Why brands should stop neglecting 'the last mile'

Sarah Todd and Rory Sutherland: at the the Last Mile book launch
Sarah Todd and Rory Sutherland: at the the Last Mile book launch

Sarah Todd, the chief executive of Geometry Global, claims brands should stop neglecting "the last mile" because that's when consumers decide what to buy.

"The majority of organisations dangerously spend much of their effort on the start of the value creation process – creating strategy, developing new products or services, and analysing the market," said Dilip Soman at his opening speech from the Last Mile book launch we co-hosted with Ogilvy Change this Wednesday.

Joined by Ogilvy's Rory Sutherland, Soman led us through how to use insights from behavioural science to close the crucial gap ahead of brand selection. 

Five simple take-outs that resonated for me:

1. Think in reverse 

We all love lots of brands that we never buy. Brands should consider the context and mindset of people when they are close to the purchase – is it easy to find, what do they see first, do they interact with it, how will they get it home?

Observing people in store will help you learn how your brand is experienced in its actual competitive context.

2. Importance of relativity 

A US study showed that over 70 per cent of coffee sold is in mid-sized cups versus. small or large, regardless of the varying quantity of coffee inside.

We all subconsciously navigate away from extremes and stick to the middle ground through an innate desire to choose the safest option.

This navigational technique is also used by restaurants. The greater the choice on a restaurant menu the more conservative the ordering – "I’ll have what he’s having" – which is worse for profits. A more limited menu means diners explore options and buy more.

3. Avoid early interruption 

We’ve all said "just browsing" to the shop assistant, yet leave laden with bags. Shoppers need a few moments to acclimatise and adjust their senses to the new environment they’ve stepped into.

Once they start touching the clothes they are 4.5 times more likely to buy – that’s when smart sales people approach.

4. Get people in the "zone" 

We use contextual signposts to navigate life. An airline cleverly increased the length of a cordoned-off carpeted area to increase check-in speed. The physical step people made onto the carpet switched from "queuing" into "checking-in" so they got tickets ready sooner, speeding up transactions and improving satisfaction.

Online, Amazon maintains a "feel-good" experience with efficient "one click" ordering. Yet other retailers lose out at checkout despite creating an emotional, guided online retail experience. A break in mood as people start entering billing information leads to abandoned baskets.   

5. Understanding the value mindset 

Value decisions are far from rational. Pre-paid launderette cards encouraged more people to separate their whites from their coloureds and run two washes versus those paying by cash who were more likely to mix them together.

Seeing your money in your hand means you’re less likely to spend it. At the other extreme, shoppers offered 25 per cent off a new coat purchase by signing up to a store card, irrational though it seems, often walked away.

People, it seems, don’t want to think about form-filling when they're still in shopping mode. 

My view is that it's important for brands to learn more about the crucial "last mile" journey people take, the impact of context, time, mindset, value and competitors to ultimately remove barriers to purchase and maximise conversion.

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