Why is simplicity so challenging?

Discussion
Nov 20, 2015
Tom Ryan

For the third straight year, Aldi ranked first in Siegel+Gale’s Global Brand Simplicity Index. The grocer was commended for its "uncomplicated offers, low prices, high-quality products and great customer service" as well as "transparent price comparisons."

Other retailers making the top 10 list included Lidl, at three, which was praised for its "limited range of products, identical store layouts and clear frequent communications." Seventh-ranked IKEA won points for its simple designs and intuitive catalogs. Others ranking high globally included McDonald’s, Burger King, eBay, KFC, Walmart, Amazon and Carrefour.

Siegel+Gale, which is part of Omnicom Group, defines simple with five characteristics:

1. Easy to understand;
2. Transparent and honest;
3. Making customers feel valued;
4. Innovative and fresh;
5. Useful.

Zappos team

Photo: Zappos

The survey of more than 12,000 consumers across eight countries found that 63 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences and 69 percent are more likely to recommend a brand because it’s simple.

A number of executives were also interviewed around the challenges of delivering simplicity.

Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos, thinks delivering simplicity goes against human nature. He pointed to a struggle between trusting "the simplicity of the story and being 100 percent precise in providing all the information. Most people aren’t comfortable with not being 100 percent precise."

At Zappos, management relies on customer loyalty representatives to deliver simplicity.

"One philosophy we’ve always had is to try not to make policies that address the one percent at the inconvenience of the 99 percent," said Mr. Hsieh. "It’s important to trust employees, because it comes down to culture. It’s hard for an unhappy employee to deliver great customer experiences. But cultural change is a long-term process."

John Costello, CMO, Dunkin’ Brands, said c-level leaders have to walk the talk. He said, "As leaders, we need to not only set a focused direction, but to make sure we can help our teams focus on the most important things, and clear the non-important things off their plates. Also don’t busy team members with projects that don’t meet the priorities."

"Focus on how you are making things better for your customer," advises Norman De Greve, CMO, CVS Health. "The center of gravity in big companies is often inside the company, and not outside it. It’s interesting that, for a small company, the center of gravity is usually the customer."

Why do in-store experiences as well as shopper messaging often end up more complicated than simple? What advice would have for c-level execs around creating simple experiences for customers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I can understand how Aldi and Lidl made the list, but IKEA? Its stores are rat mazes and its products often require a ton of patience to build. And being simple does not necessarily equate with being a growing, successful business."
"One translation of Blaise Pascal’s statement "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter" may help explain why. Complicated is easy, simple is hard."
"Aldi and Lidl are following a similar path. They started with a very simple premise but their customers are now starting to demand more from them."

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16 Comments on "Why is simplicity so challenging?"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

Simple may not be what’s needed — uncomplicated might be the better term. Offering just a few products per category, like Aldi does, is fine if you like those products. If you don’t, then simplicity isn’t working for you. While choice can be overdone, most people still want choice. The key is to find the right number of options in a category.

Max Goldberg
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

I can understand how Aldi and Lidl made the list, but IKEA? Its stores are rat mazes and its products often require a ton of patience to build. And being simple does not necessarily equate with being a growing, successful business.

My advice to c-level executives is to put yourselves in customers’ shoes. Shop your stores anonymously, walk the aisles, try to find items, look at the number of SKUs in any given category, see how long it takes to check out, ask for help and see if you can get it. If the experience is less than optimal, fix it. Consumers have been told that they are king, that they can get it their way. Does your store live up to this promise?

Ian Percy
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

For the same reason we make EVERYTHING complicated! If you’re really good at doing so you go to Congress or the Senate.

The reason is fear and insecurity. Many times it’s ego — the need to control and feel superior to others. Techies, scientists, doctors, lawyers and the like are prone to this behavior. Not all, fortunately — blessed are those who can explain something and the ordinary person says “I get it!”

I forget who said: “If it’s a simple idea, it probably came from God.”

Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
4 years 8 months ago
Retail is not rocket science … it’s harder. What makes retail inherently difficult is all the moving parts that have to come together to get the right product on the right shelf at the right moment when the consumer reaches for it in the aisle. Brick-and-mortar stores have literally had decades to layer on more processes and procedures to make things happen in the stores on time. Most all of these details have been built up from a retail-centric perspective of running stores cost effectively. The challenge is that today’s consumers have options — many options that are consumer-centric in terms of making choices easy, taking time out of shopping and making purchase easy with options where to receive goods. In reviewing the five areas of the Global Brand Simplicity Index, all are about the consumer making their experience better, not how to make stores run better. Biggest advice for c-suite is for executives is to go on a “shop-along” with a real customer, preferably a Millennial. The only way to understand consumer simplicity and value… Read more »
Steve Montgomery
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

One translation of Blaise Pascal’s statement “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter” may help explain why. Complicated is easy, simple is hard. Clear, concise writing may not be a direct comparison to retailing but it’s close.

Shep Hyken
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

Simple is not easy. Simple is just simple. The best brands that keep it simple make customer focused decisions that are uncomplicated and very direct. Promotions are not confusing. Their customers know exactly what they do and who they stand for. None of this is easy, but in the end, it creates simplicity.

How clear are you about what you do? I went to a seafood and steak restaurant. The server said they had three things on the menu: “We have steak. We have lobster. And we have steak and lobster.” Keeping it simple is not easy. Many businesses want to add more, moving away from their core business. They make decisions based on convenience (theirs, not the customer’s), create policies that are sometimes hard to work around — and more. Take lessons from the companies on the Simplicity Index list. You’ll be glad you did.

Mark Burr
Guest
4 years 8 months ago
Simple answer? Consultants. The search for the silver bullet. Ego. Basically, retailers, especially grocery retailers, have made it so difficult to determine what the price is, what is a good price, what’s actually a savings, that the consumer can’t identify value. My advice? Give the customer a compelling reason to walk through your doors. Give the customer products and services that are unique to your brand. Create an experience that can’t be had elsewhere. Give them your best price. (Note that your best price doesn’t mean the lowest price possible.) Do these things along with treating every customer that walks through your doors as your best customer and you just may be surprised. Supermarkets haven’t been challenged over the last decades because of simplicity or the lack thereof. They have declined as a result of failing to improvise, to adapt, and overcome. Making shopping a challenge, more complicated and more difficult to determine value isn’t going to be any more successful than driving up gross profit into declining sales. Too often, retailers have seen through… Read more »
Graeme McVie
Guest
Graeme McVie
4 years 8 months ago
A lot of retailers start out with a very clear and well-defined strategy and approach that satisfies a predominant customer need within a predominant customer segment. Walmart is a great example. They started out with a simple promise: Always low prices.” But over time they started trying to satisfy more and more of the needs of their shoppers and attracted larger and more diverse segments of the shopper universe. In their attempt to continue to grow, they’ve had to work out how to satisfy a greater diversity of shoppers and their needs which, in turn, has led them to introduce greater complexity into their stores and operations. Aldi and Lidl are following a similar path. They started with a very simple premise but their customers are now starting to demand more from them. For example, in the U.K. the hard discounters are starting to receive growing complaints regarding store size, parking and staff levels, and they are now trialing a larger store format. As they seek to hold on to existing shoppers and capture new… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

Creating simple and effective solutions is difficult and often times complicated. All too often we make the mistake of creating digital solutions that are simply digital versions of what was done in the analog world assuming it will simplify the solution. In most cases these solutions may simplify the administrative side of the business but become more complicated for the shopper.

Being digital requires transformation and reassessment of the existing status quo. Creating solutions that will indeed make it easier for shoppers in today’s landscape will most likely affect of all of the analog systems and workflows in place. Thinking and creating simply is challenging. Examine the shopping experience from the shopper’s point of view, then make the process easier and more rewarding. Don’t assume you have to throw more technology at the challenge. The solution may be empowering your sales associate to do the right thing.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
Martin Mehalchin
4 years 8 months ago

There are so many reasons why experiences tend to become over-complicated. A key one I’ve observed over and over again is that people and teams in the corporate world tend to over-function and this phenomenon gets worse as the enterprise gets bigger. What you often end up with are stores that are organized around the merchant’s organizational chart or category structure and not around the shopper’s needs.

Simplicity often means an effortless experience and research shows that in a majority of cases consumers desire an effortless experience.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

We often get in our own way trying to make things simpler. What do customers value from their shopping experiences? They want answers to the following questions:

  • Is this for me?
  • What am I buying?
  • Will you save me time and effort?
  • Is the shopping experience enjoyable?
  • Do you provide me with value?

American food retailers have known of Aldi for some time. Now, Lidl, who many believe will be a more formidable competitor, is entering the market and sits right below Aldi on the simplicity scale. The time for action is now!

Karen McNeely
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

C-level execs are often too far removed from the front lines to have a strong understanding of how the process works and how different policies might impact customer service.

In my view, the duty of upper level management is to define the vision for the company, how it does business and what its corporate philosophies are. Then hire professionals at all levels who truly believe in this vision and empower them to do their jobs. Avoid hiring “yes men” (or women), instead encouraging problem solving and constructive suggestions from all ranks while keeping the corporate vision in mind.

Karen S. Herman
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

I agree with Tony Hsieh’s sentiments here. Additionally, I believe that authenticity is the main objective a business or brand should be working on.

Aldi reflects authenticity. The company has created a unique niche for itself with exclusive brands, a hybrid business model that embraces sustainability, minimizes in-store convenience services and offers an attractive return policy if customers are not completely satisfied.

When a brand or business strives for authenticity, then it can create online or in-store experiences and brand messaging that customers can relate to in simple terms. Zappos. Ben and Jerry’s. Levis. IKEA. Authenticity = Simplicity.

A mantra of our office is, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

Cathy Hotka
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

Retail brands sometimes try to be all things to all people. The smartest brands decide what they do, and then do it well. Look at Trader Joe’s, Chico’s, and Eddie Bauer, all delivering superior brand experiences. Oh, and Aldi rocks.

Matt Talbot
Guest
4 years 8 months ago

I think the larger challenge with ensuring simplicity is that the excess and multitude of customer demands puts pressure on retailers and brands to offer a wide range of solutions/products.

I think appearing simple, but not necessarily being simple, is the challenge many retailers face. In some ways, appearing simple coincides with brand consistency. If customers only need to learn one thing once — like the layout of a store or pricing — that is inherently easier than having to figure out each store separately.

To meet expectations, retailers and stores alike need to satisfy customer needs, which may be complex — facilitated by solutions conveyed in a simple manner.

Tom Downes
Guest
Tom Downes
4 years 8 months ago

Simplicity certainly is the key. 5 of the retailers you’ve referred to above equip their in-store teams with our wireless headsets specifically to improve communication. Quick, simple cross-floor communication vastly improves productivity and empowers stores to change the way they work to better serve their customers.

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Braintrust
"I can understand how Aldi and Lidl made the list, but IKEA? Its stores are rat mazes and its products often require a ton of patience to build. And being simple does not necessarily equate with being a growing, successful business."
"One translation of Blaise Pascal’s statement "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter" may help explain why. Complicated is easy, simple is hard."
"Aldi and Lidl are following a similar path. They started with a very simple premise but their customers are now starting to demand more from them."

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