Five Ways Brands Can Stop Wasting Customers’ Time — And Give Some Back

[originally published in Ad Age]

If you look at life-hacking sites, you’ll find that people today will do just about anything to regain a little time. The reason is simple. We’re busy. The average full-time worker in America is on the job 47 hours per week, with much of the rest of the time spent on our phones: 4.7 hours a day on average. And the average working mom has only 36 minutes of free time every day. Yikes.

Given that time is at such a premium, you have to wonder why so few brands (at least those not named Amazon) are focusing on it. The ones that do, of course, perform very well. With the Dollar Shave Club, razors simply show at your doorstep — a huge convenience for most of us. Not surprisingly, its sales are soaring. Printer companies can now send you ink when you’re running low. And that helps.

None of these services are necessarily cheaper than the alternatives, and some are much more expensive. But they sell well because they save time. Brands need to acknowledge that time is a new currency. Instead of merely looking at price and quality, they should start thinking about how they can stop wasting their customers’ time — and even give some back. Today we have at least five major ways we can do so:

1. Don’t be shy with “buy,” especially on mobile. We need to get the simple things right. You may think it’s rude to put buy buttons everywhere, but if someone is shopping, they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get to their cart. This is doubly true in mobile, where shopping behavior differs radically from on the desktop. Small-screen consumers often know exactly what product they want and are only on their phones to buy. You need to support that process.

2. Shorten the shelf. One of the biggest barriers to making a purchasing decision is the endless digital shelf. The more options we have, the more time we spend evaluating them. Brands have many ways they can cut this back. A smart use of data can winnow offerings down to the ones that make sense for a consumer. If traffic patterns indicate a preference for Hondas, by all means don’t show Vespas. Longer term, brands should consider a simpler product strategy. Food provider Blue Apron, for example, has two choices for your eating plan, and it offers a range of options for each week’s meals that is narrow enough to make choice easy, but wide enough to make you feel like you’re in control.

3. Cast the right net. We typically use the word “targeting” as though we’re precisely connecting messages to individuals. Instead, you need to hit separate groups with a message that will work for most of them. Casting the right net primarily means that you’re tailoring experiences based on data to try to gather the right people. For example, because media is relatively inexpensive, some brands hit a wider range of people than are likely to be interested in their products — and provide them with a generic link to a homepage. Instead of this, try putting out a message that hooks them into a more custom experience that makes sense for them.

4. Consider artificial intelligence. Amazon’s Alexa and Echo may be the first major shots over the bow on AI-enabled commerce in the West. But in China, chatbots are already a huge driver of e-commerce. Any brand that wants to save its customers time should look into the possibilities of messaging or voice-enabled commerce — in particular, solutions such as Operator that do research for you.

5. Actually save time. Blue Apron and Dominos seem to have little in common, but they both strive to work around this problem. Dominos has inserted its technology into every possible digital property. For example, you can order a pizza from Amazon Echo or do so with the press of an app button. And, of course, you always get it in 30 minutes. Blue Apron takes care of finding a recipe, shopping for ingredients, and making something healthy for dinner. Neither is your cheapest option for dinner, but both make up the difference by being extremely convenient.

Above all, time provides a powerful new way to think and talk about commerce today. Instead of merely presenting products and experiences, look for ways to help consumers save time, while still giving them the things they want and need. In a world where everything else sometimes seems equal, a few extra minutes are golden.