I didn’t want to write this blog. I didn’t want to celebrate the apparent success of the Little Shops campaign. (That is, if free plastic collectibles being sold online for hundreds of dollars should be considered a success.)
But the fact that the Little Shops campaign is going gangbusters means it warrants an explanation.
Why are customers responding so positively to a promotion that, to be frank, seems stupid?
In their Little Shops campaign, Coles is giving customers shrunken down, plastic versions of products (such as Nutella, Weet-Bix and Chobani) for every $30 spent.
They call Little Shop, but I call it the ‘Customers Really Appreciate Plastic Program’ (CRAPP).
Customers are encouraged to collect all 30 products, but cannot request which they receive.
So, here are some of the psychological principles driving take-up.
Shoppers are given one collectible for every $30 they spend. Everyone likes getting something for free, and when a gift is offered, it is psychologically hard to refuse. We are suckers for free stuff.
To magnify the fear-of-missing-out magic, the promotion available for a limited time only.
People work harder to complete something once they’ve been given a start. In this case, customers get their first few items of CRAPP and can’t help but want to complete the set. We like closure, and seek to fill gaps.
The Little Shop campaign is perfect for digital sharing. It’s highly visible, tangible, Facebook-shareable and non-threatening, so people are happy to talk about it. Lists of items to be swapped have sprung up on social media, normalising the behaviour of completing a set. If it feels like everyone you know is doing it, you will do it too.
Similar to how people keep playing pokies machines because they almost win, Coles’ CRAPP uses intermittent rewards to give customers an occasional hit of feel-good dopamine. Each CRAPP item is packaged in opaque wrapping, so people don’t know what they are getting before the transaction is completed. As they pay for their groceries they wonder: ‘Will this be the one to complete my set?’ No? Try again.
The biggest lesson to take from this campaign is how good people are at parsing their behaviour. Plastic in the form of a ‘collectible’ is rationalised in an entirely different way to the use of plastic shopping bags.
It reminds us that self-licensing affects us all. A good deed in one context means we feel there is license to be less good in another. In this case, people believe if they bring their reusable shopping bags, they have an excuse to accept CRAPP items.
So the success of Coles’ Little Shop CRAPP may seem perplexing, or even frustrating, but it stands as a lesson that things need not make sense on paper to make dollars in the real-world.
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