Today’s markets are highly competitive, no matter if we’re talking about cars, the next electronic gadget, or the new dress line a company just put on Amazon. Both makers and sellers are spinning their wheels and failing 1/3 of the time. That is a lot of waste, and a significant carbon footprint issue alone. If consumers think free shipping is free, it’s not. Someone has to pay for all those returns and disposal of all that returned merchandise.
There is little doubt that touch influences perception and choice. We are creatures of habit and emotion. When we initially see something, using our sight, our minds build an expectation of an experience. If the expectation is positive, our minds want to let our other senses in on further understanding the situation. If you’re like most creative people, we next may want to risk touching whatever it is, at first with the tip of our fingers and then with our whole hand. We listen to the sound our hands make on the surface. Is it slick, or is it cold? Does it give way under our finger or is it tacky? Our minds process this information at 11 trillion bits per second.
But what happens when our eyes lie to our other senses?
Our minds make the connection. We recoil, we back off, we’re disappointed. We may not want to touch whatever it is ever again.
As creators, making things appealing to end consumers is critical to them enjoying the purchase, appreciating the value of our efforts, and making repeat purchases.
Syn Touch is focused on precisely and repeatedly quantifying touch.
An ever-present challenge that faces product designers, engineers and creators is that everyone has an opinion, especially around the office. What one person thinks is great, another person can’t stand. Many companies use the ‘grandma’ technique. They ask everyone in the building and their grandmas which prospective material they like. Ask a hundred people, and one can get a hundred different and confusing answers. Multiply that by asking potential customers all over the country or the globe.
And, let’s face it, when companies are doing focus groups, sometimes it’s a challenge to read people and put their feedback into context. Anything can change the same person’s feedback, from the time of day, day of the week, if he or she had a rough day, bad traffic, their kids were late for school and the principal talked them into PTA service on the way out, or they may have just had lunch with good friends they hadn’t seen in years. Culture and environment may also play a part in how people answer, which sometimes results in leading questions posed by people trying to ‘guide’ answers. Anything can skew subjective data.
How many projects have gone back to square one after an inconclusive focus group? How many designers and engineers have heard the words, ‘ I don’t know what I want, but I know it when I feel it.’
Eventually, knee deep in piles of product revisions and stack of data analysis that an expensive outside company promised would be the magi-bullet to win sales, a group of stakeholders are left glazed over, staring at each other ready to flip a coin. Depending on the personality of the loudest person in the room, right or wrong, decisions are made.
So, once a product is launched, a company’s random or overbearing decision on material choice may start to accumulate problems quickly. Many creative people have been in this situation, where everyone is at the ready to Monday morning quarterback and forget who made the final choices.
Shipping and returns have become faster, cheaper and more flexible, and we're much more comfortable submitting credit card information online. Free shipping usually out-ranks just about every preference a purchaser has.
With free returns, quickly fading, as on-line retailers try to curb hemorrhaging margins due to 1/3 of their merchandise coming back in various conditions. Makers need to find better ways to sell complete sales, not boomerang sales.
The state of online shopping is graphic. https://www.returnmagic.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Return-Magic-State-of-returns-Infographic.jpeg
People are getting used to returning things at an alarming rate. 89% of consumers have returned an on-line purchase in the last three years.* (Data from: https://www.returnmagic.com/online-returns/)
Whereas 8.89% of customers returned items to brick and mortar stores. (Data from: https://www.business2community.com/infographics/e-commerce-product-return-statistics-trends-infographic-01505394)
Despite everyone being unable to physically inspect, or try on the products they compare online, as well as most being disappointed by their purchases, online purchasing is getting stronger, with more and more shoppers choosing to purchase with their eyes only and hoping for the best. We as consumers have become creative in our online habits, to try to get what we want. 41% of purchasers have resorted to buying multiple items or multiple sizes with the intent to keep one and return the others. (https://www.returnmagic.com/online-returns/) Why? There are more needs filled than just being able to shop in our PJ’s. Stores are open 24/7. There are no lines, no commissioned salesperson pressuring a more expensive choice, and no reason to drive, find a parking place, and deal with other shoppers.
Buying things on-line can be challenging. Yes, it’s convenient, we save time and can compare prices and shipping from everywhere. Though, we can’t try things on, and we can’t feel what something feels like. The biggest risk we’re taking, next to fit, is touching the surface of something and interacting with it.
There has to be a better way of quantifying surface textures and communicating them internally with our colleagues, clients, marketing departments, and with end consumers. How much time and money is spent on back and forth on tactile qualities? We use a spectrophotometer for color? It got us thinking a while back, why isn’t there something for tactile quality?
Well there is. A company on the cutting edge of haptic touch technologies is Syn Touch, here in Montrose California. We gave Syn Touch an example – a typical 3 color jacquard fabric. We use texture as the third dimension. But what is the right feel for which market? I can’t put a footwear fabric in an auto interior, or can I? And I can use a medical fabric for children’s products or aerospace, or is that ok?
Finally, there is a way to quantify the tactile properties of surfaces and fabrics.
One of our biggest challenges is closing the manufacturing loop to reduce manufacturing waste. We’ve met many clients who’ve been resistant to using recycled materials, telling us that they’ve afraid that the customer will notice a difference in product quality and their returns will increase. Therefore, they’ve resisted cradle to cradle manufacturing. We’ve used recycled materials from several yarn companies and our machines can’t tell the difference. In some cases, we actually like them better.
Another challenge is bench-marking tactile quality of materials like hemp, fiber glass, polypropylene and other materials that we’d like to put up against the skin. How far do we go into the product development process before we know it’s a good fit or not?
Working with several automotive clients who’ve had a difficult time settling on a fabric quality beyond passing their safety testing, we’ve suggested variations of fabrics. But which variation will the end consumer prefer? More choices created more indecision.
Indeed, there is a fair amount of subjective decision making in creating footwear too. Medical products may also benefit from this testing from Syn Touch, in that is not subjective, but repeatable and consistent. Comparing the spider graphs with what humans feel in a surface or fabric, can now be quantified, using haptics and robotics that perform, without the setting up of expectations. Fabdesigns, Inc. has been working with Syn Touch to assist our clients in making some challenging decisions, with technology that has measurable results.
Connie Huffa – Fabdesigns, Inc.
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