Having too much choice is causing consumers to suffer from ‘purchase anxiety’, according to a new report, with as many as 41 per cent of consumers in the UK, US and Asia-Pacific saying they experience some degree of worry about what they are buying.
People are also suffering from ‘cognitive overload’ where they are presented with too much information and choice when making decisions, according to the report by the CEB, formerly Corporate Executive Board. This in turn leads to them researching products in greater depth than before, with 12 per cent saying they spend more time on research than they did two years ago and 20 per cent saying they re-research a product even after they have made a purchase decision.
People are even concerned about actions that marketers might consider simple, such as going to a supermarket to buy orange juice. One of the 7000 consumers in the survey notes that there were up to 20 options to choose from in one store.
For marketers who follow the traditional purchase model – based on awareness, consideration, trial and finally purchase – too much choice is a challenge in engaging consumers, says Matt McCance, CEB’s executive adviser and research director.
“We find that as a device for trying to engage with consumers along their purchase path, the traditional model is not sufficient to keep consumers on track towards a purchase – in fact, it can overwhelm them.”
When consumers spend more time on research, they assign greater importance to what they are going to buy, which results in less confident, less loyal consumers, McCance claims.
“Factors such as willingness to try new brands, technology, pricing, discounts and the impact of the economy on switching store brands are disrupting the way consumers make purchase decisions,” he says.
The recession is also causing many people to go to lower-end retailers for the first time, making them less attached to their regular brands and stores. This behaviour is cemented by technologies that make it easier to learn about and buy from new retailers, which increases competition.
With this plethora of information and choice comes a new way of thinking about marketing, says McCance. He calls it “learn, trust and weigh”. Learn relates to brands being able to guide the consumer in their research, by using clear product information.
Trust is about using ratings and reviews during the shopping experience to help people make an informed decision. Brand advocates are also highlighted as a vital engagement tool. “Brands are using them to help convey trustworthy information. It’s not about brands trying to convey trustworthy information themselves, because that’s a difficult proposition. Consumers are more sceptical of brands, so using the consumer to help convey that message for you is critical,” says McCance.
US brand JCPenney’s ‘haul’ campaign is cited as an example of making deciding what to buy simpler. The retailer seeks out teenagers who have posted ‘haul’ videos on YouTube – where they excitedly show off their fashion purchases and how they will wear them – and deploys them as advisers to help other customers decide what to buy.
The third way to simplify is to ‘weigh’, where consumers have access to key information they need to make comparisons between brands, by using buying guides that suggest rather than tell consumers why products are right for them.
This approach might improve brands’ relationships with consumers because up to 70 per cent of people put off deciding exactly what to buy until they are at the point of purchase. Two-thirds say they decide on spec what to buy, rather than sticking to the brands they know best.
Making it as simple as possible to shop without having to build new stores is something that Tesco is looking into. In South Korea, virtual stores in underground stations enable commuters to buy groceries from a billboard via their smartphones, allowing them to make in-the-moment purchase decisions.
The supermarket giant has launched a similar initiative at Gatwick Airport, where consumers can browse a range of products by scrolling through moving screens on virtual ‘fridges’ and use a smartphone app to add products to their baskets. Screens in the departure lounge encourage people to buy, book or save a shopping delivery for when they return from holiday.
Tesco internet retailing director Ken Towle says: “This is more of a prompt and a way to make it easier to access Tesco.com. It gets people thinking about technology and how shopping will be different in the future. We are responding to the wider use of smartphones as a huge amount is spent online via mobile.”
Marks & Spencer is also using technology to help people decide what to buy. Its Cheshire Oaks store features six 70-inch digital ‘inspiration’ screens to help customers work out which clothes go together, along with 12 browse and order screens and 10 iPad assistants.
M&S also has guided selling apps for its bedding department, advising consumers on pillow and duvet choice and a skincare app that helps shoppers choose the right range for their needs.
In-store technology is used to help the customer select and order the right things, but “there is also a big job to be done around inspiration, engagement and triggering customer needs”, says Benjy Meyer, head of new channels development at M&S.
“Digital content that can be played in-store, especially when it is interactive, helps with inspiration and engagement,” he says. Customers can view items, see the look on a catwalk model or view the latest looks in-store.
Meyer adds that while many customers are bringing smartphones and mobile devices into stores, there are still people who don’t have access to this technology. Making the technology available on screens in-store helps these customers use the resources available to see the entire range.
“While 50 per cent of the population have a smartphone and are using it for shopping, clearly the other 50 per cent need some coaching, help and confidence building along the way,” he says.
Simplifying how people shop can have a greater effect on whether consumers consider and buy products, according to CEB’s research. Brands that provide the right amount of information, advice and guidance via the right channels – rather than adding to the noisy environment – will succeed at simplifying purchasing for their consumers.
We ask marketers on the frontline whether our ‘trends’ research matches their research on the ground
Head of new channels development
Marks and Spencer
It’s very easy to be overloaded with information but it depends on what you’re buying. Washing machines, for example [can be complicated]. There are lots of brands that offer different types and if you delve deeper, you will find that retailers have exclusives with certain brands so you can never truly compare across retailers, products and brands.
In more emotional categories, such as fashion, it’s different. Men’s tie brands will do exclusives with Selfridges or John Lewis. But M&S sells its own products so we are here to give customers information about the products and we don’t feel like we are overloading them because we have created a range that is about the right size for the needs of the customer, including the online and store range.
We work through a customer journey framework. One of the steps on the journey is ‘select’, where we help customers choose the right products for their needs, and that applies across lots of different areas in different ways.
For example, we created a tool for skincare to help the customer choose the best regime for their needs. That is a proposition directly aimed at helping consumers find their way. In addition, there are a number of things we have started and will continue to develop around fashion.
Our customers often tell us they can feel overwhelmed by the number of options and offers available. They also tell us they can trust us to give them an edited assortment of the best products. They don’t need to see every kettle available to mankind. Rather, they want to see what our expert buyers think are the best kettles at different price points.
Our partners inform our customers by giving them expert, impartial advice on what they want to buy. We do this online through ratings and reviews and buying guides from our partners.
Our customers are driven by the need to buy well and they purchase when they feel they are getting great quality, service and fair prices. Ratings, reviews and recommendations have a really positive impact on the customer’s decision making and ensure they are more likely to buy a product with confidence.
John Lewis is launching a pop-up shop this month in Exeter, offering fashion, beauty, consumer electronics and home products. It will also act as a click-and-collect hub.
We are using the pop-up shop to engage with a new catchment of customers in Exeter, who may not have experienced the John Lewis brand before. It will help to build anticipation for the opening of the new department store in October.
Retail marketing manager
Shoppers want to have interaction with another human to guide them through the paradox of choice. They want to feel safe and confident in their purchases – often in the electronics arena it is more akin to an investment than an everyday purchase and people want to be sure they have made the right choice.
People want to feel confident in these purchases and few things can replace the reassurance and knowledge available from store staff when making those purchasing decisions. The retail staff are the people on the front-line, who consumers should trust to give them the correct information.
With the research element of the consumer purchase journey shifting more and more to online, face-to-face consumer interaction becomes rarer, in turn making the in-store experience more important than ever.
How people buy
‘Funnel’ is the process people go through in 33 per cent of purchases. This starts with the consumers being open to anything, narrowing this choice down and then buying.
‘Spindle’, which accounts for 32 per cent of purchases, is where consumers are open to what they buy, add options throughout the purchase journey and change their minds three to four times before buying.
‘Tunnel’ is straightforward and represents 35 per cent of purchases. Here consumers know what they want, find it and buy it, although they do not always have a brand in mind when they go shopping and may buy the first brand they come across. These people are likely to be first-time buyers with no previous experience of a product, especially when buying luxury items or cars.
Shoppers who fall into the first two categories are 15 per cent more likely than those with ‘tunnel’ vision to get distracted from what they originally intended to buy and go for a different brand. They are also 10 per cent less likely to recommend what they buy than tunnel buyers.
Source: MLC Consumer Stickiness Survey.