Design Thinking in Retail: How “Jobs to be Done” Drive Consumer Choice

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In a recent newsletter as part of our “What We are Reading” series, we featured a fascinating book by Clayton Christensen, Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice. In it, he popularized a point of view that is foundational to the discipline of design thinking. Behavioral Design principles have become a well-accepted framework to understand the relationship between consumers and brands. They give us a clear understanding of the factors in consumer choice that affect the new omnichannel shopper’s path-to-purchase, affecting all corners of the retail landscape.

Christensen contends that consumers don’t buy products; they have “jobs to be done” and they metaphorically “hire” a product to perform that job.

The book makes this a relatively easy concept to understand; with a few key examples you can grasp the impact that design thinking can and should have on shopper marketing.

For example, a “job to be done” might be “I need to buy snacks for my kids’ lunch.” Or “I need to stock up on some finger food for the party on Saturday night” or just “I’m hungry and I need something to tide me over til dinner.” The product the consumer might hire to do the “job” might be bagged popcorn.

Far from relying on the simplest functional benefits and brand promises, “jobs to be done” puts the purchase choice squarely in the context of the consumer’s mindset as they discover, shop for and purchase your products.

In the development of our approach to understanding and identifying consumer behavior in an omnichannel retail world, we uncovered some intriguing insights about “jobs to be done” and the behavior of the omnichannel shopper.

It probably warrants a bit of background on the linear Path-to-Purchase, when there was basically only one retail channel, that of brick-and-mortar physical stores.

The old shopper journey consisted of:

1. Discovery: Identifying a product that filled a need. In the distant past advertising was the predominant means for brands to drive awareness, with the pack on shelf in brick-and-mortar retail often the first consumer encounter with a product.

2. Shopping: The act of visiting a retailer, consisted of browsing aisles in search of familiar or new products “to hire” for specific occasions, for repeat purchases or replenishment, or impulse buys. Comparison shopping for price and availability might have involved store advertising, couponing and review of promotions, but the act of Discovery and Shopping were discrete, separate and most often sequential.

3. Purchasing: Once the retailer had managed to attract the consumer to their store, the purchase was almost assuredly theirs, unless the item was out of stock. Browsing for and finding the product intended for purchase and putting it into the physical cart was tantamount to purchase at the register. What was in the cart rarely was left behind. BUT last minute impulse purchases were often inspired in the line while consumers waited in line to pay at the register.

At each of these stages in the Linear Path-to-Purchase brands had tried and true opportunities to intercept consumers and influence the purchase choice.

But that journey has shifted dramatically as grocery retail has entered the world of omnichannel. Consumers move seamlessly back and forth between online and brick and mortar, researching and often validating choice through searches online that lead to purchases in the store, and “showrooming” in brick-and-mortar and then finalizing the purchase online after a mobile price comparison reveals a “better deal”.

The lines between Discovery, Shopping and Purchase are blurred and now sometime interwoven and indistinguishable. It is estimated that while small percentage of consumer ONLY shop either brick-and-mortar OR online the vast majority shop comfortably in both.

Our research in Omni Channel Discovery revealed some fascinating cases where anticipating consumers’ “jobs to be done” resulted in brands designing interventions that influenced consumer choice to their advantage. Through passive tracking of consumers’ behaviors online prior to purchases we were able to identify sites consumers visited prior to discovery of a product, and search terms they used to get there and conversion to purchase in online retail.

In the new Shopper Journey phase of discovery, consumers tended to research online in one of three ways:
1. Brand only: “Hellman’s Mayonnaise”
2. Brand plus jobs to be done: “I want a recipe using Hellman’s Mayonnaise”
3. Job to be done alone: “Delicious meatloaf recipe that keeps the dish juicy and moist”

In the third example permission-based passive tracking revealed a search that led to a page on the Hellman’s website that . . . you guessed it, published a recipe for meatloaf guaranteeing that a bit of Hellman’s Mayonnaise would keep the main dish nice and juicy! Now I don’t know about you, but my mom’s meatloaf recipe never included mayonnaise as an ingredient! But conversion to shopping was activated from an unlikely search that would never have occurred through searching for brand alone.

But an even more interesting example surfaced.

Passive tracking revealed a search query: “How do you clean mussels?” Anyone who has ever brought home those dainty delicacies knows that the sand, grit and slightly off putting “beards” make the preparation a bit daunting.

The search led to a page on the Knorr website that, indeed, provided fool proof instructions for de-bearding the little crustaceans, and a recipe for steaming them in broth seasoned with wine, herbs and. . . . (drumroll) Knorr’s famous bouillon cubes!

We saw this again and again across categories including pet food, health and beauty, cleaning products and even categories like paper towel!

Examining conversion rates from discovery to shopping in these “jobs to be done” journeys suggest that, minimally, brands have a better chance of winning in the virtual shopping cart (as well as the physical register) if they understand and anticipate consumers’ needs through this behavioral design lens of “jobs to be done”.

There is much more to de-code in the omnichannel path-to-purchase where application of behavioral design can lead to interventions that influence shopper choice. Through the application of best in class technology, and a behavioral framework, the Behaviorally (formerly PRS) OmniPath® modular approach can uncover the moments of greatest potential impact for driving sales and brand growth in omnichannel retail. And behavioral design can provide the formula for the best interventions to make it happen.

If your “job to be done” includes leveraging the new world of Omni Channel retail to your brand’s advantage, give us a call. We would love to help.

Ruben Nazario is the Vice President of Product Innovation at Behaviorally (formerly PRS) and provided this blog post in September 2019 when he was Vice President of Product Innovation of PRS IN VIVO USA.
Follow Ruben Nazario on Twitter @RubenDNazario or connect with him on LinkedIn.

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