Accessible Innovation

How Human-Centered Design Can Enhance the Customer Experience

February 2020

I don’t know many people who look forward to the act of grocery shopping. It’s a necessary evil for most, and more of a chore than a highly anticipated experience.

Between crowded aisles, long line ups, the abandoned cart blocking your access to the avocados, it’s just tough to get excited about something so wrought with frustration.

Maybe you squeeze in your grocery shopping on your way home from work. Perhaps you save it for the weekend with the kids in tow. Maybe you are like me and resolve to plan your grocery run at an often elusive “quieter time” each week.

Regardless of your system or strategy, grocery shopping remains a hassle. And the challenge for business leaders is to be increasingly easy to do business with. If you aren’t, someone else will be.

Much has been done to try to revolutionize the inefficient process of grocery shopping. Complex and expensive advances ranging from self-check out, to online pre-orders with drive-thru style pick up, to delivery services have entered the mainstream.

But those options still aren’t MY style. Perhaps one day I’ll take advantage of the new technologies, but I still find it works best for me to shop in-person the old school way.

And that’s the real crux of the problem with innovation: too often, it requires humans to change the way they behave to adapt to the new processes designed to make their lives easier.

In many cases, we just aren’t ready to adapt to the change. We need intuitive baby steps to “meet us where we are” for the true value of innovation to be realized.

That’s why one of my goals in life is to encourage ‘accessible innovation’. In my early experiences studying the concept of innovation, I found it to be so conceptual that most people thought it was out of reach, only reserved for eccentric inventors and academics.

Sometimes the best types of innovation are the simple, often overlooked changes, that create value and are instinctive for the user. When it goes against traditional ways that things have been done, it’s called disruption.

In the grocery store example, status quo dictates that you queue up shopping carts in the ‘cart coral’ with the handle pointing towards the customer. This makes a LOT of sense in theory.

But the problem becomes that the entrance of most grocery stores is one of those frustrating bottlenecks caused by people taking their carts, then doing a reverse three-point turn to get the cart oriented in the right direction.

People stand and wait, often outdoors, and congestion is expected as you walk through the first touchpoint of the grocery shopping experience. This sets the tone for what can be an even more frustrating experience as you get to the aisles and check outs.

I recently noticed an example of accessible innovation where a simple tweak made for a big difference. All that was different was that the carts were now backed into the cart coral, with the nose facing out instead of the handle.

Simple right? And it required no real behavioural change to reap the benefits. Most people didn’t even notice that they weren’t doing their traditional three-point cart turn.

The best part, it’s free and adds a whole lot of value at one of the two biggest potential friction points in grocery shopping.

What I call “accessible innovation” is also known as “Human-Centered Design,” and while it’s not an everyday term, it is a simple discipline that is changing the way we create and exchange value. It’s about developing solutions in the service of people and has deep implications in the evolving world of business.

Jessica Potts is the president of Inspired Strategy Group Inc. and a Gallup Certified Strengths
Coach, working with clients to develop leaders, build high-performing teams, sustain stakeholder and employee engagement, and realize their goals. Her approach is rooted in a strengths-based philosophy that maximizing potential happens when we encourage people to become great at what they’re naturally good at. For more information visit www.inspiredstrategy.ca, or search ‘Inspired Strategy’ on your favorite social media platform.


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