When I was growing up, we ate dinner as a family most nights. We each had a seat at the table that we’d claimed. If friends came round we might shift about – but when it was just me and my family, we sat in specific seats.
Similarly, I’ve noticed that in yoga classes (particularly small ones) people take the same position each week. I considered lying on a mat on the opposite side of the room one week, just to see how the person who lay there the week before reacted. But I knew it would cause bad feeling, so stuck to my mat by the window.
When I go swimming, I swim in the medium lane. Never the slow lane, never the fast: always the medium. I see the same faces every morning – and those people also stick to their lanes. Yesterday, the lady with the pearly white swimming cap was speeding along the slow lane, over-taking everyone. But she didn’t move to a faster lane, she stuck with the slow one.
Now, I can’t speak for everyone – some people, of course, are totally spontaneous. But from my experience, most of us are creatures of habit. It’s like we’re all stuck on Ground Hog Day. And that makes us really easy to target as consumers.
Coffee shops adopted loyalty card schemes when they realised that people like to get a coffee at the same time, from the same place, every day. But in case they were considering trying out a new place, the ‘one coffee away from a free one’ kept them coming back to that coffee shop.
Tesco invented the Clubcard knowing that people often buy the same food and products (milk, bread, loo roll, detergent etc) when they go shopping. So anyone who signs up to the Clubcard scheme is sent vouchers for those same things – 20p off a pint of milk, £1.50 off 8 rolls of toilet paper. Not only does it keep those customers coming back, but it encourages them to buy products before they necessarily need them (and sometimes in greater quantities) by having an expiry date.
After my swim, I often nip into the supermarket to pick up some fruit. Recently, there’s been a basket at the front of the store full of apples that are cut price. Or so I thought. I’ve been grabbing a bag of these apples and going to pay without even checking the price. Because they’re in the same position every day, I assumed they were always on offer – despite the differing varieties.
I’m a sucker. The apples I bought yesterday were no cheaper than the apples around the corner on the ‘normal price’ shelf. But it’s become impulsive to go to that shelf and grab those apples. I’m exactly the type of customer they’re after.
I went to a meeting this afternoon about mobile marketing. I learnt that 32 million smart phones are being used in the UK and that we each check our phones 150 times a day, on average. With Wifi, 3G, GPS etc – it’s so easy for companies to trace where we are, what we’re doing and when we’re doing it. So if you’ve ever received a ‘you’re near a Boots, here’s a voucher for £3 off Aussi shampoo’ SMS, or found your Facebook ads relating to your location – it’s because BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.
But it’s also because you’re so predictable. We all are. We’re all (except those aforementioned super-spontaneous rarities) doing the same things, at the same time, in the same place far too often.
And so I hereby set myself a mid-Feb resolution to be more spontaneous in order to spin out those corporations who think they can predict my next move. Of course, that would also mean no longer using my Oyster card, as it tracks my travel – and that would be hard because the automatic top-up is pretty handy. And that’s the crux: we’re all suckers because, in some ways, these products and schemes make our lives that little bit easier, or save us a few quid.
So maybe I’ll just go with this transition into a robot-run earth instead.
What do you think?