The power of choice: Why retailers must give customers the freedom to pic ‘n’ mix

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The Woolworths pic ‘n’ mix might no longer be a fixture of our high streets, but shoppers still overwhelmingly want choice, explains Vivid Brand managing director Gideon Karmiloff.

The last bag of Woolworths pic ‘n’ mix sold for £14,500 on ebay in 2009 – what made a bag of dusty cola bottles and hardened strawberry jellies quite so valuable? Not the contents themselves but the idea of the power of choice – the chance to choose exactly what went into the bag was one of the small freedoms you were given as a child.

We’ve always wanted choice and the desire for it has now rippled through to how we engage with brands, breeding a new demonstration of pro-sumerism.

Rather than simply consuming products, people are becoming the voices of that product, to the point of impacting on what kind of products are actually made, how they are purchased and later blogged/tweeted about to then influence purchasing behavior around the world.

Converse and Nike’s invitation to lay your personal design stamp on your trainers has been well documented, as has the open ‘pitch’ for your flavour to be the next Walkers crisp or KitKat Chunky. This is an acknowledgment from brands Converse and Nike’s invitation to lay your personal design stamp on your trainers has been well documented, as has the open ‘pitch’ for your flavour to be the next Walkers crisp or KitKat Chunky. This is an acknowledgment from brands that consumers are often more able to design ideal products that meet their needs better. And why not, considering we (the consumers) are the ones consuming the products.

Retailers are now behaving similarly by asking shoppers to determine how products should be marketed to them. Take Waitrose’s new initiative to ‘pick your own offers’ for instance, which allows shoppers to choose their top 10 favourite items to receive a 20 per cent discount until August.

Waitrose has clearly identified how important it is for it to build a relationship with its shoppers, one where the shopper feels understood and, crucially, listened to. Waitrose demonstrates an even greater level of insight with this initiative: while shoppers love the notion of choice, too much choice can be overwhelming. With an average of approximately 40,000 different items on offer in a supermarket, the average household purchases only 350 on a yearly basis. Why? It’s so overwhelming that shoppers retreat to habitual purchasing behavior and to the safety of familiar choices. Shoppers want choice, but not so much of it that it becomes a chore. They want to make easy, intuitive choices that are right for them.

A good example of enabling this intuitive choice comes from the e-commerce retailer Ocado, which targeted us with an offer, from a leading dog food manufacturer, that we, and our beagle, couldn’t refuse.

Knowing that we buy a super premium competitor, this brand (and retailer) created an offer and communication that overcame three key barriers; price (half price), weight (free delivery), pain of switching foods (six months supply). In one action this brand has potentially ‘bought’ our loyalty for the next seven years by engendering a habit that we are unlikely to break.

By transferring the power onto the shopper and putting their personal choice first, retailers and brands are opening the door to a more democratic relationship that will prove, like our dog food choice, to be long lasting. Pic ‘n’ mix may have disappeared from our high streets but the power of personal choice endures.

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Gideon Karmiloff

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