Hide and Seek

An experiment to investigate how current shopping affordances may conflict with so-called “frictionless” shopping scenarios



The Hide and Seek intervention was intended to elicit knowledge about the ‘frictions’ that are present in the high street. By frictions we mean the stresses and strains that shoppers and shop assistants feel as the flow of shopping slows down or shoppers experience resistance in getting things done.

The high street is presently organised around only a few models of practice that are old and traditional as we know it. In general shops store vast quantities of generic stock and we as shoppers are invited to browse this stock, and then pay for it at a till before leaving.

Whilst shops have worked hard to re-organise the layout, look and feel, and introduce cafes, music and good lighting to make the in-store experience as frictionless as possible, the till remains a persistent point of friction involving queuing, sometimes slow payment processes and bagging up. However, these methods are ingrained in to the habits of shoppers and vendors and represent part of the jurisdiction of shopping. Breaching or transgressing these conventions such as attempting not to pay, jumping the queue, or even putting things into the shop (rather than taking them away), can cause more stress.

By recruiting participants to play a game across a series of shops in the High Street the team were interested in establishing an alternative jurisdiction that would support different behaviours in shops. By reflecting upon how participants felt about playing the game, which was at odds with the prevailing jurisdiction of the shops, we hoped to understand where frictions were, but also the tactics that people would use to alleviate any stress that was caused through the friction.

The game then was simple – ask participants to hide a series of previously bought items in shops in Princes Street, Edinburgh, when the items are dropped off, the participant could then take part in finding products that other participants had dropped off. The more products you could drop off and find the more the study would reward you.

The team developed an SMS platform that allowed participants to alert the server when something had been #dropped along with some clues about where to find the object (which shop, location in shop, close to other products etc). Once this SMS is sent from a participant then the server allocates them an object to find with clues from a previous participant. Once a participant finds an product they should SMS back a reply #found before dropping this object and repeating the process.


The study took place on Sunday the 22nd of February 2015, and involved 5 participants aged in their early 20’s. We began at 2pm and finished soon after 4pm.




The game was enjoyed and many strategies emerged as different people used different tactics to win as well as a play the game without being noticed.

Audio interview captured some of the reflections about the experience as well as the tactics and we will transcribe these later in the project.

For the purpose of this workbook some quick insights are:

– Some participants had to repeat a mantra ‘this is just a game’ to allow them to cope with the friction of apparently shop lifting items.

– Some participants had knowledge of Princes Street which informed the low friction places in which they could drop off objects.

– Some participants used their smart phone as a purposeful distraction to carrying out transgressive practices as though being on the smart phone hid any devious intentions.

– Participants talked about the gaze of others as a significant friction equally from fellow shoppers as well as security and shop assistants.

As a preliminary study it was successful at eliciting knowledge and we would like to carry out more with a more diverse range of participants in different shopping environments.