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Guy Champniss9/11/18 12:00 AM5 min read

Understanding and improving the buying experience.

Rewind a few years, and Volvo ran a campaign with an surprising headline and byline. ‘There’s more to life than a Volvo. That’s why you drive one.’

Not unlike Patagonia’s ‘Don’t buy this jacket’ campaign (a biz-school favourite for the concept of ‘anti-marketing’), Volvo’s ad seems antithetical to what most brands would strive for — it seems to downplay the importance of the brand in the consumer’s life. But looked at differently, what Volvo — and Patagonia — are doing is not so much downplaying the importance of the brand or product, but recognising the importance of how and why their consumers choose to buy and use their products in their lives. Volvo recognises that life is busy for the prospective Volvo buyer (busy family life), and Patagonia recognises that environmental stewardship is an important driver for those who choose to wear its clothes.

Put another way, both companies appear focused on recognising their consumers beyond the consumption of their products. This is a ‘beyond-consumer-centric’ strategy, and it plays-out not just in understanding what motivates someone to use the product, but also how the more mechanical buying experience should reflect the brand’s or product’s place in the consumers wider life.

Marketing example
When marketers recognise their product is not the most important thing in your life

Many categories could do well to think again about just how valuable — how appropriate — their buying experience is to their consumers. As Jeff Bezos points out, Amazon’s customers are loyal...until they find a better price. In many categories, we conflate being loyal and being captive. And we think satisfaction is absolute, when it’s more likely relative. All this to say, if the buying experience is what it is and doesn’t look like changing, consumers will buy. But this doesn’t mean consumers aren’t crying out for a better alternative.

Nowhere do these issues feel more relevant than the current experience of buying appliances for your home. All those white goods — goods which keep your beer cold, your clothes clean, your plates streak-free and your 2am ice-cream binge option alive — do not fill us with excitement at the thought of buying them. This is not to demean the value they provide us (which is monumental) — it’s just the experience of having to buy them. Volvo is right — there’s more to life than buying products, and there’s certainly more to life than buying appliances. Which begs the question — why hasn’t the process changed? And if it were to, would consumers embrace the change?

At Enervee we’re committed to changing the way we buy, with a focus on driving more energy-smart buying decisions. Part of this involves making energy visible for consumers (with our Enervee Score, ClearCost and YouSave features). But there’s also a need to continue to explore — irrespective of what consumers buy — if there’s a better way to buy in terms of the experience. To explore the how as much as the what.

To dig into this, we’ve run a series of consumer research initiatives to better understand the appliance buying experience most of us go through.

As expected, that experience is not great.

When we compare the obvious touchpoints across the buying experience (from initial research through to installation), we see the appliance experience is consistently and meaningfully worse than all the other categories we looked at. In fact, the appliance buying experience manages to be considered positive by only 14% of consumers. Compare this number to 45% for vacation-buying, 48% for clothes shopping and 60% for electronics buying. More than 1-in-3 consumers find the appliance-buying experience terrible (16%, 7% and 8% respectively for the other categories). It seems there’s a lot not to like about buying appliances.

Whilst this is reason enough to look to change the way we buy (in terms of the how) there’s even more pressing evidence to support the need for doing this differently — and it’s to do with the potential to drive energy savings through efficient buying.

When asked when it’s most likely that an appliance purchase will occur, in over 80% of consumer responses, the reason is that the old one has stopped working. With a different sample of consumers, we also asked what would be the most stressful time to buy a new appliance. The answer was the same — when the old one has broken down.

While this feels intuitively right, what seems to be an inevitability in the appliance buying experience could have serious repercussions for delivering on energy-smart buying.

In previous studies, we’ve seen that energy efficiency takes a hit when people are buying under duress — it’s as if it’s energy efficiency is the one product attribute we’re willing to ditch in the heat of the crisis buying moment. The good news is we still see the Enervee Score and the Enervee Energy Savings calculator making a significant difference — when they’re present, purchases become meaningfully more efficient. But the fact remains, consumers rate the most likely time they’re going to buy an appliance as the most stress-full time to buy one, and we know stress equals a less energy-smart decision.

This points to us having to find novel ways to reimagine the buying experience for appliances — to avoid a buying context that we know is unpleasant for the consumer, and damaging for reducing energy consumption.

We need to go beyond the what and the how, and explore the when of deciding to buy.

Which takes us back to Volvo. If there’s more to life than a Swedish family estate, then there’s certainly a lot more to life than having to buy new appliances. In the way a Volvo car recognises its place in its consumers’ lives, so the appliance buying experience needs to find its place — for the consumer and the planet.

This is something Enervee is thinking carefully about. One idea we’re developing is removing the offensive aspects of the buying experience entirely. This would mean no stressed buy at any point in the future.

With Enervee’s choice engines powered by a unique blend of market, product and consumer-supplied data, delivering on this concept of a ‘pre-choice’ is certainly possible, and we believe it could be a huge value-add for consumers. We need to work to deliver this, so we can capture the true scale of energy-smart benefits we know are out there. And we need to do it before Volvo starts selling washer-dryers.