retail planogrammer might “review” our “smart”phones.

To start, let’s look at the similarities in our intentions when walking into a store or when unlocking our phones. When we walk into a store, only 1/3rd of in-store purchases are pre-planned. This is similar to the fact that when we unlock our phone, we have a first app in mind only ½ of time. In both cases, we don’t know what we want as we enter.  

Next, let’s contrast the difference in what we first see when entering a store versus unlocking our phones. In retail, planograms dictate product placement from the moment a customer walks in the door. Planograms were first created by behavioral researcher Paco Underhill. By placing cameras in stores and analyzing customer behavior, researchers create store layouts (or planograms) based on customer actions. The same product in different locations will yield different sales. The right product in the right place can generate an immediate sale. A planogrammer’s goal is explicit: Maximize Customer Interest (e.g., sales) by boosting attraction and interest, while saving customers time so their experience is enjoyable and valuable to drive repeat visits.

The Smartphone unlock experience hasn’t really changed in over a decade, despite many trillions of unlocks by billions of users around the world. Unlock your phone and ask yourself what you get? Sure, you might find an mess of app notifications (about as visually appetizing as stale produce in a store), but if you ignore your notifications, all you find is S.A.L.T. (the Same App as the Last Time) when you locked your phone, or your sea of home screen app icons with red notification badges. Think of that in a retail context. This is the retail equivalent of placing the same products that you just saw in the last aisle in the front of the next aisle. Or never seeing new products or placements. Or putting products that we know someone doesn’t need right up front of the store. No retail merchandiser would do that – they would be out of business. If I just saw tomorrow’s weather from my mobile phone the last time I used it, it’s highly unlikely I need to see it again. I also love sports, follow economic news, am entertained by the latest Hollywood gossip. I track what’s happening in tech and Silicon Valley. But, despite our phones being categorized as “smart”, all they really do is remember where they were, not where they should be. Our phones are not dynamic. They make no effort to determine what to first display to catch my interest and save me time. The fact that these expensive and powerful computing devices in our pockets do nothing but remember where we were in the past is baffling and downright silly.

In fact, it’s worse than silly. It’s painful. A planogrammer would comment on the missed opportunity of a user not being engaged by the things they see.  With so many apps on our phones, we need to either ask for help (by typing into our phone’s search bar) or begin a swipe-layden hunt for a dusty app that likely hasn’t been used in days if not weeks or months. In essence, our phones say, “Welcome! Here’s the thing you used last time if you want it again. But if not, please either consult our help system for search, or . . . good luck finding what you want.” Customer service ratings in a retail store operating like would be poor.

A skilled planogrammer would change the phone design to replace the S.A.L.T found at unlock. With half our our unlocks made without a specific app in mind, a planogrammer would leverage the intelligence of the device to promote snackable, tasty content goodies that might better engage users right at unlock.  In my case that might mean proactively offering news, sports stories, entertainment, games, and more. For others it would be something entirely different and personalized.

When creating a “smartphone planogram” to maximize user engagement upon unlock to save users time, there are 2 things that skilled retail merchandisers would seek to understand:

  1. Customer Behavior – What a customer sees and does when they enter and wander through the store (in this case, the smartphone interface)
  2. Spatial Planning – Where the best places in the store are to place the most attractive and enticing products (tasty mobile content snacks)

By taking these two concepts to the mobile phone, Carriers and smartphone device manufacturers can give us something better. As a planogrammer does we need to look at the customer journey and find out where customers go and what they do, and remove friction today of getting users to the content they love by eliminating the time and effort to manually find and launch apps.

Native rich-media mobile content experiences can greatly improve how we discover and consume the content we love on the devices we can’t live without. Planogrammers would covet the opportunity to reinvent the unlock process, or to enhance what users see when they open a blank new tab in the browser, or the content that we see by swiping right or left from the home screen. Having to seek out apps and overcome their friction will hopefully soon be a concept of the past for mobile content discovery.