Bracket-Busting with Your Retail Brand

How the Law of Least Effort can guide you through the decision tournament of today’s retailing.

Let’s talk for a moment about the shopper decision journey.

As we know, it’s not a journey of a single decision. It’s multiple preference decisions on a multi-point path toward a purchasing decision.

Each preference decision (up to 50 or 60, according to analysts) is a stage gate of yes, no, or maybe so.

Lose a preference decision, and your brand-product-service is eliminated from the competition. Win a preference decision, and you enter the next round.

In reality, winning the shopper is like competing in a 24-7 sports tournament.

Can your brand bust the brackets?

As mentioned, I’m now studying Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman’s 2011 summation of the best of decision research.

A key concept, explained early in the book, is the Law of Least Effort.

In layman’s terms, it says that we’re predisposed to do the least amount of thinking we think we can get away with.

Whether we’re shopping for a new pair of shoes or guiding the design of the new Fall line.

Or when we in retail technology speak of “personalization” without bothering to offer an operational, executable definition.

What are the implications of the Law of Least Effort on the Shopper Decision Journey?

At first glance, and with the broadest of brushes, I see four:

  • It means – of course -- that category and brand incumbents have a built-in advantage.  Obvious, right? But the question here is not the advantage – it’s whether we’re taking advantage of the advantage. Are marketing monies spent more on new customer acquisition or recognizing-reminding-recommending-rewarding your loyalists?   How do you measure shopper affinity – the emotional and financial bond between your shoppers and your brand? (It’s a different metric than Csat, to be sure.)
  • It suggests that brands deliver the least possible difference between physical environments and digital ones – especially in critical influencing content such as ratings and reviews.
  • It means that brands must assess, identify, and reduce points of shopper frustration and loss (call it friction) at every decision point in the journey.   Start with the assessment. And don’t forget the importance of ever-easier payment, queue management, and instant shopper recognition. (Especially ever-easier payment.) And such operational basics as robust Wi-Fi and clean-secure-stocked bathrooms and convenient parking.
  • It means -- perhaps most important of all – it means that brands must be deeply in the business of thinking for their shoppers. (McKinsey’s recent research tells us this is the operational definition of personalization; see How so? By reducing options at the shelf; by automatically gathering and transacting all available coupons and offers on their behalf; by gently nudging online and at the shelf (stand by for more in future blogs), and reminding, recommending, and rewarding at the right time in a contextually-relevant, and discrete manner.

A mantra for retail in the Land of Least Effort:

Friction Free. And Think for Me.


Tell me what you think.


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Jon Stine

About Jon Stine

Global Director Retail Sales at Intel. Jon Stine leads Intel’s global sales and strategy for the retail, hospitality, and consumer goods industry sectors. His CV includes leadership of North American retail consulting practice for Cisco Systems, and a prior stint at Intel, where he founded the company’s sales and marketing focus on the retail industry. His perspective on technology’s value in the industry has been shaped by advisory and project engagements in the United States, across the European Union, and in India, Australia, and the People’s Republic of China, and from 15 years of executive sales and marketing experience in the U.S. apparel industry, working with the nation’s leading department and specialty stores. At Intel, his current areas of research and engagement include the future of the store in this new digital age; how and where retailers turn data into competitive advantage; the role of technology within the new cross-channel shopper journey, and, the critical business and IT capabilities that industry success will demand going forward.