The Double-Edged Sword Of Laziness

The other day we finally decided to check out the hype behind WebVan. With its impending IPO, Emily was interested in creating some good cocktail party discourse: “We had our groceries delivered by a millionaire!”

Besides, there are few things about the Internet that can have an impact on everyone – health on the Net and groceries on the Net are two.

Emily’s office in Palo Alto, Calif., is across the parking lot from a high-end gourmet grocer (“olive bar, anyone?”), so neither convenience nor quality were necessarily the motivating factors.

Emily’s eighth grade English teacher told her, “Write about what you know.” So we figured it would be a good idea to experience first-hand what was to become a future article.

Can we deduct our tortilla chips and broccoli as business expenses? We decided to give this newfangled home delivered groceries concept a try. Never mind, Emily’s mother guffawed, that home grocery delivery is not a new idea.

By the time Emily had acquainted herself with the site, learned its procedures, registered and waded through the order, the whole process took nearly as much time on a slow modem that it would have taken to simply drive to the grocery store. Next time will be easier because they save the shopping list, down to the specific brands (sense a point coming soon?), making return visits much more efficient.

Now we can take the process a step further by connecting the grocer directly to your refrigerator via the Internet.

Puh-lease! Do Something About That Leftover Casserole Already

In the name of convenience and gee-whiz-bang, Swedish appliance company Electrolux has introduced the wired refrigerator. Using a 13-inch LCD touchscreen, users can scan their grocery items and create a shopping list.

This list can then be sent to the local supermarket, which then packages your new order and has it delivered to your door. The fridge will record expiration dates and remind you to replace the milk before it gets chunky.

If the supermarket has specials on your preferred products, a message pops up on your screen. Electrolux is said to be in discussions with supermarket chains to build in loyalty points when items are scanned – similar to the way those so-called convenience cards are used now.

Of course, we all know they’re just keeping track of our every move with those cards… but that’s for a future paranoia article.

Trying to change brand loyalty is tough enough, but imagine the challenge now. Marketers have long ago given up on the over-40 crowd. If you’re using Colgate. toothpaste at age 45, you’re likely to still be using it at age 65 (albeit a different tube). It’s the fickle teens and the 20-somethings still defining their brand loyalties who get the most marketing attention.

I’d Rather Fight Than Switch

In the supermarket universe, marketers try to convince you to switch brands by offering coupons and other incentives. They place their products side-by-side to the competitors’ products, often with similar packaging.

They give you samples. We all have seen the lady in the white apron in the refrigerated aisle, handing out tasty morsels to willing victims on the ends of toothpicks. In other words, they break down as many barriers as possible to your trying their product.

When you wander through an aisle you may, on a whim, decide to try some new product. Although it’s a dietician’s nightmare, some of us do our grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

We arrive home with a cache of new goodies. Some we’ll buy next time, some not. Nonetheless, we’ve at least tried a few new products.

But how does that translate for marketers in the New World? If it’s so easy to simply click a button (or not, even this fridge gets automated enough) and re-order the same old thing, week after week, then how will marketers proverbially stick their foot in your door?

A few models may emerge. All of them involve alliances, partnerships and cold hard cash.

Would You Like Mrs. Paul’s New Bait Bits With That?

When you shop at a major supermarket, you may notice the back of your receipt is actually a series of coupons. These are probably the same products that you’ve just purchased, except it’s either a new variation or a different brand.

Perhaps when Mr. Refrigerator realizes you’re out of Brand X, he’ll suggest Brand Y. You can also bet Brand Y will pay dearly for that placement.

When television remote controls became a permanent fixture in living rooms across America, both network programmers and advertisers freaked out. Historically, they could count on people being too lazy to walk five feet to change a channel either during a commercial break or between TV shows.

The remote shortened the audience attention span to a nanosecond. What became a convenience for the consumer was a nightmare for advertisers.

The same holds true with many new exciting technologies on the Internet. They’re double-edged swords for those who are desperately fighting for the attention of consumers.

For those who win, they win big and can count on the convenience-plus-loyalty double-whammy. But for those who are trying to gain new customers once someone else takes hold in that space, woe is thee.

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