The Urges to Purchase

Research around purchasing decisions always fascinates me, but since I literally started a brand this week, this article really caught my attention. I have to admit I definitely agree with a lot of the article’s points that companies are pushing for the wrong goal, constantly looking to make changes so they can gain new audiences and more attention.

“The conventional wisdom about competitive advantage is that successful companies pick a position, target a set of consumers, and configure activities to serve them better. The goal is to make customers repeat their purchases by matching the value proposition to their needs. By fending off competitors through ever-evolving uniqueness and personalization, the company can achieve sustainable competitive advantage.”

Fundamentally, it is the over use of this line of thinking which inspired me to create this site.

“In short, research into the workings of the human brain suggests that the mind loves automaticity more than just about anything else—certainly more than engaging in conscious consideration. Given a choice, it would like to do the same things over and over again. If the mind develops a view over time that Tide gets clothes cleaner, and Tide is available and accessible on the store shelf or the web page, the easy, familiar thing to do is to buy Tide yet another time.”

This certainly seems like a very valid point. Its certainly a popular joke these days to comment about how overwhelmed we all feel making decisions in the grocery store. Companies such as Costco have centered their entire business model on limiting the decisions their customers need to make.

I do take issue with the statement that the human brain loves automaticity more than anything. That’s certainly true in many situations, but one’s mind does also strongly object to boredom and as anyone who has spent a little too much time around toddlers can tell you, repetition is literally hell. There’s certainly a balance to be struck between tailoring to body memory while still giving variety. 

To my mind, it seems like an important distinction is how much the activity is naturally at the forefront of your consciousness. For things I’m interested in, or am doing as a special occasion, variety is fantastic. For things I need but am not particularly invested in, the opposite is true. Personally, I’m very into cooking and so I put an inordinate amount of time into comparing different cooking utensils and picking the right one. On the other hand, I could care less about paper towels or cat litter, so if I can just make that purchase automatically, its for the better. If you change the packaging of the cat litter I buy, I just have to spend more time making that decision over again and you’re only likely to lose me as a customer. Additionally, I’m very unlikely to switch to your cat litter brand simply because you put it in a new package.

A slightly trickier example is creating a menu in a restaurant. If I go to your establishment frequently, I’m probably going to be very frustrated if you change the menu. If, however, I view your restaurant as a fine dining experience I treat myself and loved ones to on rare occasion, well then it will probably work in your favor if each time I come in the menu is different.