There is nothing worse than the produce section of the grocery store at 3pm on a Sunday. Parents chasing after their children, shopping carts coming at you from every direction and the inevitable empty shelf where that one vegetable needed to complete a recipe was fully stocked just 24 hours ago. Although large grocers like Kroger and Trader Joe’s are working on improving their customer experience, upstarts like Blue Apron help customers avoid the experience altogether. They have reinvented grocery shopping by eliminating whole steps of the customer journey, and focusing on what matters most: the fun of cooking.

We are in an age where developing a fun, frictionless experience creates a competitive advantage.  And not just in the grocery sector.  Mattress start-up, Casper, became a $100 million company in less than two years, generating a vocal fan base by rethinking the customer journey and delivering a seamless experience. Eliminating the arduous and time-consuming task of mattress shopping, Casper delivers a simple, affordable, and neatly packaged product directly to customers’ doors. By identifying ways to eliminate unpleasant steps of the journey and focus on the fun, we’ve outlined how you can create a more loyal customer base and a unique opportunity for growth, no matter the size or strategy of your business.

But first, back to the kale and white bean soup. Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh have all reimagined the experience of cooking dinner. The traditional process can be exhausting for some – searching for a recipe, driving down to the local store, hunting store aisles for the right ingredients and quantities, waiting in line, organizing and prepping ingredients, and finally, cooking and serving a (hopefully) delicious meal. Throughout this process, the fun part doesn’t begin until the end.

Companies like those mentioned above address that issue by cutting out the painful or mundane parts of the experience. They provide recipes, pre-packaged ingredients and delivery so that you can skip the steps you don’t love and jump right into what you enjoy most – cooking. 

Another example is shopping for new clothes. Consider driving to a crowded mall, searching through racks upon racks of tightly packed clothes, spending time in the dressing room, debating purchasing decision, waiting in lines, and finally getting home with a bag of new purchases. Exhausting, right? Bombfell, an online monthly clothing subscription, helps eliminate steps of the process by sending curated boxes of clothing each month.

Based on your own personal size, style and clothing needs, stylists will curate a box of clothing (which you can adjust before shipment), leaving you to try on and keep only what you want. Cutting out the crowded mall and long checkout lines leaves more time for the fun part of shopping and improves the overall experience.

These innovative business models reveal two things:

  1. that customers will pay a premium to remove friction from their customer journey and
  2. that customers are willing to pay for an experience that addresses higher order needs

A traditional grocer or retailer fulfils a customer need: shopping. Blue Apron fulfils that same need but also amplifies an unarticulated need, the desire to discover new food and learn new cooking skills. By not only removing a pain point but also adding to the equation, companies can sustain higher price points and build stronger customer loyalty.

Tapping into customer needs and building an experience that stands out will not only help improve your top line, but it could put you at the forefront of your industry’s next big disruption.

Creating new services, tools and business models

In large corporations, new services, tools and business models can be created in a number of ways:

Build on what you’ve got

First, organizations don’t need to fundamentally redesign their business model (nor should they) to experiment with creating better customer experiences. Macy’s took note of customer frustration with browsing multilevel department stores trying to find pieces that fit their style, size and budget.  They introduced My Stylist, a free service where shoppers can book online appointments with in-house stylists who will fill a dressing room with options and offer service and support on-site. This incremental improvement fundamentally changes the experience by focusing on the fun part of shopping while building a stronger connection to the brand.

Buy your disruptor before they disrupt

Dollar Shave Club, the direct-to-consumer shaving products company is the latest of many disruptors in the Consumer Products industry. With over 3.2 million members and 5% of the market in 2015, the young company served as a serious source of competition for traditional players like Unilever and P&G. In response, Unilever acquired the start-up for a reported $1 billion and with it, an innovative new way to serve customers through a more streamlined experience and candid, fun social media advertising.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em

Large corporations have plenty of opportunities to add offerings and compete with more nimble startups while at the same time creating a stronger connection and sense of loyalty among customers. Grocer Publix has among the best customer experience achieved through exceptional service, modern convenience and innovative new services. This summer, they partnered with Instacart to offer in-home delivery services. If they can leverage the success of this initial partnership, competing with companies like Blue Plate could be the next step in delighting their consumer, increasing brand loyalty and improving their competitive advantage.

Next time you’re looking for innovative ways to improve your customer experience, be they incremental or transformative, start with what customers enjoy most. Figure out how your experience can go over and above customer expectations so they can focus on the fun. Customers may be able to buy an apple or a mattress from any one of your competitors, but if you can improve their journey by eliminating arduous steps and highlighting pleasant ones, loyalty will likely follow. At a time when technology and innovation are creating more competition and elevating customer’s expectations in every industry, if you’re not proactive, your industries newest startup could be tomorrow’s market leader.