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Want Loyalty? Make Shopping Easier

First off, I should be completely honest: this post is a shameless plug for the fact that we’ve got a long piece in this month’s Harvard Business Review on last year’s research into decision simplicity. If you’re a new member, or have forgotten, here’s the gist of what we found: in an atmosphere where consumers are bombarded with thousands of messages a day, the brands that simplify their consumers’ lives – rather than burden them further with more offers and messages – are the ones that will win in the new consumer environment.

Specifically, we found that cognitive overload – aka “decision paralysis” – is the biggest cause of consumer attrition and that brand “engagement” strategies – including endless e-mails and most social media campaigns – are a low-return approach to improving consumer stickiness. What does work in improving attrition rates, however, is dramatic simplification - brand activities that help customers advise each other, streamline the purchase journey, and provide transparent buying schemas and guides – that cumulatively helps consumers feel at ease with the buying journey and their purchases.

Whew. That’s a lot of links; B2C marketers really should peruse them to understand what near-constant messaging is doing to consumer attention spans and willingness to switch. But this week, we found a perfect example of a retail brand dramatically simplifying what can be a complex consumer decision: what to make for dinner.

Think about the dinner decision from the perspective of someone shopping for a family. First, you have multiple – 3, 4, 5 or more – finnicky tastes you must factor into your decision. You have to factor in time – what can we cook in the spare minutes between soccer practice and homework? You want to buy something healthy, but (if you’re like most American consumers) are not entirely sure what “healthy” means. And, you may not know how to prepare the healthy food in the first place. Combine that with the explosion of choices available at most grocery stores, and who can blame consumers for throwing up their hands and simply buying whatever looks good and quick?

US grocery chain Wegmans has a solution: they invented a new kind of cooking (seriously).

Understanding that many consumers might not be aware of how to prepare the plethora of fresh vegetables the store offers, and aware of the need for simple, fast solutions for putting a healthy dinner on the table, the company’s test kitchens invented “pan-simmering”, which involves stir-frying then braising vegetables in a ready-made sauce. The entire process takes about fifteen minutes and involves only one pot – a healthy, flavorful dinner on the table that’s easy to clean up. They also put together a buying guide, designed to help consumers pair particular kinds of veggies with the sauces available, as well as a how-to video:

The end result is a dramatically simplified visit to the grocery store, and the promise of a good, healthy, easy meal on the table when the family gets home. It’s exciting to see brands put decision simplicity into action, and we’ll be watching carefully to see what rewards Wegmans reaps from its efforts.

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