May 15, 2017

Flicking the decision switch: placing efficiency at the beginning of the consumer journey can keep it salient for the duration.

Giving consumers vital and novel energy efficiency information on new appliances and products at the start of their buying journey could result in more efficient end-purchases, and signal a shift in power for those utilities that provide the information.

Written by
Guy Champniss

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.

The rise of the efficient avocado?

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.

These fluctuations in being prepared to accept what is technically an inferior service from the grocery store (but is a greener option), are likely driven by variations in cognitive load. Grocery shopping is no-one’s favorite activity, and we find the process even more stressful when doing it online.

So 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 then, likely 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).

Energy efficiency and Google’s Zero Moment of Truth

In an online environment, being salient at the very beginning of the decision journey is what Google terms the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), and it’s for good reason that Google claims it’s important for companies to be there at the ZMOT for their product or service category.

For all products and services, the ZMOT will be different, and even for electrical products and appliances for our homes, there will be different ZMOTs. Think about a washing machine that breaks down at 2pm and the kids’ sports uniforms need to be ready the next day, compared to a washing machine that’s going to be integral to a 12-month kitchen remodeling project. In each case, the ZMOT — where, how and when the consumer starts their journey — will be very different.

But here’s the interesting thing regarding home products and appliances: the ‘buy energy efficient’ feature should be at the ZMOT for every purchase.

By ensuring consumers are able to get to grips with such an important feature of any new appliance or product, providers of this information potentially enjoy a double win. First, they secure themselves pole position in consumers’ minds, establishing themselves as true energy and cost advisors, providing the most comprehensive launch point for the decision journey, for that specific product purchase. And second — through being the only provider of this feature insight, they potentially ensure they’re instrumental and valuable in all subsequent decisions — going a long way to securing pole position, again and again.

When it comes to appliance shopping, the ZMOT should feature energy efficiency information. So it just becomes a question of who’s able and best placed to deliver this information.

Recognising that the information is needed at the beginning of the journey is only part of the challenge however. In addition, whoever provides this information must work hard to ensure it’s presented in a way that is relevant, simple to understand, and actionable.

In short, even with good timing, energy efficiency has to hit home as a salient attribute for consumers.

Enervee has worked hard to do this, in the form of the Enervee Score — a 0–100 ranking for every comparable product in a category. It’s a simple way to understand how energy efficiency fits into the decision process for a new purchase. And where the grocery stores now know to ask you to accept a green delivery at check-out because you’re more likely to say yes, here at Enervee we’ve tested the effectiveness of the Enervee Score at the start of the decision journey, and have found it to be consistently and statistically significant in influencing more efficient purchases. In other words, it’s accepted as a salient and influential attribute of the product (regardless of whether the consumer is particularly focused on the environment).

Providing consumers with an intuitive, accurate and actionable display of energy efficiency needs to happen at the ZMOT of appliance shopping. It also represents the opportunity to place the provider of that information at the ZMOT. Energy efficiency information (in the right format and design) serves up the opportunity to jump over incumbent shopping services, and place the provider of this information right at the start of the consumer journey.

When? Whenever.

But providing the information in a compelling format, and at the right moment, may still not be the whole story. Consumers must know this information can come from one place, and one place only: you. Providing an easy to understand energy efficiency attribute for any product needs to become an indelible association consumers hold (if we accept that brand effects are essentially associative network effects).

This not only potentially reshapes the way consumers make decisions around purchases (to the benefit of the provider), but also offers some level of protection when consumers are making decisions in particularly high pressure moments (such as when the washing machine fails before the kids’ sports day). Under these circumstances, consumers need to decide quickly, almost certainly retreat to an attitude-based choice model, and quickly lean on those well-established proxies for performance and reliability — brands.

So if your brand is already associated with curating a better buying environment (better information, better presented and with better timing), even in these high-pressure and potentially attitude-driven decision contexts, you can still command the ZMOT.

Energy efficiency should be central to consumer decision making when it comes to new appliances and products. But more than that, it also presents a unique opportunity to be salient and influential at the ZMOT — the moment you and I decide we need to buy a new fridge (for whatever reason).

For utilities that are committed to enriching their relationships with their customers, and becoming their trusted energy advisor, knowing when to supply this gem of an insight could make all the difference in being able to join their customers on their decision journeys , and make those journeys better — wherever they may be headed.

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