A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany of sorts. Having just completed a 24 hour fundraising event and awoken to find myself slumped against the hotel room’s wall, mere metres from the bed and mere centimetres from a meal which I’d perversely been looking forward to a few narcoleptic hours earlier, BBC News was showing a programme about retail as part of The Bottom Line series.

Too tired to move, I sat there and watched a number of striking parallels with the way we consider and build intranets which moved beyond the analogy of the intranet homepage being the shop window which has been so heavily used, it is almost a cliché (I’ve been guilty of this too). However it soon became clear it wasn’t just our display window which united us with retailers.

“Take Out the Hassle, Add Some Dazzle!”

There were two schools of thought. One argued people want to find what they want quickly but where they do it needs to look attractive i.e. “take out the hassle, add some dazzle!” whilst the other argued the theatre of the experience didn’t matter, it was driven purely by the quality of the content.

Does this sound familiar to anyone else when it comes to form versus function arguments during intranet design phases?

What is the Value of Your Store?

The panel identified retail value as: price x quality x time to find

For your intranet this should be: ease of access x quality x time to find

Offer a Value Proposition

“You have to offer a value proposition they identify with to get them through the door”. Your intranet tools and content must be positioned to promote why they are better than the alternatives to your users.

You also need to know your customer base to know who you need to target to encourage greater intranet adoption, after all, this is your employee portal. This can easily be done using our intranet analytics software, which will help to tackle user habits such as using shared drives and email in instances when the intranet would be more appropriate, as the guests stated “how attractive is our brand and who is it attractive to? What do they find in our store which is different to the other side of the street?”

Destination Goods and Instant Pick Up Purchases

Attract users with destination goods such as Holiday Booking and use Interact Recommends when they get there to peak their interest, these are things they may need to know but don’t come to the intranet for such as a Health and Safety Policy – “destination goods are the pieces people will walk a long way for and draws people through the store. Instant pick up purchases are placed right under people’s noses as they travel to the destination goods attracting more discretionary purchases”.

Freshness is a Big Part of What Retailers Do

“We put flowers and fruit at the front of the store because freshness is a big part of what retailers do.”

Content producers, be that part of your authors team or general user generated content, keep your intranet timely, giving people a reason to keep coming back. It is important that we don’t leave content to rot anywhere on a company intranet but especially not on the homepages. This rotting content is easy to identify if you manage your analytics well.

Knowledge Imparted By Someone You Can Trust

Shoppers “want to get knowledge and have that imparted by someone they can trust”

Profile Endorsements against skills help to build that trust whilst Presence tells you who can assist you immediately. A blog, which is essential on your collaboration software, by an expert or conversely by a front line worker will impart a very different message to a centrally driven article.

Successful Transactions With Your Eyes Closed

Make your Information Architecture easy to follow with no more than seven top menu items. Strong navigation reduces the risk of click backs which acts as a major obstacle to intranet adoption – “if the customer has to follow a certain path, the likelihood of a successful transaction is higher”.

The Whole Experience is Greater Than the Sum of the Individual Parts

The interviewees discussed how stores couldn’t work in isolation, they needed to “co-operate with each other and developers of sites themselves”.

Your intranet is just the same, if it is task driven all tasks must be accessible, if the information architecture is built around departments, those departments need to have a similar look and feel as well as work mutually to help users get the work they need to do, done – “the whole experience is greater than the sum of the individual parts”.

If there are other tools being used in the business such as a knowledge base or SalesForce, look at which tools are picking up which tasks. Once you and those responsible for similar applications understand this, you can make it far easier for the user to know where to go to do specific tasks or find specific information – “the own brand products you can’t get anywhere else”.

Make it Easy to Travel Between Departments

Whilst the retailers diverged from intranet ideals when discussing “stores make it deliberately difficult to find things to make you travel around the store” they also discussed the importance of clear access, placing escalators to “penetrate huge spaces in the most efficient way”, you should look to do the same with effective search and navigation.

Do Your Employees Feel Like Partners in Your Business?

Andy Street, MD of John Lewis, described his business’ partnership model where every employee is a stakeholder in the business. He described how ideas and process were shaped at all levels “something’s are decided by the partners themselves…and there will be examples where they influence and hold management accountable.”

Businesses such as Glasgow Housing Association have shown how powerful this mentality can be in a social business, particularly with their Think Yes campaign to turn challenges into opportunities.

So does your intranet look like the first day of the sales with activity anywhere or is it a crumbling street of vacant properties? Following the lessons above will prove the value of your intranet and see your information store thrive.