It’s staggering how often we, as human beings and customers, do things and make decisions which do not seem to make sense yet, at a deeper more emotional level, just feel right to us. Consider what I did yesterday.
At lunchtime I was walking down the road when I passed a well known, reasonably up market shoe shop chain. I have needed a new pair of shoes for ages now but, being a bit fussy, I had not yet found the style and brand I wanted. I really like my current pair but they are close to falling apart so it is getting about as urgent as buying shoes can ever be.
It was a bit of a scrum in the shop since they are in the middle of one of their seemingly quite regular sales. However I saw a pair of Merrells that were pretty much what I have been after, albeit at full price.
When the pleasant, highly competent member of staff returned, however, she informed me that they did not have the size 8 which I required. Disappointing. “Not a problem though, sir. We can order a pair in for you and if you don’t want them, you don’t have to buy them.” Not ideal but, given how long I had been looking, perfectly acceptable. She returned with a form to write my details on and said that the shoes should be in store in the following week. We filled it out.
All good. But then a surprise- she asked me for £20 as a deposit to make the order. Her colleague chimed in with “it’s so we know you will come back for them”.
Hmm. I told her I did not see why I needed to give the £20 at this point. She said that was the only basis they could order it in and there was no way round it. Before I knew it, I had smiled and walked out. Despite the fact that I have been looking for that type of shoe for a couple of months. Despite the fact that they could have sourced them for me within 7 days. Despite the fact that I am still without a pair of shoes that I want to buy. I still walked out.
As Star Trek’s Dr Spock would say to Kirk: “Illogical, Captain”.
I have been giving it some thought. What caused me to happily behave in this apparently irrational manner and for the retailer to lose a sale? Because that is the commercial impact of what happened. On reflection, I think there are two reasons:
- When they asked for £20, it took me completely by surprise. Because they did not have my size, I had mentally attuned myself to the fact that I would be walking out of the door without a new pair of shoes and without having paid any money. So when they asked for money, it threw me. They had put up an obstacle to purchase-the opposite of the type of ‘nudge’ described in Thaler and Sunstein’s book which can influence our behaviours. It gave me a reason to say no and back out.
- When they said ‘it’s so we know you will come back for them’ it annoyed me. I felt that they had questioned my integrity and I really did not like it at quite a deep level. I felt (as opposed to thought) offended that they were not taking the fact that I was in store, trying to buy their shoes, as commitment enough that I would come back the next week to buy them. In myself, I know that paying over £20 would not make me more or less likely to come back later.
I think it is this second point which was the key driver for my behaviour.
Rationally, everything said to pay the £20, go back the following week, pick up the shoes and start using them. But my own deeper feelings which surfaced via the comment overwhelmingly trumped rationality and I walked out.
And what of the commercial impact? In amongst the heavy discounting of their sale, the shop lost a full price purchase because of something they did which made me feel not quite right. I doubt whether the £20 they wanted is in any way material to them in terms of cashflow or paying suppliers. And even if I did not come back, it feels that having a pair of size 8s in one of their regular product lines is pretty much business as usual for a shoe shop. It is simply an internal process which has had an impact on one of their potential customers. I am not saying that the assistant could have known how I would react (I am not sure I did), nor that everyone would have reacted as I did. I am just saying that their process directly contributed to a lost sale which was surely not their intention.
This kind of thing happens all the time. Businesses put in processes, talk to customers in certain ways and offer products and services which people either do not connect with or, as in this case, actively push them away. Sadly, it happens mainly because businesses just look at what is best for themselves rather than their customers. But it also happens when businesses only look at a consumer’s rational motivations. It happens when they fail to understand what is really driving the customer’s decision making, what it is that makes them tick and what type of activity will drive through into their hearts as opposed to their minds.
People simply do not make decisions on a purely rational basis. In fact, people mostly make their decisions on a subconscious, emotional level. There is a wealth of scientific evidence, thinking and cutting edge research techniques such as the Harvard originated ZMET, which we have used at Lexden, which helps businesses understand, at a deep level, why we all make the decisions we do. This is where more of our customer research efforts need to focus if we want to develop products and services which will actually resonate with consumers.
In the meantime, sadly, I’ll be going out this lunchtime to look for those shoes. But if feels right.
Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.
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