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Giving more control to consumers can hold rewards for retailers

Giving more control to consumers can hold rewards for retailers

About a hundred years ago, I did some research with a grocery retailer about 'scan it yourself' shopping - when you do all the hard work, scanning each item, packing your bags as you go and then whizz through the special checkout. What struck me at the time (apart from the fact that male shoppers loved showing off with the hardware) was that it wasn't just speed and convenience that mattered.  The killer benefit was that it gave people on a budget (everyone from mums to students) a way of avoiding that awful moment at the checkout when they realise they've spent more than they meant to.

Now, we talk constantly about consumers being in control, but do we really mean it? So many businesses benefit when customers spend in a relatively uncontrolled manner or can't easily grasp how they use a product they pre-pay for, like a mobile tariff or a digital TV subscription or a packaged bank account.  Often, it feels that the needs of the customers fight head on with those of the business. 

It takes an intelligent business to play for the long-term and recognise the value of putting customers more in control.  The type of utility that really benefits the customer, unambiguously and self-evidently - is still pretty rare amongst mainstream brands and retailers.  

Fast forward to more research for a different retailer.  When we gave customers sight of digital tools that would enable them to understand and proactively plan and control their spend and to make savings where necessary - it was clear that the resulting high levels of loyalty and stickiness engendered would more than compensate for small, short-term losses in spend.  What are also lost are the feelings of inadequacy, guilt and lack of empowerment that the customer associates with overspending. 

So that's a win for both parties. In my view, real utility that supports, empowers and inspires customers is worth a big bet or two.

Kate Wheaton Director of Strategy

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