Big Grocery Stores + Decision Fatigue = Sticky Consumers

I stumbled onto an interesting post last week remarking on the tediousness of navigating a new 30,000 item grocery store and figuring out where everything is.

Decision fatigue is a real thing, and--if I'm any evidence--it's one of the reasons I hate going to new grocery stores. We got a new Wegmans in our part of New Jersey recently, and as much as I love that grocery store chain (this is something perhaps only people from Upstate New York can truly understand), I don't want to change to a new store.

Why? Because it's incredibly time-consuming, annoying, and vaguely stressful to "learn" a new store.

Hmmmm. Maybe that's part of the game.

An important idea in marketing is the concept of stickiness: the idea that it's not enough just to win a customer. You have to keep that customer, keep them coming back.

In the corporate world, companies will do all kinds of things to keep customers sticky. They'll use periodic discounting, branding, associative advertising and all kind of other techniques to keep our buying behavior as habitual as possible. In my old Wall Street career, every company would brag about how sticky their customers were, while laughing about how easily they could manipulate and play their suppliers off each other. In other words, their customers were always sticky, but whenever they themselves were customers, they weren't sticky at all. Always manipulating, never manipulated.

The point here is that sticky customer is a manipulated customer. There's a lesson in there for us as consumers.

Well, I now realize, with my typical window-licking slowness, that the complexity of a big store is yet another factor that makes us into sticky customers. Customers do not want to have to learn an entirely new grocery store. They don't want to spend time wandering around looking for items, and waste weeks--or even months--of grocery store trips acclimating to a new product geography. Just like buying a given consumer product or even a given brand is largely a habit-based decision, going to the same store and knowing where everything is likewise is based on habit, and it keeps us going to the same store. It keeps us sticky. And it keeps us coming back.

Except that truly empowered consumers don't want to be sticky! We want to be brand disloyal, able to switch stores and brands based on our needs, not theirs. We want companies to compete for our consumer dollars, and we want to buy our items when we see the prices we desire to pay.

But I haven't figured out a solution to the "big store" problem, not yet.

READ NEXT: When Things Don't Make Sense
AND: Using Your Sophistication and Great Taste Against You


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Alea said...

You have just touched on what would be my husband's dream app if he had the skills to build it. You put in your grocery list and what store you're headed to and it helps you navigate the store.

Daniel said...

That would be a *great* app.


Marcia said...

Oh boy can I relate. We've gotten our shopping down more to a science. There are specific things we buy at specific stores (because of quality and pricing). Our vegetables are delivered via CSA-like companies. You get what you get in that case, maybe with a couple of substitutions.

Our other major stores are Trader Joe's, occasionally Sprouts, which are very small, and Costco - which annoyingly moves the bread about every 3 weeks! Whichever one of us does the shopping with text the other with the most recent location. Thus, I don't really shop at very very large grocery stores anymore. Even the closest major store to my house is relatively small, so they never move anything.