Getting consumers to focus on energy efficiency right at the start of their buying journey could be just what your customers are looking for.
It’s hard enough already to make up your mind when buying stuff. With a variety of features or attributes, as well as reviews, popularity and different prices across different retailers, we can often feel overwhelmed by the process. Psychologists term this ‘cognitive load’ and it’s well proven that when this load becomes too much, we mentally retreat, which means either not making a decision at all, or just falling back to the criteria we’re used to and comfortable with.
So introducing new features or attributes to a product or service requires careful thought and planning. Even when they clearly add value to the consumer, if they’re introduced to the already rich decision-making mix at the wrong moment, they not only risk being discarded, but also disrupting other attributes in pursuit of a simpler decision.
A good example is a service provided by online grocery stores that, recognizing the high costs associated with the actual delivery process, offer their customers the chance to choose what they call a ‘green delivery slot’. This means choosing to have your groceries delivered when the truck is already scheduled to be delivering to one of your neighbors. The grocery stores present this as the green alternative, hoping that we as consumers see the broader environmental value in not having the truck turn up in our street multiple times in one day.
However, careful research has shown that when the supermarket asks their consumers to make this decision heavily influences their likelihood to say yes to the green delivery slot. To be clear, the same request, made to the same shopper, buying the same products.
It’s not just about what we ask of consumers, but when we ask for it. Researchers found the best moment to make the green delivery request was right when the shopper had finished filling their basket and was checking-out.
The sudden lightening of that cognitive load (having finished the task of shopping) presents the perfect moment to introduce another attribute of the shopping experience, and to have consumers take notice and act. Interestingly, research also shows that we’re more inclined to engage in prosocial behaviors (including helping the environment) when we’re happy or content — and having just finished the grocery shopping may be one of those moments.
Getting consumers to recognize and value an environmental attribute involves understanding when to introduce and champion the attribute.
Which brings us to energy efficient appliances. Cognitive load is almost certainly high when we’re buying new products and appliances for our home — there’s a pile of features and attributes to consider, plus none of us are seasoned appliance shoppers as we tend to only be in market for these products once every few years at best. This all adds up to a stressful buying experience.
In this context, if we want energy efficiency to be top of mind when buying a new appliance, probably the worst time to introduce this new feature is when we’re closing in on the purchase. If we’ve narrowed our choice down to one or two options having crunched attributes, to then receive the new information that shows there are other, far more efficient options that should be in our consideration set, then we’ve got to potentially unpick our thinking and retrace our steps in our decision journey. This can only increase cognitive load — not to mention cognitive dissonance — pushing us toward making the decision instead on those criteria we’re used to and comfortable with: price and brand, most likely.
Even though the energy efficiency information could save us a small fortune over the lifetime of the product — which is a great feature and source of value for us — we’ve abandoned this crucial feature, simply because of poor timing in delivery.
But if we as consumers were aware of the energy efficient purchasing argument right from the start of our shopping journey, there would be no risk of this compelling feature disrupting our buying process; quite the opposite, as it would shape all of our subsequent decisions as we land on a final preference. Again, timing is key to have this feature valued and to garner a positive response, although this time we’d argue it’s about being there at the start of the journey (as opposed to signing off the journey, for the grocery store).
This paper draws on research undertaken within Enervee and its academic research partners, and on insights from its Marketplace product, which allows consumers to search for energy efficient products, and is deployed with a number of utility companies. For more information on the concepts cited, please contact us.
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