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According to the philosopher William James “all of our life is nothing but a mass of habits,” as picked up by a recent New York Times piece by Jonah Lehrer.

It’s true. We give little thought to what we do, once done. It doesn’t mean we can’t reflect and think or feel about what we’ve done, it’s just that we easily continue to ‘do.’ And once we do anything enough, it’s tough to stop.

Lehrer points out that recent scientific inquiry is coming to the consensus that habits are really just an extreme form of learning. Like those of us who swim or play the piano a lot, once you have it down, you just go at it.

The same may be true for shopping and the brands we buy. Products that communicate and convey messaging in line with our habitual natures are likely successes. Lehrer points to a case from Charle’s Duhigg’s recent book “The Power of Habit” where the P&G brand Febreze didn’t become a hit until it incorporated habitual behavior into its product messaging.

Seems that consumers neither understood the product nor its benefits when it debuted. That’s until P&G  revamped the advertising campaign to bundle its use with perfoming the usual household chores of making the bed, cleaning the kitchen floor, and then spritizing Febreze into the air as part of the usual routine. Nothing new, but an integral part of habitual weekend cleaning. Bingo!

The lesson learned? Don’t make ‘too’ much out of your product or service.  We see a lot of that here at W5. Clients spending so much time on differientating themselves or making their product or service special and novel. The goal, we think, is rather to communicate that it’s a part of the norm, the ordinary, the mundane of every day; bundle the product into accepted habits and practices: find a slot in the routine of people’s life, highlight it in a nuanced manner, and you’re home free. You are swimming with the tide.

On a recent trip out shopping, my wife started to count the number of frozen yogurt storefronts that seem to be popping up in every mall and strip center in our area. We got to talking about what would be the next fad or bubble that would replace them when their time came due. Later that day we spotted something that might be strange enough to be that next fad: Cup of Corn.

The idea is that you buy a cup of corn niblets, top them with flavored butters, cheese, etc. and eat it with a spoon. This is not a side dish, but the actual snack.

We saw it at the higher end mall in our area and people were lined up to buy it. It might actually have enough of a shelf-life that it can sell franchised kiosks and be the next big thing for a few months this summer.It’s so new that it’s hard to find much on the internet about it, but it seems that it might be coming soon to a food court near you.

Slate offers up some funny, albeit biting, commentary on a recent report of increased parity in gender assignment to household grocery shopping.

Whether or not you agree with author Amanda Marcotte’s interpretation of bias in the Chicago Tribune article, there’s a cautionary tale in her reaction to the Tribune’s reporting that’s worth paying attention to.  Marcotte discredits its findings because there isn’t enough data presented to back them up. In looking at the case presented, she saw contradictory and inconsistent application of information, and figured that a gender bias was the culprit.

While this may or may not be the case, it’s a good reminder to reporters and researchers alike: go ahead and use context, use that background knowledge. But don’t let these things define your work – research needs to be based in what the data says, not what you want it to mean.

For those of you who haven’t started yet (I know one or two) time is running out. But for those who have been doing their Christmas shopping this year, it turns out that online shopping continues to grow (15% over last year according to the New York Times). What is interesting is that more people are using mobile phones in the shopping process, though appears they largely browse via these devices and make the actual purchases on a tablet or traditional PC/laptop.

It will be interesting to see how mobile phone shopping and purchasing evolves. In the early days on online banking (just about 15 years ago), consumers were willing to review information on their laptops but felt the desktop was much more suitable to make actual transactions. Back then they indicated they felt that desktop computers were more secure and they’d be less error-prone when entering numbers or commands. It may be that as consumers get more and more used to employing smaller mobile screens in the shopping process, increased transaction numbers will follow.

Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll see an easy return the Christmas presents you don’t want app.

QR Codes have been around for a while but adoption in the US has been slow. In South Korea, where they’ve caught on, the grocer Tesco has figured out how to combine QR codes, mobile phones, and downtime to make day-to-day lives better. What did they do? Tesco figured out that in the busy lives of Koreans, grocery shopping was a dreaded chore that sucked away their free time. So, by placing QR codes in a previously unproductive space (subway stations) with displays that mirror grocery displays, the retailer was able to grow market share without adding stores.

The brief video below shows how they leveraged a mix of technology, market insights, and strategy to rebrand themselves and provide people with a solution that actually made their lives better.

Professor Alan Penn’s (of the University College London’s Bartlett School of Architecture) fascinating lecture about how spatial construction can influence consumer behavior through dictating an individual’s relationship dynamic with a retailer and his or her orientation to the surrounding retail space.

To the first, Professor Penn argues that when you move from the street into the retail space, you’re crossing over a threshold. And that when you step over the threshold, “you exchange in a contract with the owner.” It’s about what the retailer promises to bestow upon a consumer in exchange for their time and money.

He then shares a series of spatial analyses he’s conducted to determine what factors of space influence profitability. Three store features came up again and again in linkage to positive or negative exertion on consumer shopping:  accessibility (How easy are things to get to?), the scale of the total visual field (How much of the total store space can I see?), and intelligibility (Are things arranged in a sensible way, so that I can grasp where I am in relationship to everything else in the store?).

It’s possible, though, to bend the rules…and to great success. Professor Penn uses IKEA stores for illustration. As successful as the company is – and, as a leading world retailer and cult brand, I don’t think many would argue IKEA’s success – its retail spaces confound all the guidelines to profitability listed above. If you’ve ever visited one of their locations, you might have felt the same sense of vague bewilderment I (and apparently others, according to the lecture) experienced.

The professor’s studies of consumer traffic patterns in IKEA stores show that they meander in a way that is inconsistent with what is understood to be good layout (one which encourages purchase). How do they turn a profit then? As it turns out, by means of disorientation and delayed gratification. To hear more, check out the video!

Shoptimism. From the moment I heard the term I instantly felt a little better. Let me explain. I’ve spent most of December racking up on door-buster sales at the Durham’s South Point Mall and this past weekend’s discounts were unbelievably deep. Some stores offered 25% off full-priced items and one store in particular offered a whopping 40% off your total purchases. I bit and I bit hard.
Needless to say, after racking up all those purchases I felt, well, a little guilty. But author Lee Einsberg made me feel a little better. His new book (and coined term) “Shoptimism”, seeks to explain why the American consumer will keep on buying no matter what. According to Einsberg, shopping helps give us meaning by boosting our ego and satisfying certain emotional needs. And when it comes to needs vs. wants, Einsberg says there is no simple distinction between these consumer classifications. Sure we need shelter, but what kind of shelter? An apartment, a boat house, a shack or a mansion? Einsberg claims that we need to expand the definition of “wants” to encapsulate our emotional needs. I think Einsberg might be on to something here.
Despite the recession, our shopping malls and districts appear to be full of shoppers (even at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning) and their wallets are wide open. I look forward to delving into all of Einsberg’s theories on modern selling and shopping over the holidays. I have a feeling it might soothe my shopper’s guilt. If you need some literary balm for your shopper’s guilt check out Einsberg’s book here or hear the author talk about “Shoptimism” here.