It seem like I’ve run across a number of article on embarrassment lately and at some point I need to connect them all together. That isn’t this post. Joshua Gans has the most recent one I’ve run across: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_enlightened_manager/2013/12/complicated_pizza_orders_the_outsized_role_embarrassment_plays_in_consumer.html
If you really can increase sales by dealing with embarrassment as a consumer behavior, then that becomes a design factor for both products and processes. It would also call in to question existing practices. The one that jumps immediately to mind is retail clothing. Without even going to the extreme of the ‘What not to wear’ show that just went off the air, I suspect this is an area that is fraught with potential personal embarrassment for customers. Clothing choices are a) incredibly personal b) something that no matter how old you are seem like you should already know how to do and c) are known to be ruthlessly judged pretty much universally. That all being said, I think most people, given the opportunity to spend a day with a professional wardrobe stylist (say they won it for free) would take advantage of it. (As long as it wasn’t being televised) Being fussed with and focused on is something many people appreciate. The closest I can think of to the stylist in retail is when buying a suit. I have had the experience in suit buying with a good salesperson where they are knowledgeable about fit, cloth weight, and cut and hopefully they steer you toward safer choices. Even then though it is less about putting you in to something that based on their expertise really is an exceptional choice and more about what is going to work for you well enough to buy. That does make sense in capturing the sale. Most clothing retailing I’ve been exposed to, even for higher end servicey kinds of stores (for men and women) the experience is about piles and racks of stuff with maybe some glossy posters on the wall of folks that don’t look like you. The staff is usually about pointing you to the right piles and ringing you up. I think the embarrassment factor gets dealt with mainly by leaving you alone which, frankly, I think is what customers have learned to want. This strikes me as a process design failure. It seems to me that there has to be a way to look at the customer experience design for retail clothing and come up with a solution that addresses customer embarrassment, provides a safe environment for customers to see and learn some things stylistically, and works from a business model/cost function standpoint.
On a tangential note, if embarrassment is a powerful factor to be dealt with in customer experience design, I wonder what other overlooked factors there are lurking out there.