Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Shop smart

We all know that shoppers are becoming more and more concerned about the food they buy and where it comes from. Ironic that product information is becoming critical to shopping at the same time as shoppers are becoming more pressed for time and overwhelmed by choice. With as many as 60,000 products in some hypermarkets, who wouldn’t be? A recent report from the technology giant EDS in the UK tackled the information challenge in Shopping Choices: Attractions or Distraction? In fact, one of the key findings was that while shoppers demanded more information, the information did what it usually does - it overloaded their ability to make choices so they became so confused that they ignored it and focused on price. Not the response that manufacturers and retailers hoped for. My argument has always been that we have to stop obsessing over the information we provide and start responding to shopping as an essentially emotional experience. In other words, we have to be empathetic about what shoppers want to know, not what we want to tell them. 73% of respondents in the research were confident that they understood the information they were given. Well I’m in the 27% who don’t and that admission brings me to useful shopper technologies. Smart shopping carts can already keep track of what shoppers are buying and where products are in-store. It seems to me that we are only one small step away from a super-smart cart that can show shoppers exactly what is in the products they take off the shelf and what the implications may be for their families and communities. These implications could go as far as working conditions in distant factories, environmental impacts or local initiatives supported. I imagine all this stuff on cool little screens that mix icons and sounds to make finding what you want an attractive and memorable sisomo experience.


Jim Donovan said...

I was with you until you brought up the smart-cart idea. While it can provide all that information, isn't it just a super-size version of the current supposedly wanted, but in reality largely ignored, ignored information.

Better brand values are the answer, not more data.

As you've said often enough, once functional, aesthetic and price needs are met, the prime driving factor in a buying decision is usually emotional. People trust or aspire to a brand (accrediting agents, outlets and countries of origin can be brands, as well as products).

For example, most people say they want to Buy British, Buy American, Buy Kiwi-Made. In reality they almost never look at the country of origin (except when it's prominent part of the brand value, as in wine). They look at the product, the price, and the brand.

Susan Plunkett said...

How will these screens save time? If anything the articles suggests more time will be required to use the item.

I've not got the time to look at the report and the basis of its research however the VAST majority of shoppers I know buy the same core products every week. It's simply a party or a family gathering or similar (or diet changes) that leads people to look for additional or different products.

I do cross compare saturated fat and sugar levels and then sometimes salt but only on a limited number of products and it takes me like 10 secs to cross compare.

I am guessing elements of lack of confidence enter because repeatedly we hear of product recalls and we therefore wonder whether we are receiving all the information about what goes into the product. Then there are people concerned about allergies and asthma etc. It took me a while to learn all the code numbers for MSG etc so I could pick them on a pack. These issues are confusing at times yes but a simple solution would be to require manufacturers to state in words and not codes.

Does this study suggest that many adults don't have the literacy and analytical skills to make choices? I'm not sure I'd be covering that up with technology if indeed such a major lack of education exists. I would be very loathe Kevin to see individuals trailing around a supermarket effectively being told by the market big brother what they should be buying. We both know coercive techniques can enter these programs very quickly.

And who pays for the technology? There is a raft of poorer people in society who honestly don't need to spend 10 cents more on bread and milk because some of us can't get our heads around reading a label and want something to do it for us.

I'm sorry, I don't see the need for a technological 'fix' for all societal ills; not of this nature anyway. I may be better persuaded if the technology was simply a vocal reader that you could plug into your ear and not disturb others around you and obviously that the blind and others could use.

I regret I can't be more positive about these topics but while we talk environmental impact etc can we consider the price the greater slice of the population suffer when a small % of the population makes resource decisions etc on behalf of the remainder of society?

Susan Plunkett said...


Part of your response was similar to mine. The scanner could be seen as simply providing the same information just in a different 'gadget' fashion.

Country of origin is an intriguing one and whether clients are interested in this or not depends on variables such as culture, national pride campaigns, anti- X country campaigns and so on.

Many people are currently looking to see if China is place of origin for example and rejecting products out of hand for reasons I'm sure we're all aware.

But country of origin might not be where the product in the tin or whatever came from. A product can be canned in one country with ingredients coming from 2 or more different countries and so on. 'Australian made' might not mean the cotton in the garment is grown in Australia. It pays to know what the relevant legal/sales terms mean.

Would a digital info system give you honest [independent] facts or more sales pitch?

Now, a translation system I may better justify. I as an English speaker only could go to a store in Greece and run the item over my personal translator that offered me the product info in english. Great for people with health issues and severe allergic reactions.

Tim said...

I agree that for people to really 'buy' into sustainability it will need to happen in-store – and that by creating a sustainable 'theatre of dreams' people will be compelled to take action more than by the usual scare tactics or information overload.

Also agree with the last writer in that the values need to be right first. With Saatchi & Saatchi being about telling stories, it would be to get the theme right before executing the story. The great songwriters have always got the theme right before laying down the music. That's why their music still has resonance today. Thinking about Leonard Cohen who aims to write songs that (as he put it) 'are useful like a Volvo in that they last generations' - his work has a certain sustainability thanks to the metaphors he uses that touch very universal themes. As KD Lang said about singing Cohen's Hallelujah 'you are empowered to go out on a tangent and perform because you know people are already listening'. This quote underlines for me the importance for us in advertising to have a powerful theme first to then allow the creative to go off on a tangent and perform (their magic).

For Wal-Mart the theme is that sustainability is personal, it is about living better. Could this do with the added power of metaphor? Perhaps. Nevertheless, the idea inspires me and I can see how making sustainability personal is a powerful starting point for 360 Sustainability. It is fantastic that Wal-Mart is investing in the encouragement of their employees to lead sustainable lifestyles. Staff members becoming ambassadors for sustainable everyday choices. The in store experience can amaze and here at the ‘frontlines’ can also play an important part in inspiring the message that for sustainability to work it must be personal and start from home.

Susan Plunkett said...


Enjoyed the analogy to music.

I would be galled, truly, for an overarching message of sustainability to be delivered and then for the agency to promote a largely unnecessary toy that is made from unrenewable resources, doesn't break down in the environment, takes power to make and in the manufacture may create pollutants.

Credibility people, credibility.

Tim said...

Hi Susanne,
I’m glad you liked the analogy but I’m afraid I did not make my point. I also would be galled if a company had an overarching message of sustainability but were not credible at all to make this claim. And in fact feel that by getting the overarching message right a company is far more likely to be able to align vision, culture and image, to actually be as good as its word.

What came to mind when the reading Leonard Cohen’s thoughts on how he has been popular while still having enormous depth and resonance was … if Cohen aims for his songs to last generations like a Volvo, can we in the ideas business aim for what we create (product and brand) to have the staying power and resonance of a Cohen song? Well, I don’t personally think that anything can resonate with people the way music can. However do believe we can surely take inspiration from the success of his sustainable songwriting when thinking about how we can make sustainable connections with people and society.

At the heart of songs that last the test of time are a universal message, and usually a powerful metaphor to help it hit home, and truly touch lives. For Cohen it took time and dedication to get the meaning write for Hallelujah, he mulled over the perfect composition of the verses of Hallelujah for 5 years. But having found such a powerful metaphor as he did the song has continued to yield and be ‘useful like a Volvo’ today.
Artists like Cohen can dive deep enough to grapple with the heavier themes – which according to Cohen himself are gain and loss, victory and surrender – and it’s true that this is not the end of pool we should be swimming. But there are other could we call them ‘everyday’ issues that people care about – like the environment – world dept – Africa – that I believe if business cares to be dedicated and involved enough the ideas and creativity it can deploy could make the difference.

But like Cohen writing Hallelujah it will take dedication to get the meaning right and a powerful metaphor for it to resonate. It can’t just be surface action; it needs to hit emotions at the heart of the issue to inspire people to make the right choices.
Innocent Drinks have a vision of making ‘great smoothies that taste good and do good’ and have set themselves in their own patch of blue sea by thinking about everything from product development to branding with a commitment to sustainability on environmental and social levels. It is this commitment to get things right from the start that gives me great confidence in them. It gives me the feeling that if an agency was to work on that Lovemark they could perform like KD Lang singing a Cohen classic, confident in the knowledge they are not promoting a product or company that is largely unnecessary and in fact harmful in the ways you describe, but one with the sort of environmental credibility and positive community relations that means the audience is already listening.

And I truly believe this confidence stems from the company getting the meaning right from the start. Call it vision, values, theme or whatever – as Guy Kawaski would put it and others have said before me – Innocent focus on ‘making meaning’ and not ‘making money’.