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This article was originally published in Forbes.
From toilet paper to to-go cocktails, today’s consumers can now get any product imaginable delivered to their front door—and groceries are no exception. In fact, making the trek to the supermarket may soon become obsolete as consumers across the country take advantage of the increasing availability of curbside and delivery services.
Covid-19 may have accelerated the adoption of such services, but grocery retailers are already at a competitive crossroads. Subscriptions, loyalty programs and same-day fulfillment are just some of the carrots that grocers nationwide are dangling to consumers in pursuit of greater market share. As the grocery wars continue to heat up, Walmart, one of the nation’s leading grocery retailers, has changed the game again, this time with straight-to-your-fridge delivery.
Aptly named “InHome,” what would have likely been met with eye rolls 10 years ago has since been packaged into a premium service and key differentiator for the retail giant—and a pretty darn successful one at that. (Full disclosure: My company has worked with Walmart in the past, but not on anything connected to InHome.)
In 2020, I wrote an Adweek article based on my book, Embracing Irrationality, about brands that found unconventional ways to set themselves up for success in 2019. At the time, Walmart had just begun experimenting with the concept of its groundbreaking in-home grocery delivery program.
It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Maybe it even seems a little creepy to allow strangers access to your home while you’re away. Yet in January of this year, Walmart revealed an expansion of this unique service offering that currently spans 6 million U.S. households.
As I argue in my book, this isn’t the first time a bet on the irrational has paid off. Beloved brands like Airbnb and Uber managed to challenge comfort zones and win, too. How many times have you been told not to enter a stranger’s car or home? Now these companies—built on once irrational concepts—are worth billions of dollars.
Irrationality in business, by definition, shouldn’t make sense. But it often does. Here are three lessons we can learn from Walmart’s recent win (customer experience innovators, take note).
1. Shared pain points need out-of-the-box solutions.
The most successful brands not only understand their customer journey from soup to nuts, but they also have their finger on the pulse of shared challenges—the ones that competitors have yet to solve.
Sure, customers can get groceries delivered to their front door—but what if they aren’t home? Finding a way to get deliveries from your customers’ front door to the refrigerator suddenly starts to have more impact. Brands that do this successfully have an opportunity to dramatically improve their customer experience.
Of course, there’s a lot more than just distance to deal with: How do your delivery personnel get access to the home? How does that affect security concerns? What about sanitation? Positioning and process can be barriers to success unless brands are armed with the right research and insights.
This is where creatives have an opportunity to think irrationally. If a quick fix already existed, then we wouldn’t need an out-of-the-box solution. When you think of it this way, then innovation becomes the only clear path forward—and that means finding a way to saddle up the white elephant in the room.
2. Irrationality fuels innovation; insights inform design.
As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Needs are rational, but solutions don’t necessarily start off that way; rather, they often begin life as irrational ideas that take shape in the pursuit of innovation.
The airplane, the light bulb—many of the greatest inventions of all time started out as nameless, formless concepts thought up to address some singular purpose. Today, we enjoy them as tangible, and yes, even necessary parts of our existence.
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than just that “ah-hah” moment. Insights—that is, data, research and deep human understanding—are required before the blueprints can be drawn. In the customer experience world, we know that great design is informed design. It’s not just about why we are designing, but who we are designing for.
But humans can be irrational creatures. This is where an understanding of fundamental needs—belonging, appeal, security and exploration (BASE)—is required. By coming to a deeper understanding of how BASE drives consumer decisions, brands become better equipped to deliver better products, services and experiences built around the customer.
Armed with insights, Walmart isn’t just keeping up with the Joneses; Walmart is the Joneses. The company went beyond jumping on the delivery bandwagon and leveraged customer insights to solve a substantial hurdle in grocery delivery while being attentive to the very real and very human concerns of privacy and safety. Already, we see how the initial irrationality of InHome starts to become sensible through thoughtful, informed design.
3. Innovation always lives in the future.
More fuel-efficient airplanes and longer-lasting light bulbs are just revised versions of inventions inspired by a spark of irrationality.
Most brands are willing to do the research to understand their consumers, lay out their customer journey maps and then build a solution, but the biggest mistake they make is by stopping there. Can you imagine how different our world would be if we simply settled for the Wright brothers’ first glider? Of course not, because innovation always lives in the future.
Brands that leverage operational and consumer data, advanced technologies, and more efficient processes ultimately remove the guesswork from transforming the next generation of world-class customer experiences. By leaning into science, brands can build a greater understanding of their consumers over time, and use those insights to shape better digital properties, improved products and services and a seamless customer experience.
People tend to think the future is farther off than it actually is. We must remember that much of what we enjoy today was once thought impossible—even irrational—to achieve. Why wait for the future when you can actively shape it?
Brands that are reactive get left in the past. Brands that are proactive deliver the future.