Knowledge Bank Blog, Behaviour Change, Shopper Communication

The Power of Simple Shortcuts

Let’s start by talking about political manifestos. Don’t worry. It gets better…

A manifesto is a publication issued by a political party before a general election. It contains the policies that the party stands for and would wish to implement if elected.

Have you ever read one? Probably not.

Have you ever voted in a general election? You probably have.

So how did you decide who to vote for?

Maybe it was the party you voted for last time? Maybe it was the party you generally identify with? Maybe it was what you thought of the leader?

Daniel Kahneman, the Godfather of Behavioural Economics, says that “when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead.”

“Which party has the best manifesto?” is a difficult question. “What do I think of Boris?” is a much easier question. So we answer the easier question.

We use these shortcuts all the time. We do so because we have to. We make hundreds of decisions a day. Some big, most small. The only way to make so many decisions is to use shortcuts.

We don’t think “what shall I have for breakfast?” We think “what do I have for breakfast?”

Why are we talking about this? As always…what is true in life, is true in the retail world.

Shoppers don’t have the time and energy (or interest) to properly evaluate each purchase decision. They are not moving from category to category reading every pack, weighing up propositions, comparing prices and then making an optimal choice.

Instead, they are walking around store or scrolling online using simple mental shortcuts to make their decisions. “I like this brand.” “This looks healthy.” “That looks good value.”

These simple shortcuts can work for or against retailers and brands.

Get the shortcuts right and shoppers will buy you. Get them wrong and they will buy your competition.

So, what are some of the simple shortcuts that shoppers use?

Value Shortcuts. Most shoppers aren’t economists. They don’t divide price by pack size or by portion size to get to the cost per serve of different products. They are looking for simple cues that signal something is good value.

They could be price cues. The big £1 shelf barker signals value. More than the same product at 80p with no big barker. Save £x signals value. Even if £x isn’t much of a discount. Time limited offers signal value. It must be a great offer if it’s only available this week, right?

They could be cues that reframe value away from price. Brand leaders can signal value – “it has to be Heinz.” How long a product lasts can signal value. Fairy washing up liquid consistently tells shoppers that it lasts longer than (cheaper) competitors. Gillette boldly say, “our blades last 2x longer.” There is an asterisk. It’s versus Gillette Sensor. But no shopper is reading the small print. Just the headline.

Ask yourself, how do you want shoppers to judge value in your category? Then give them the best shortcuts to do so.

Quality Shortcuts. Most shoppers aren’t award-winning chefs. They don’t know if the recipe has the perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. They just want to know it tastes good. They are looking for simple cues that signal quality.

Tell shoppers your vanilla ice cream is made from Madagascan vanilla beans, and it signals high quality. Even though most shoppers wouldn’t be able to find Madagascar on a map, let alone explain why vanilla beans from there are good.

Often, it’s not what a brand says about their product, it’s what other people say about the product. Who do you trust most to tell you which toothpaste to use? Dentists. A product wins an award – it must be good. It’s a bestseller, so lots of shoppers buy it – they can’t all be wrong.

Ask yourself, how do you want shoppers to judge quality in your category? Then give them the best shortcuts to do so.

Sustainability Shortcuts. Most shoppers aren’t environmental experts. They’re not interested in the detail of what you are doing in your factory or supply chain to reduce your carbon footprint. They are looking for simple cues that they can do the right thing by buying you.

It could be packaging. Plastic = bad. Recyclable = better. Paper = good. No packaging = even better. It could be about what happens after the product is used. Disposable = bad. Compostable or biodegradable = good. Reusable = even better.

It could be how the product is used. Higher temperature = bad. Lower temperature = good. Ariel have led the way with their “Wash colder. Save up to 75% energy” message. Telling shoppers what to do and why they should do it. It could be what a product is made from. Plastic toothbrushes = bad. Bamboo toothbrushes = good.

Ask yourself, how do you want shoppers to judge sustainability in your category? Then give them the best shortcuts to do so.

Life is complicated. Shopping is complicated. We use simple shortcuts to cope.

You need to make these shortcuts work for you not against you.

Remember, Ed Miliband lost an election because he struggled to eat a bacon sandwich.

Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.