Give me convenience or give me death!

“Give me convenience or give me death!”

So demanded the 80s Californian punk band Dead Kennedys. A little extreme I’ll grant you but in some ways quite a prescient statement of future consumerism.

The growth in online activity, whether it’s shopping, banking, or booking, is all about convenience. The ideal online transaction is a completely frictionless activity – log in, transact, log out. Indeed it’s evolving to make life even more convenient for us: the algorithms are telling us instantly what else we’d like to buy to save us the bother of thinking for ourselves.

Bifurcation of retail

The retail market has been transformed. A recent article on marketing strategies in this sector caught my eye. In particular, it was the writer’s early assertion that one of the key dynamics was the ‘bifurcation of retail’.

Personally, being a bit of a word nerd, I was immediately drawn in. Not least because I had to look ‘bifurcate’ up. For those equally in the dark, it means to divide or fork into two branches.

The article’s view was that retailers needed to appreciate that shopping is fundamentally changing. Online retail is here to stay.

However, and this is where bifurcation comes in, the writer persuasively challenged the assumption that this means ultimately that that the physical shop is on the endangered list.

The value of experience 

Online is all well and good, but it doesn’t work for every purchase. Some might buy a car without having ever sat in it, but not all will. How many brides-to-be would happily buy their wedding dress online?

With purchases such as these, people want an experience not convenience. Shopping as theatre, you could say. This is the reason, the writer argues, why many more retailers need to turn up the volume on the experiential side of their stores.

An extreme example is the 35,000 square feet soaring success that is M&M’s World in Leicester Square. It’s shopping as an experience par excellence. Chocolate fragrances and upbeat music are pumped into a store replete with dazzling colour and selfie opportunities.

I’m not sure whether Roald Dahl and Timothy Leary would have exactly approved or not but it is akin to some form of modern day Willy Wonka pre-teen psychedelic experience. ‘Turn on, tune in, shop out’ perhaps…

The change in physical shopping

Physical shopping is becoming the world of adding experiences for buyers of any age. For every new Lego flagship store there’s also a Selfridges & Co. interactive perfume lab. Indeed, the Apple store itself ripped up the blueprint of electronics retail to offer us an immersive technology experience.

So what lessons are there for the world of pensions and benefits?

Well, for those who want it (and most employers of a reasonable size really should) there are now a number of highly creditable, robust online benefits portals available. It won’t be too long before we throw an 18th birthday party for our own online offering, Orbit.

These address the modern consumer demand for simplicity, accessibility and, most of all, convenience. A pension fund valuation in a click. Contact details for your medical insurer in an instant.

This convenience is essential and will undoubtedly help to build a degree of familiarity with the benefits on offer. But can we really say that this online functionality, in itself, drives true engagement; particularly in something as important as saving for retirement?

Convenience is not an experience. Convenience is not the same as engagement. 

And this is the nub of the matter: the nut we need to crack. We don’t have the advantage of a flagship store and very few employers have the pockets or appetite to regularly run immersive, interactive, experiential benefits fairs.

I’m not sure a Good Pensions Show at Olympia would pull quite the same crowds as the Good Food Show; although perhaps that is something for the pensions industry to consider coming together to create.

While anything an employer is prepared to fund that adds to the personal touch for the employee is welcome, the economic reality suggests we must turn again to technology to create our own 'bifurcation of benefits’. If we can’t create the physical experience of the flagship store, we will have to create a virtual one.

There are tools already at our disposal. We can create virtual experiences through gamification. We are starting to mine the possibilities of augmented reality to turn the flat benefits statement into a more three dimensional, interactive journey. Data analytics has enhanced our ability to nudge members with targeted messages.

Beyond this lies the potential of virtual reality. 2016 was the ‘year zero’ of the shift of VR into the consumer market and products such as the Oculus Rift VR headset are likely to become much more familiar names. Add into the mix, Snap Inc’s Spectacle, the first mainstream wearable camera, and it’s possible to see that there’s unlikely to be any slowdown in the digital revolution.

Combine these three tools and it’s possible to see that the virtual flagship store is really not such a pipe dream. The journey from reactive convenience to immersive experience is there for the taking for the brave and the innovative. 

The future of member education and engagement can indeed be vibrant and exciting. It’s up to us all to ensure that pensions and benefits is a leader rather than a laggard in this brave new world.

We have explored the topic of employee communications and education further in our new research report which draws from a survey of some 1,800 UK employees conducted in January 2017. The ‘Educate and Engage’ report forms part of our Employee Insight series 2017Download the report here

Robin Hames is head of marketing and research at Capita Employee Benefits.

This article was provided by Capita Employee Benefits.

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