The Frictionless Experience: The podcast where we slay friction one episode at a time   Listen to the podcast

Can friction serve a positive purpose?

Digital experience optimization

Surprising ways adding Purposeful Friction to a digital experience can improve the user experience. And benefit your company as well.

At Blue Triangle, we are passionate about helping brands create frictionless digital experiences. We even created the industry’s first and only podcast dedicated to creating conversations around the art of driving frictionless experiences (aptly called The Frictionless Experience).

So why would we ever advocate for adding friction to your customer’s digital journeys? When adding friction can serve the purpose of making the experience better, not worse.

It’s a topic that surfaced recently on an episode of The Frictionless Experience. Guest Vijay Jayaraman, senior director of product at Walmart eCommerce, talked about why Walmart captures mobile numbers from customers and provides order updates via text.

“Sometimes people think that removing a step or making a button brighter, or any of those things, are friction and that is the frictionless experience,” notes Vijay. “But you don't want to add a step just for the sake of adding a step.”


Conventional wisdom in digital marketing is to remove as many questions and steps as possible. Asking a customer for their mobile number and permission to send updates via text adds an extra step in the purchase process.

Yet it can also improve the overall customer experience, especially for time-sensitive transactions such as purchases that involve physical delivery of products.

“You need to think about knowing your customer and solving for their needs. And if you start adding more steps on their way to purchasing something that they want, it could actually make it a more frictionless experience.”

“There is a possibility that I don't need to ask your phone number, right?” Vijay explains. “And you can just ask for email address. But I did, and when I did, you gave it to me, and it made your life simpler. So one could argue that removing a phone number makes it a little bit of a frictionless experience.”

When Friction Becomes Purposeful

iStock friction boys arguing - SqaureMy co-host on the podcast, Nick Paladino, calls this concept of adding friction to improve the experience “Purposeful Friction.”  

Nick and Vijay gave an example of purposeful friction from when Vijay and Nick both worked on the digital experience team at The Home Depot and they added a step to the checkout process.

“You need to really focus on solving customer problems,” Vijay recommends. “Sometimes it could even mean getting to know more about our customers, like when we removed this concept of guest checkout at Home Depot, because we said, ‘We want to know who the customers are who are shopping with us.’

“We want to form a relationship with them so we can help build their projects better. That's friction in many people's way of thinking. But then, over a period of time, you create a cohort of customers whom you know deeply well,” Vijay explained.

He gives the example of a group of customers who are passionate about certain brands of tools. As he points out, having customer information and purchase history can help retailers better personalize recommendations.

“If you're looking for another drill, then let me show you a DeWalt drill versus something else, which might not fit your current tools needs. The battery pads won't fit. All of those things will go along with it,” Vijay explains.

But it's counter intuitive. “People always think, ‘Let me try to remove a step.’ And it works, but you need to strike a balance between that and solving for customers,” notes Vijay.

Removing the guest check-in and other forms of purposeful friction may not work for all brands or categories. On another episode of The Frictionless Experience, Naveen Gunti who heads international logistics, digital and technology for American Eagle, noted that cultural differences can impact what constitutes friction.

“If you don’t have guest checkout in the US, you’re not in the game,” he believes, at least for the apparel category. “So it's interesting what friction means: what you see as a friction, what someone else sees as a friction, and then how you bring everything together and find that common denominator – that you need few things to be in business, and you do other things to make sure that at least you cater to your audience.

Naveen adds, echoing the same sentiment of Vijay.

“You need to understand your demographics and what friction means to that demographics.” 

Understanding customer expectations and needs is the key to knowing when added friction improves digital experiences.

Examples of Purposeful Friction

What are examples of how you can use purposeful friction to improve digital experiences?

We’ve covered two types of purposeful friction:

  • Capturing mobile number and permission so real-time order updates can be texted to consumers, avoiding any risk of emails being missed due to spam filters.
  • Requiring customers to register when placing an order in order to build a profile of frequent guests and enable personalized and meaningful recommendations that can remove friction over time.

Here are some other examples:

  • Allowing customers to take extra steps to customize their online orders to improve personalization in customer experiences, like Panera Bread has implemented in their mobile app.
  • Implementing CAPTCHA protections to prevent fraud and ensure customer safety.
  • Packaging your products in customized packaging that increases the perception of value, as Apple does.
  • Adding additional disclosure steps and a waiting period for loan approval for people with at-risk credit, as highlighted in this post.

Trust me, we’re not changing our tune and suggesting all friction is good. In most cases, friction hurts and can be very costly to brands, hurting both conversions and the customer trust that builds loyalty.

And for that reason, Blue Triangle offers a number of tools to quantify, resolve and validate revenue recaptured from removing friction from digital experiences.

Yet this example from our conversation with Vijay proves that, like most things in life, moderation is called for. And there may be times you’ll benefit from adding friction to your customers’ digital experiences.

Podcast Vijay


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