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Keeping Up in the On-Demand Economy

Man Writing I Want It Now

Public transit running on delay? Request an Uber or Lyft for immediate transportation. A party gone dry? Tap a button and have alcohol rush-delivered. Forget a necessary ingredient at the grocery store? Order it through Postmates and get it in time for the next step of your recipe.

By catering to the needs of consumers in what feels like an instant, the on-demand economy has shortened consumer attention spans, rendering the need for patience in the marketplace nearly obsolete. Perhaps the most visible example is Amazon Prime Now, which offers 2-hour delivery on over 25,000 products spanning 25 product categories, from household essentials to electronics to pet supplies. The service eliminates the need to leave the room, without sacrificing immediacy or efficiency.

Traditional retailers can’t compete with the convenience and speed of immediate delivery, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for them to succeed. Since brands likely can’t be faster or more convenient than top performers in the space, they should compete where their on-demand counterparts can’t—by creating that which can’t be replicated digitally. This is an opportunity to give consumers a compelling reason to come to them, something that offsets the “inconvenience” of in-person shopping.

Innovative grocers have taken this to heart. With delivery services like Peapod and Instacart eating into profits, they have started to expand shoppers’ expectations of what a grocery trip can entail. Rather than just purchasing food for the week ahead, consumers can now grab a drink, test out new foods and be entertained. Providing samples for customers may not be a novel approach, but Trader Joe’s makes them an integral element of the shopping experience—checkout lines frequently snake through the maze of store aisles, and shoppers know to expect a sample station along the way. Not just the chance to try something new, it’s also a way to lessen the burden of waiting in line. Whole Foods takes it a step farther, with stores now including restaurants and bars within. The bar at a Brooklyn location hosts weekly trivia nights, reflecting an attempt to create a community for shoppers.

These experiences can be complimentary or require purchase, so long as they demonstrate concern and appreciation for consumers. Cosmetics store Sephora allows shoppers to try on any product prior to purchase. Home goods retailer Sur La Table offers cooking classes that not only provide the chance to test out their cookware, but also impart new recipes and skills. The opportunity to take a product for a test drive is something that online retailers can’t provide as easily. It’s the “touch and feel” effect, and it’s lost when a purchase is made fully online.

At its heart, creating an experience is just a way to provide excellent customer service. Consumers are willing to slow down when it feels worth it, and by putting their interests at the forefront, savvy brands are able to connect with them in a meaningful way. Carving out their own niche will help traditional retailers succeed in the evolving on-demand culture, building loyalty and affinity in the landscape in which they operate.

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