Decision delegation – the new shopper trend we need to think about

There is a shopper trend rapidly gathering pace that we all need to be thinking about – we are calling it decision delegation. This is when a shopper takes a category off their shopping list by subscribing to a regular, automated replenishment service. Instead of using precious time and energy on a regular basis to find loo rolls or laundry powder, they can tick a series of boxes once, and know that these categories will be replenished on a regular basis without them having to even think about it.

As our own research shows ( 1 in 2 UK households are using a subscription service to buy household products, ranging from loo paper to gin, or toiletries to nappies. Whilst they are using a range of services from Abel & Cole to Birchbox, the fact is that with Amazon looking to develop a strong presence in this area the likely growth of these services threatens to create a generation of blinkered category shoppers who rarely deviate from habitual choices. This will of course present huge challenges for brand activation.

But the trend towards online subscription is not just about ‘mindless’ replenishment of commodity items. Quite the opposite. Category enthusiasts can join likeminded shoppers in signing up for curated subscription services that offer an inside track for those in the gang. This new way of shopping delegates product selections to experts, whilst offering a sense of belonging to a club. Whether boxes of seasonal fruit and veg, healthy nuts and grains or real ale, subscribers are handing over the reins to trusted suppliers who make individual product decisions for them. Products that don’t make the grade won’t make the basket, but in this scenario, brands need to convince the middle men not the end shopper.

Taking Recipe Boxes as an example, half of subscribers are looking for the service to introduce them to new and different products and ideas. Using these third party agents to provide inspiration will doubtless dilute shoppers’ desire to make their own discoveries in store – and this presents another serious challenge for NPD showcasing in traditional retail channels.

And then, there’s the impact of subscription services on value judgements, as shoppers sign up simply to save. Being assured of consistent discounts from the likes of Amazon Prime can relieve the need to put effort into finding the best deal, neutralising competitor pricing activity. So even the most hard-wired bargain hunting efforts are in danger of being placed in the hands of a trusted online agent, leaving more traditional retailers even less able to lure shoppers in.
Through a process of elimination, shoppers will be left driving the decisions that matter most to them and delegating the rest, creating a forcefield around established brand loyalties.

Smart retailers will evolve from predators to partners. Trust, whether in efficiency, value or expertise, will become the new currency for success.

By Danielle Pinnington @Shoppercentric