Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Consumer expectations are rapidly shifting as technologies such as mobile, geolocation, social media and increasingly, internet of Things devices and wearables, connect people to a world of easily accessible information and convenient services. With the ability to browse, compare and order with a few swipes and taps, consumers are becoming trained to value convenience and service above nearly anything else.

What motivates them is not how much they love the brand of a retailer, service provider or manufacturer, but how quickly, conveniently and cost-effectively the provider can address their need. Wunderman Thompson recently conducted research in North America and the UK, which shows that 88% of consumers said that service matters most to them, compared to just 78% who said brand.

Consider the example of some of the world’s leading on-demand brands such as Uber, Airbnb and Netflix. They have captured massive global customer bases, not by making large investments in branding and advertising, but by delivering the product or service that their customers need at the right moment in time. Their brands are powerful today, but this brand power flows from their ability to serve consumers at their point of need.

To take another instance, one of the factors that makes Amazon such a powerhouse is its ability to rapidly and conveniently fulfil orders for one of the world’s largest selections of products. Not only can consumers in most parts of North America and the UK get next-day or even same day delivery of a wide-range of goods, they also have the option to schedule delivery at time that suits them for a small cost premium.

Elsewhere, we are seeing clothes and even durable goods becoming on-demand services rather than treasured possessions. Many younger people in the UK are treating clothing as a disposable item, ordering new clothes nearly every week using services such as Asos.com’s instant delivery. What matters more than the label is having a new outfit to sport in every selfie — delivered to the doorstep at a time that is convenient to them.

This is just the beginning — the next step for on-demand brands will be to not only deliver at the point that the consumer expresses a requirement, but before the customer even knows he or she needs a product. For example, the tyres on your car may soon have embedded sensors that detect when the tread is getting thin and send a message to order new ones. This is already becoming common place with internet-connected devices such as fridges and coffee machines that automatically order replenishments according to your predefined preferences.

According to research by Wunderman Thompson, consumers are already warming up to these concepts in their personal capacity, which it calls ‘programmatic commerce’. In 2016, only 10% of consumers said they were ready to enter into auto-replenishment relationships with brands. But by the end of 2017, this number had already climbed to 46% and it now sits at 57% in 2018. Steadily, consumers are looking past fears about privacy or companies billing them for products they don’t want or need to the fact that they love speed and convenience.

The brands that want to remain relevant in the future will need to understand customer engagements and technology, that allows them access and insight into their customers’ needs. The technical architectures that allows them to meet the customer’s need is going to sit at the heart of their business, to enable right time and place of demand. Businesses will need to focus on creating fast-friction digital interfaces to serve an impatient consumer who will pick the service he or she can access quickest. Having a prominent brand and getting the consumer’s attention is not enough, winning is about offering the best and fastest service.

• Richard Mullins is MD for Europe, Middle East & Africa at Acceleration