Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Tue, 16 Oct 2018 18:27:40 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 Copyright 2018, Sutherland Innovation Labs - Sutherland Innovation Labs Research and design. Improving everyday experiences. Know When to Fold Them: Eliminating Non-Productive Tasks Mon, 15 Oct 2018 15:22:27 +0100 Know When to Fold Them: Eliminating Non-Productive Tasks

Is there anything in the world as annoying as waiting in line to get served in a shop when there are a half dozen members of staff tinkering around, doing other jobs? Three separate tills, one person behind them, a swarm of staff folding clothes while you stand there. The precious moments of your life ticking away. No matter how enjoyable your shopping experience is up until that point, all of that pleasure is tossed out of the window by the complete lack of care and attention being shown to you.

Do the clothes need to be folded? Probably. Does it ruin the customer’s experience? Definitely.

There are ways that these problems can be abated, and the customer experience at least partially improved. The modern trend towards open-plan shopping means that employees are clearly visible to customers when they are needed, but it also means that they are clearly visible to customers when they also need to be getting on with their other duties. The customer centered approach has trained users to expect the undivided attention of staff, who’s primary duty is assumed to be customer service.

In “the olden days,” there were whole sections of the shop where customers did not go, poorly optimized floorspace that wasn’t for selling, but was instead for performing the folding of clothes, the counting of change or other backroom duties. This created many problems of its own, without visibility, the staff were unable to fulfil their customer service duties, and worse yet this didn’t actually solve the problem of there not being enough staff serving. All it served to do was to muddle the customer’s perceptions of what was going on. Instead of being able to see all of the staff choosing not to serve them, they instead had to assume that the shop was simply understaffed. The frustration of a long wait would still be there, but not the feeling of being deliberately ignored.

These backroom duties are almost universally low-value activities that take staff away from more important work, and they certainly aren’t limited to the retail environment. Almost every industry has repetitive tasks that are delegated to people vastly overqualified to perform them, and these thankless chores often occupy more of their time than the high-value tasks that they are actually employed to perform.

A staff member helping a customer

When people talk about plans for automation, it is often accompanied by the fear of job-losses. Back when automation was impacting factory work, this was a valid concern because it was removing the primary duty of those workers, ultimately leaving them unemployed. Now when we talk about automation, we are generally referring to the removal of these low-value, repetitive tasks that are a waste of the employees’ time.

With the impediment of folding clothes removed, the staff are suddenly able to serve customers as they come, they can focus on improving their important work and even improve the quality of their performance in their important tasks as a result.

When we introduced automation to a phone booking service for a dog grooming service in a major pet services retailer, the regular workflow was no longer interrupted by having to shut everything down to answer the phone. With more free time, groomers were able to establish better rapport with customers, improving the customer experience, increasing loyalty and providing more opportunities to upsell their other products and services.

When all of those improvements can be achieved by eliminating one pointless task; why wouldn’t you eliminate it?

Around the World in 36 Apps Fri, 05 Oct 2018 10:51:32 +0100 Around the World in 36 Apps

Sutherland Labs are delighted to announce that the Global Retail App Benchmark that we co-authored with our partners in the global UXalliance is going to be thoroughly explored and explained at a pair of events in the London Labs this month.

If you haven’t heard about the Global Retail App Benchmark; is the latest in a series of benchmarks created by the UX Alliance that are designed to assess user experience of digital products globally. Drawing on the expertise of the 500+ UX practitioners that make up the UX Alliance around the world; the report ranks 36 apps in 18 countries for both app UX and the wider customer experience that supports online purchase.

At either the evening event on Tuesday 16th October (starting at 18:30) or a breakfast briefing on Wednesday the 24thOctober (starting at 8:30) attendees will be introduced to the world of Retail Apps by Kate Ancketill of GDR Creative intelligence. She will guide you through the history of apps and show how these little digital widgets fit into the wider innovations that are shaping the modern business ecosystem.

Then our very own Simon Herd will be digging into the UXalliance benchmark itself, examining the leading apps and the trends that go beyond our localized assumptions to provide practical and actionable insights for leaders in retail.

And of course, afterwards there will be a Q&A session with all hands on deck, so if there is any particular detail of the benchmark that you’d like to dive into more deeply there will definitely be the opportunity.

Our speakers 

Kate Ancketill, GDR Creative Intelligence
As Founder and CEO Kate is the chief story-teller at GDR, and has worked with Microsoft, Coca-Cola, P&G, Hilton, LVMH, Capital One, Macy’s, Tesco and Lego. Kate provides road-tested insights on the technological and human innovations that will change the shape of business over the next five years.

About the UXalliance
Founded in 2005, the UXalliance is a network of 25 leading independent User Experience (UX) companies, that helps global organizations create better international products & services, by providing them with local research, insight and design. UXalliance partners around the world can conduct high quality research across all five continents and in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Both of these events are going to be invite only, with limited spaces already filling up fast, but if you’d like to attend and you haven’t heard from us yet, feel free to send a message to to make arrangements!

September 2018’s Coolest Things Wed, 03 Oct 2018 15:04:36 +0100 September 2018’s Coolest Things

Here in the Labs, we like to foster a co-operative atmosphere, where we work together to uplift one another, support others ideas and just generally get along. Except when it comes to the monthly round-up of the coolest things that we’ve found. Cold blooded competition is the name of the game, and the prize is eternal glory, or at least bragging rights until the next monthly roundup comes around. So without further ado here are the monthly winners; September 2018’s Coolest Things!

The Future of Shopping

In this TED talk, Angela Wang talks about the ways that China is predicting the future of retail for the whole world, with more and more emphasis being placed on the mobile phone as the engine of commerce, even when customers are purchasing goods and services in brick and mortar stores. The present of retail in China is the future everywhere else, and that future looks to be completely focussed on convenience, flexibility and integrally linked to social media.


There is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is now a subscription service that will get you a different meal from a local restaurant for under £5, which is pretty close. MealPal takes your subscription fee and handles all of the arrangements, so that all you have to do is pick a restaurant and swing by to grab your lunch – no queueing involved! So if you genuinely believe that the days of packed lunch boxes are behind you but you still feel the need to consume food at some point in the middle of the day, MealPal might be a viable alternative to spending half of your lunch-break waiting in line.

The “House” Pharmaceuticals

Increasing pharmaceutical prices in America are forcing hospitals to look seriously into alternative options. The consensus among pharmaceutical companies seems to be that they can continue to hike the prices of vital, life-saving, medication as much as they please, with consumers having no alternative but to continue using their products. In response, several hospitals are looking into manufacturing their own drugs, to cut out those companies entirely, and force the market value back down.

BMW Voice Assistant

We have spoken in the past about the specialization of AI – how the “general AI” of science fiction is still currently unattainable, but “specific AI” that handle one small subset of tasks perfectly are already prevalent. With their latest creation, BMW have created a subdivision of the already specific Digital Assistant in the form of a navigation, driving and maintenance focussed Assistant for use in their new cars.

And so peace and camaraderie return to the labs for another month, but if you want to see the researchers going for blood once more swing back again the same time next month for another exciting round of Coolest Things!

Merito: The Future of HR Fri, 14 Sep 2018 17:24:38 +0100 Merito: The Future of HR

While attending the event in Paris I came upon a new app designed to help with the problem of recruitment named Merito. It is a relatively straightforward proposition; potential employees input their details, potential employers input their requirements and through the magic of an algorithm, they are paired up with appropriate work.

This is far from the first time that digital transformation has impacted recruitment. 83% of executives now rank talent acquisition for their organization as a major concern, and with that pressure from the c-suite, HR departments are now searching for any advantage that they can get in seeking out new staff.

Social networks like LinkedIn are actively used by recruiters, while crowdsourcing websites like Glassdoor provide candidates with useful information that they would previously have been denied prior to hiring. More cutting-edge technology like Sutherland’s very own recruitment chatbot TASHA are used to guide candidates through the application process with sequenced questions, working towards the ultimate goal of single-interview hiring.

There has been another significant culture shift in recruitment, as employers increasingly favor provable skills over more nebulous qualifications, particularly in technology focused fields. This has led many of the existing tech platforms for recruitment to become obsolescent, as they were entirely focused on the older markers for candidate success.

The reason that Merito stood out from the crowd of tech solutions to the recruitment problem, is that it has the potential to generate a cultural shift within recruitment, particularly in low-skilled, or hyper-specialized jobs where temporary workers are the norm. A system like Merito could completely change how people interact with work. Rather than having an ongoing relationship with an employer, workers could opt in and out of employment on a temporary basis, both to suit their needs and those of the employing organizations.

When you consider the cross-applicability of many customer service skills, or how workers with extremely complex skill sets are moving into freelancing roles so that they can be best utilized by multiple organizations, this almost seems like the logical extension. Migratory employees going from position to position as best suits their needs and the needs of the businesses they work for.

Registration screen

Registration screen

Every organization needs a core team to ensure that learnings are not lost when staff move on, and between the completely migratory mercenaries coming in for their shifts before vanishing and the core team, there will almost inevitably be several strata of workers with different employment requirements. With the introduction of completely automated recruitment practices, a world of possibilities opens up, where part-time and full-time jobs are no longer the only categories.

How to use the website: 1) subscribe for free 2) Fill your profile in only 5 minutes  3) They contact you as soon as they have a job for you

How to use the website: 1) subscribe for free 2) Fill your profile in only 5 minutes 3) They contact you as soon as they have a job for you

Merito isn’t at that stage yet, the app is only being rolled out in France at the moment and is focusing on being an assistant to existing HR departments rather than their replacement, but we think it’s only a matter of time before human bias can be completely eliminated from recruitment, and potential employees can be judged purely on their merits.

History repeating: how digital marketplaces conquered retail Mon, 10 Sep 2018 16:33:10 +0100 History repeating: how digital marketplaces conquered retail

Take a walk through almost any town, anywhere, and sooner or later you’ll come across an open-air square somewhere near the centre, usually in the older parts of town. The marketplace. Regardless of whether this is a gentrified part of town, filled with open air restaurants and ringed by high price luxury apartments, or a noisy collection of stalls and traders, it makes no difference. The function of a marketplace is the same now as it always was, creating an interface between the economic forces of supply and demand. In the digital world, marketplaces are booming for exactly the same reason.

Over half of online transactions globally take place through marketplaces like Amazon and Alibaba. Google is transforming it’s shopping search offering into a new kind of shopping basket tool that could turn the whole internet into a marketplace. Millions of stores worldwide are becoming click-and-collect points to facilitate third party sales (and increase sales through the higher footfall) transforming themselves into a version of a marketplace, and research by Retail Week suggests around half of online retailers are now adopting marketplace models to increase their sales.

Is it possible that the brick-and-mortar store chains, franchises, boutiques and branded retailers with exclusive product lines – the kinds of store that fill most High Streets around the world – were a historical blip? Is the future of retail a return to the ancient marketplace model? It’s an intriguing thought…

What defines a marketplace?

A marketplace is not a retailer, it’s not a shop, a restaurant or a warehouse, it’s a mechanism that co-locates people who want to sell stuff, with people who want to buy stuff, and the marketplace owner takes a cut of sales. This represents the oldest form of retail commerce. Markets evolved wherever humans engaged in trade, where different tribes interacted around river crossings, fertile plains, mountain passes, places where today you’ll usually find towns and cities. Which is why, as the towns and cities grew, a formal marketplace, or souk, or bazaar can usually be found located at the heart of it.

The marketplace is, in essence, an economic model embedded into the community, and one of the building blocks of all subsequent economic and social development. No kidding. It’s how we got free markets, black markets, stock markets and marketing. It’s an economic concept that is also at the heart of politics and social issues. Markets create trade wars (mentioning no names, Mr. President) and force referendums and arguments about rarefied concepts like sovereignty (don’t mention the B-word). Marketplaces and the effects of marketplacing, are everywhere.

An example of a physical market place

The marketplace is, in essence, an economic model embedded into the community, and one of the building blocks of all subsequent economic and social development.

Why is online marketplacing so popular?

In a word, money. Running an online store was always a major undertaking for brands. Innovative solutions like Shopify work great for low-volume sales, but if you’re a brand selling thousands of units via brick-and-mortar retailers, or selling direct-to-consumer, running a branded e-commerce shop needs significant investment in robust tech and complex systems to handle payments, data, and customer services. And in the days of GDPR, a constant spend on legal compliance.

Selling via a digital marketplace, on the other hand, is simple. Sign-up to their seller programme, upload your inventory and you’re off. It’s a different ecosystem, usually with some complex baked-in optimization options, or promotional mechanisms, internal ads, sponsored listings and so on. As a result, prices tend to fluctuate much faster within online marketplaces than in brick-and-mortar retail, creating fierce competition. However, cost savings of marketplaces over e-commerce shops makes a compelling business case for many SME brands.

Innovative solutions like Shopify work great for low-volume sales, but if you’re a brand selling thousands of units via brick-and-mortar retailers, or selling direct-to-consumer, running a branded e-commerce shop needs significant investment in robust tech and complex systems to handle payments, data, and customer services

It’s not (just) about the money, money, money

There’s also a compelling user experience element to online marketplacing, which is arguably more important than the cost efficacy.  Marketplaces maximize the mental availability of products. Mental availability is a term coined by marketing sciences Professor Byron Sharp, to describe the ease with which a product becomes available to a shopper while they are intending to purchase. It’s a complex way of saying beyond brand awareness, or brand relevance to your shopping trip, the products shoppers are most likely to buy are the ones that appear in front of them while they are shopping. Mental availability is the reason why we might go to the supermarket for milk and eggs, but come back with a new BBQ and a bunch of pot plants.

In terms of brick-and-mortar stores, increasing mental availability is traditionally the role of point of sales installations. In-store concessions, nail bars and restaurants in department stores fulfil the same function. Within digital places (websites and mobile apps) this means serving-up your content in the places where people are shopping for your category of product. Those mentally available digital places are Amazon, eBay, Etsy, ASOS etc. (Yes, marketplaces… not branded standalone webshops).

Mental availability is the reason why we might go to the supermarket for milk and eggs, but come back with a new BBQ and a bunch of pot plants.

To put that into perspective, approximately 55% of product-specific web searches take place on Amazon (yes, more than Google) and sales conversions for Amazon pay-per-click listings are reported to be up to 10x higher than the average 2% Google PPC conversion rate for product sales (because if you’re Googling, you could be shopping, but if you’re Amazoning, you’re probably shopping).

Everyone’s going marketplace?

There’s a surprisingly complex relationship between brick-and-mortar and online retail. For example, when they went bust, 20% of House of Fraser’s 2017/18 sales were online and growing. John Lewis just spent £500m on a massive digital omnichannel upgrade, yet they are having their worst year since 1954. Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Tesco… no matter where you look you see brick-and-mortar giants investing heavily in online retail, but they’re still struggling. This year’s forecast for online sales growth in the UK is approximately 9%, down from 12.1% last year and 15.9% in 2016. So it’s not simply a case of online good, offline bad.

Slowing online sales, same as the struggling High Street, indicate bigger economic problems are to blame for poor retail performances in recent years, like slow economic growth, a weak sterling exchange rate, inflation, wage stagnation, rising rents and consumer credit card debts. It’s a massive and complex topic, but one effect the slow economy is having on brands is making it even more important to maximize sales and marketing bang-per-buck by placing products where user buying intent is highest, i.e., marketplaces. Which explains why marketplaces like Amazon and Alibaba are booming, but also smaller players like Ocado, which operates like a marketplace with a range of small suppliers, is the UK’s fastest growing supermarket.

The boom of marketplace models are also driving some major new initiatives in the retail world. Google is busy signing deals to partner with marketplace brands like Walmart, Chinese giant, and French supermarket chain Carrefour to develop new ‘retail ecosystem’ models (i.e. marketplaces). They are also launching Google Shopping Actions, a new programme with cost-per-sale pricing to (presumably to make-up for their low performing PPC sales conversion rate compared to Amazon) and build intelligent shopping baskets around users, with features like single checkouts for multiple stores, buy-it-again options, and built-in suggested items. Which sounds a lot like Amazon. Could Google be turning the whole web into Google marketplace? Hmmm….

The limits of marketplaces are defined by CX

Retail Week research suggests 44% of e-retailers are developing a marketplace model to replace their current e-commerce offerings, where they either buy third party stock but fulfill it via the third party’s own warehouse and delivery, or adopt a true ‘dropshipping’ marketplace model, taking commission sales via their front end while the third party fulfils the order themselves. By becoming a marketplace, retailers effectively increase their chances of attracting higher conversion-rate shoppers, and by placing their products within other marketplaces, they are more likely to surface products to high conversion-rate shoppers. Which is great, but there’s one thing marketplaces can’t do, and never could, and that’s give brands control over the customer experience they offer.

By becoming a marketplace, retailers effectively increase their chances of attracting higher conversion-rate shoppers, and by placing their products within other marketplaces, they are more likely to surface products to high conversion-rate shoppers.

Back in the old days, when a tribal chieftain or the Queen of Sheba (or whoever) wanted to go shopping for a new sword or crown, they didn’t nip down to the market. Nope. They had a craftsman visit them. In modern terms, that’s like buying luxury goods. It’s unlikely people will ever buy an Aston Martin, or artworks, or high priced diamond jewelry or luxury wristwatches off Amazon (yes, even Prime). In fact, there are many customer journeys that don’t fit well with online marketplaces.

Shopping at whole foods

Luxury brands have a huge investment in branding, so the generic UX and CX of a marketplace is unlikely to ever really work for them. Similarly, exclusive fashion brands, high end technology, certain fresh foods, groceries and beverages, are designed around touchy-feely customer experiences and expectations that only really work with direct sales via physical stores, or dedicated, specialist digital experiences.

So, finally, we reach the limits of the marketplace and discover, ironically, they’re the same now as they were in ancient Babylonia, around 3000 BCE when the first marketplaces were recorded. For the vast majority of products, and everyday customer needs, marketplaces work brilliantly. For certain categories of product and specialist customer needs, there will always be a role for bespoke, direct-to-consumer sales and exclusive retailers.

For certain categories of product and specialist customer needs, there will always be a role for bespoke, direct-to-consumer sales and exclusive retailers.

As Gartner predicted, price and product are becoming less important as brand differentiators than customer experience. The role of CX cuts both ways in retail, favoring the convenience and one-stop-shop ease of online marketplaces over visiting multiple online stores, and also favoring exclusive online and offline experiences for certain kinds of products. In terms of what this means for the High Street, we should expect a rebalancing effect, where more and more retailers merge into a mix of own-brand and marketplace stock, blending catering, warehousing, retail and services in new omnichannel store experiences.

That’s the power of market forces in the digital, omnichannel retail era. And you know where market forces started out, right? Yup.

Design thinking to improve candidate experience Thu, 08 Jun 2017 15:21:26 +0100 Design thinking to improve candidate experience

Our parent organization, Sutherland, asked us to experiment with new ways of approaching existing recruitment challenges through a Design Thinking approach.

talent acquisition workshop


In an extremely competitive marketplace, how might we better attract the right talent? How can we improve retention by better understanding the end-to-end recruitment and employment journey of our employees? These are some of the questions Sutherland Labs have been tackling in our own organization – working alongside our Talent Acquisition teams.


We used immersive research to ‘walk in candidates shoes’ to understand a candidate journey throughout the recruitment process. We created behavioral personas, helping to segment, identify ‘star’ target audiences and better understand their idiosyncrasies. We also created journey maps that gave a visual representation which help to articulate pain points and crucial insight that often lead to ideas for improvements and solutions.

Talent acquisition journey maps


The insights helped our colleagues to reframe the story during the recruitment process, which in turn impacted their messaging, advertising and social media activity. The results have included a significant increase in social media followers and engagement, following a reworked advertising campaign. The project also contributed towards wider strategic goals of improving employee engagement, and aided a change of mindset within HR functions.

Rethinking in-hospital entertainment Tue, 14 Jun 2016 10:17:09 +0100 Rethinking in-hospital entertainment

Our client, global provider of hospital entertainment systems, asked us to analyze customer experience of their current system and inform the design of a cleverly user-centric new one.

TV remote and tablet


TV, radio, games, other interactive content: hospital bedside entertainment has the power to positively transform patient experience. But many patients in this study were not engaging with our client’s current system and opting instead to use their own devices. We were called on to conduct deep analysis of patient needs. Our findings then inspired the design of a revolutionary new system – to make hospital stays infinitely more entertaining.


From registering for the first time, to tuning in to the radio or finding a good film, we first identified key user tasks. We then conducted interviews with staff, patients and family members across different wards – Elderly, Stroke, Children, etc. – to find out how these tasks could be carried out most efficiently. Insights from discussions, interviews, focus groups and a visit to the client call centre were then translated into different personae and journey maps. The outcome? As many as 50 different propositions to guide development of the new system.


These propositions included: a friendlier, more accessible user interface; a promotional loop on the homepage to raise key feature awareness; a simplified VOC library structure to enable easy browsing; and extended account management features for families to enable them to make purchases on a patient’s behalf.

Hospital ward
Designing a better patient experience Tue, 07 Jun 2016 13:37:57 +0100 Designing a better patient experience

From billing and online payment to registration and insurance, effective healthcare requires effective administration. And, for a joint study by Sutherland Healthcare and its non-profit partner, this was a starting premise.

User on iPad


Our globally renowned healthcare client asked us to observe administration across its facilities and decipher what was working well, and where there was room for improvement – with a focus on billing, registration, online activity, signage and numerous other non-clinical issues.


Our starting point was to closely observe over 100 patients and staff in a variety of settings across its two hospitals and contact centre, considering factors such as environment, education and general operations in order to enhance day-to-day experiences. Our six main areas of exploration were as follows: transition from paper to online processes; online self-service; medical payment issues; education and awareness of costs in relation to healthcare; healthcare insurance; and the possible overuse of brochures and posters in medical environments.


Our research enabled us to identify pain points in the customer and staff journeys and to offer inspired solutions. These included: a new patient portal providing self-service registration and access to clinical information; text message reminders and late running notifications; a mobile app updating family members on patient status; cost estimator tools to make costs more transparent; online application and payment for financial aid; a loyalty programme; and a new strategy to increase awareness and uptake of health insurance exchanges.

Doctors walking in hospital
Designing a roadmap to customer loyalty Fri, 01 Apr 2016 13:37:40 +0100 Designing a roadmap to customer loyalty

Enhanced customer experience equals greater customer loyalty. And for one client, a successful pet services retailer, this is what we set out to achieve.

Pet store dog beds


What does the future hold? This particular client envisioned a future full of opportunity, one in which their loyal customers reaped the benefits of better services and experiences. But they needed our help in shaping this vision and transforming bright ideas into positive actions.


The challenge was to improve customer loyalty by identifying opportunities for innovation and better aligning customer experience, at the same as exploring the potential for moving certain services online. Sutherland’s ethnographic researchers sprang into action – observing and interviewing over 100 employees, partners and customers, at home as well as in store, to build up an-in depth picture of their experiences. Insights were then shared with the client through documentary film and behavioral profiles of common customer types.


Our research led to greater understanding of the drivers of customer loyalty, and provided the basis for suggestions on how to make pet-lover customers happier. These suggestions ranged from improved mobile scheduling and in-store product placement to the development of more effective employee training methods – illustrated through vision maps for a brighter, better future.

Dog check up
Bringing a health insurer closer to its customers Mon, 14 Mar 2016 10:16:54 +0100 Bringing a health insurer closer to its customers

A strategy for smarter, more concise digital communications and a refreshed, customer-centric mindset: this is what we achieved for this rapidly expanding health insurance multinational.

Journey mapping workshop


Our client, a global provider of health insurance, wanted to reconnect with its customers. Having grown significantly through acquisition, in order become a company that today spans cultures, countries and time zones, they asked us to help re-centre customer experience and restore coherence to their channels of communication.


You can’t connect with customers without understanding them, so our research team analyzed the personae of the company’s key customer groups, involving stakeholders across its business – from IT to sales, operations or customer service. Our creative team then presented initial insights via reports, films and journey maps, before validating them with customer focus groups.


We helped our client develop a customer-centric mindset internally, gaining deeper understanding of the needs and behavior of its predominantly senior customer base, while developing a brand new digital roadmap for the years ahead. And while education starts at home, we also delivered board-level educational sessions to raise awareness of the benefits of customer-centric design – leading, ultimately, to a more unified company vision.

Patient being examined