The single most motivating notion in retail today can be boiled down to a single word -- "convenience."
I was reminded of that fact again early one day this week, when, dashing out the door with a slice of toast gripped between my teeth, I briefly caught a fascinating discussion on America's Morning Edition on NPR.
"Never push against how lazy we can be," said Harry Balzer, from consumer research company NPD. Balzer went on to remind the interviewer that the average American has just 12 minutes for breakfast each day, and that even the ritual of pouring cereal into a bowl and dousing it with milk is just too time-consuming. "A bowl of cereal -- you got to dirty a bowl. You got to dirty a spoon. You got to clean that stuff."
Yes, and I guess it's also incredibly grueling to open a dishwasher door and stick a plate in.
So it's official. In this time-poor age, we have all become lazy SOBs. If there is a shortcut or an easy way out, we will take it. And the cereal example exposes a mindset that has deep ramifications for retail. "Convenience is king," Ann Zybowski, VP Retail Insights for Kantar told me recently. "One of the three big trends in retail is streamlining shopper routines."
That's one of the reasons that the fastest-growing format for supermarkets around the world is convenience stores. Who's got the time or energy to navigate a super or hypermarket? According to Supermarket News, of the 402-437 stores Walmart intends to open this year, up to 300 will be Neighborhood Market or Express units. The same trend is being seen in other markets; when it comes to expansion, Tesco in the UK is focusing on two channels -- Tesco Express and its website.
Forward-thinking retailers are innovating around convenience. French supermarket chain Auchan introduced a service called Auchan Drive that allows customers to shop online, take advantage of regular specials, then pick up from a Drive location and have your car packed and ready to go in 5 minutes. "Vous cliquez, nous chargeons" - "You click, we load", as their slogan says. For a small premium, Auchan Drive has been testing an even more convenient variation called API Drive (Auchan Proximite Itinerante -- rough translation, Auchan travels in close proximity) where they travel to your town or suburb, to a central pick up point, in a refrigerated truck.
Online retailers have helped to re-set customer expectations around convenience. As far back as 1999, Amazon successfully patented 1-Click buying, which allows shoppers to buy with a single mouse-click, once their payment details are in the system. These days, Amazon continues to take the friction out of purchasing with inventions such as #AmazonCart, which can add items to your Amazon shopping cart from right within Twitter. No need to exit the application -- Amazon does the hard work for you. When it comes to convenience, it's up to physical retailers to replicate the ease of the digital world.
So to win at retail in 2014, a great value offer is cost-of-entry. But having an edge in convenience can be a real differentiator. Call it leveraging laziness. And watch shoppers gravitate towards you.