Convenience is Now the Mother of Invention
We used to pay extra for convenience, today we expect it, and our expectations for “easiness” continue to get higher with every new gadget or app, and shopping is no exception. Convenience is the reduction of effort, and historically it came at a cost. We expected a compromise in quality or increase in price for easier, time saving solutions. Things being done faster and easier triggered suspicions; will an automatic dishwasher get the plates clean? Are McDonald’s hamburgers 100% beef? Often these suspicions were reasonable. Polaroid pictures developed in a couple minutes, but they weren’t as crisp and colorful as Kodak prints, but the tradeoff for convenience was worth it.
CONVENIENCE CAME AT A COST
In retail, the Convenience Store was welcomed as a shortcut for milk, beer, and items that didn’t warrant a longer trip to the grocery, but prices were higher and selection smaller- a compromise. These stores were innovative in the 1960’s, but despite owning the moniker, innovating for convenience spread beyond these early stores to all retail channels. In fact, convenience has been an important engine of innovation in retail, restaurants, banking, and hospitality, and a key strategy for creating competitive advantage. Fast food restaurants and drugstores became more convenient with drive-thru windows. Big box “category killers” provided more convenience by offering the most category variety in one place. And today, the fast-casual restaurant segment delivers restaurant quality food at nearly fast-food speeds via exposed assembly lines. Today the notion of convenience as a compromise is gone. Millennials and Gen-Z consumers have grown up experiencing nothing but convenience, and the issues of low quality and a price premium have been accepted as worth it. Furthermore, every advance in convenience creates a “new normal” as consumers adjust their standards, forcing the competitors to respond or become obsolete, making ensuing generations even more demanding.
THE FUEL FOR INNOVATION
Today we are seeing a revolution of convenience, brought about by Wi-Fi, Mobile Broadband, the ever-present smartphone, and the Silicon Valley takeover of traditional business models through Uber-like reinventions. The “Easy” Revolution is now the mandate of innovation. Mere reduction of effort has given way to a nearly effortless expansion of capabilities as the new definition of convenient. Outmoded processes and experiences are a liability in this age of on-demand consumer services as close as a smartphone app. As we at ChangeUp innovate for our clients, we evaluate shopper experiences searching for the inconvenient and unnecessary, and create ideal customer experiences that seek to establish new, easier ways to delight shoppers, embolden brands, and build value. That’s because being “easy” is fundamental to being competitive, to being considered, to delivering worthwhile experiences, and earning fans of the brand.
EASIER DOES IT
Convenience used to be the compromise of a concept; today it IS the concept. Whether buying lunch, flying to a business meeting, or shopping for an automobile, the experience must be intuitive and frictionless to meet the escalating standard of easy. We believe retail strategy and design must be obsessed with innovation, and constantly monitoring and recalibrating the definition of convenience by being intimately aware of the targeted shopper’s wants and needs. In fact, we are beginning to factor shoppers’ expectations for “easiness” into segmentations as a key psychographic dimension. Convenience needs a foil to be compelling. The trend setting subscription based Dollar Shave Club has set up Gillette as the antagonist in their narrative of cheaper and easier. Their “set it and forget it” business proposition is attractive in a category where product performance has reached a plateau, and shoppers find the ease of monthly deliveries appealing and worth switching for. Amazon’s new Dash Button is a real-world manifestation of the Staples Easy Button- allowing consumers to order replacement laundry detergent and diapers from a smartphone-connected button in their cupboard. Even Papa John’s is innovating “easy,” having converted over 50% of their orders to their mobile app, and adding convenient features like tab splitting for mobile payment.
CONVENIENCE IS A BRAND ASSET
As we approach a challenge with experience design, we ask, “What can be made easier, who defines the standard, and what if we began from scratch?” Hunting for “easy” is a powerful catalyst for innovation. But unlike the America’s Cup yacht race, where much of the innovation is under the waterline, we believe shoppers should see a retailer’s innovation, not just the outcomes. Brands need to be associated with innovations that make experiences more convenient in order to be perceived relevant and worthy. How a brand delivers convenience is a major brand asset. Much of the investment in omnichannel and seamless technology has been to enable more convenience, but much is behind the scenes. Now is the time for physical stores to be a more conspicuous expression of convenience to complete the picture and bring true retail ROI.
We believe all brands should focus on eliminating unnecessary steps and innovating to make shopping and buying easier while looking outside the category for their target shopper’s benchmarks. Due to brands like Uber and Dollar Shave Club, benchmarks are constantly changing, and consumers are now evaluating experiences across categories. Since more convenience equals better, it’s a key motivator for trial and switching when it becomes part of the brand’s story. Today convenience isn’t a claim, it is a battleground. Can convenience be a brand differentiator or is it just a point of parity? Yes and yes. More than ever it is an arms race: a necessary investment to retain and acquire customers. But for brands who gain a reputation for being easy – it can become a compelling differentiator. We can create a clear and ongoing understanding of your customer’s journey, their benchmarks, and then provide new, innovative answers to the Easy Revolution. We believe that “easy” requires innovation, and must be celebrated, packaged, branded…and owned!