Retailers cope with ‘I want what I want when I want it’ syndrome

Nov 07, 2014

What’s the difference between a customer who must always be deemed right and a petulant child?

Instant gratification, or "I want what I want when I want it" (IWWIWWIWI) is apparently a widely recognized and acceptable behavior, especially among Millennials. Discussing Dr. Kit Yarrow’s book, "Decoding the New Consumer Mind," Forbes notes consumers ignore information prior to needing it and then expect it instantly when they do. Meeting this demand, according to Dr. Yarrow, is a basic requirement for most shoppers today. Not meeting it means consumers will be off to another retailer in short order.

In-store is fine for satisfying the instant gratification requirement, but inferior salesmanship may send customers back to their devices to seal the deal. Today, the distinction between achieving physical possession of purchases and how they are sourced is increasingly irrelevant.

Arguing that "consumers have become channel agnostic in their buying experiences," the article quotes an investor at Freestyle Capital who stresses that "not all consumers need it tomorrow, not all will pay for shipping, and, believe it or not, consumers still enjoy going to the mall. A retailer’s job is to offer all experiences and let the consumer make the call."

In a piece on the Bulldog Reporter site, Robin Hazfitz, CEO, and Allison O’Keefe, SVP, Open Mind Strategy, suggest success comes from treating Millennials as individuals. Often considered "a marketer’s worst nightmare" with "short attention spans, limited brand loyalty and a sense of entitlement that knows no bounds," Millennials’ demand for control actually presents opportunities for merchants smart enough to listen and respond on a more personal level.

Is it sensible or practical to expect retailers to satisfy IWWIWWIWI requirements? At what point does meeting customers’ instant-gratification demands go too far for retailers?

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20 Comments on "Retailers cope with ‘I want what I want when I want it’ syndrome"

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Bob Phibbs

If they were Boomers who still hold 70 percent of disposable income, it might be sensible. However when about 50 percent of Millennials report browsing and shopping for items they don’t intend to buy, this can be a rabbit hole for many retailers.

Know who your customers are. Court those who will pay full price. Be willing to walk away from those demanding you to be something you are not.

Tom Redd

Not sensible or practical but the reality of today. Retailers need to take their game to a level of meeting the IW demands to their degree of comfort. You can NEVER satisfy all the Millennials but you can concentrate on the ones that spend the most and guide the rest of the lemmings.

Frustrating times in retail. Wait for Generation Z—they are worse, but less trendy in some ways. Their Millennial elders embarrass most of them.

Paula Rosenblum

What else can retailers do? The Millennials are about to (if they have not already) become the largest bulk of the population and are in their peak spending years. There is no “too far.”

Retailers aren’t surrogate parents. It’s a service industry. If we’re not liking who we’re serving, they’ll just find someone else anyway.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

IWWIWWI … now that’s an acronym that is going to be difficult to remember—and type! But it very accurately describes the anytime and everywhere purchase path of today’s omni-channel shoppers.

It also means that retailers will increasingly struggle to catch up. Without RFID and significant investment in virtual inventory management, it will be impossible to completely satisfy instant purchase gratification.

On the flip side, retailers need to bear in mind that consumers make tradeoffs. Many consumers, including Millennials, will opt for a superior experience and service over immediate possession. However, retailers must also understand that the bar is constantly being raised for customer experience, both in-store and online.

Kenneth Leung

It is sensible if the retailer has the margin for it. The luxury services segment like Ritz Carlton and premium retail brands have been doing it for a long time, but they have managed to maintain the premium pricing for it. Big difference for Hermes to support it versus Walmart. Bottom line, IWWIWWIWI works if someone pays for it. Right now there is so much investment capital in this space, like the last dot-com boom, that there is a lot of subsidy and disposable income to support it. If the income and spend doesn’t support it, the “I want what I want when I want it” won’t have anyone willing to respond to it.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

As noted this is a demanding generation. Recently, while speaking to an audience of parents of high school students, I was asked what’s different about today’s college students. I reflected and responded, “You are—the parents.” As helicopter parents they have enabled this generation and contributed to the noted mentality and behavior.

Having said this, it is still incumbent for retailers to identify the target markets that are most compatible with their culture and systems. Once identified, it is necessary to manage expectations. In my case whenever a parent would call me about their son or daughter’s progress in my class, I would not discuss this topic with the parent and politely tell them that the student should come to see me. I never received a follow-up parental call and the student’s issues were addressed.

Managing expectations is the key, whomever the customer might be.

Max Goldberg

Retailers are expected to jump through consumer-imposed hoops. Part of this trend is consumer expectations, having been told by retailers, “have it your way” for years, and part of it is generational. Millennials have been raised differently than Boomers, although Boomers’ parents called us too self-centered as well.

Retailers need to set boundaries and at the same time need to offer perceived value to customers. To some that value may be free shipping. To others it may be helpful, knowledgeable sales people. Few retailers can be all things to all people.

Above all, retailers need to be true to their brand messages. Make a promise and deliver on it. Don’t over promise and expect consumers to understand under-delivery.

Bill Davis

Absolutely. If that’s what consumers demand, then it requires meeting/exceeding those expectations, especially if consumers are willing to pay a premium for the product/service. Retailers won’t always succeed, but the minute they stop trying is when they start losing customers to the competition.

Ed Rosenbaum

Retailers are in a bit of a bind when it comes to the irrational customer. They do not want to lose them so there has to be a way to find what they want. Sometimes I think it is more a matter of win/win on the part of the customer demands. The “I want it now” is a sign of the petulant, spoiled child who never had an understanding of the word no. At some point you will lose them as a customer no matter how much you beg them to stay. It is a power play on their part so let them go try it on someone else.

Ken Lonyai

I haven’t read the book, but I do know that every consumer has a different threshold of engagement and attention span, so a retailer can only shoot for some middle ground trying to satisfy the immediate needs of its customers. For some niche markets that might be an easier challenge, but it will never be an exact science.

Given that retailers are already challenged with keeping pace with technology, the basics of both business and tech are important to get right. Whatever the consumer engagement is, human- or technology-based, executing well is more important than covering every eventuality poorly.

Mark Burr
2 years 11 months ago
I think Mike Rutherford and his friends “The Mechanics” can help answer this question best with the lyrics: Every generationBlames the one beforeAnd all of their frustrationsCome beating on your door You say you just don’t see itHe says it’s perfect senseYou just can’t get agreementIn this present tenseWe all talk a different languageTalking in defense While all among different generations may say it differently, it is the same message in this case. In reality there is little difference in expectation from generation to generation. What does exist is a common frustration across generational boundaries—the longing for an experience that makes a difference. Thus the mutual frustration. Lets not confuse what appears to be a IWWIWWIWI mentality with just a plain and simple frustration with an experience that is lacking from most retailers. Those that lack that the most consider the expectation an unrealistic demand. Yet their customers are telling them something loud and clear—that they’d like a little more from them. Thus the lack of brand loyalty is rather self-explanatory. Consumers are simply bouncing from choice to choice seeking an experience level they desire. It’s less generational than it is a failure of so many retailers to provide an… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
2 years 11 months ago

Meeting the heavy demands of IWWIWWIWI customers leads to further erosion in a retailer’s control of his/her strategy. That questions the sensibility of such a program even as the environment expands upon on that concession.

Instant gratification demands also go for retailers when their gut tells them they are about to lose control of their business to those customers hungry to design and control retail processes just for the fun of getting commercial power.

Shep Hyken

Retailers taught consumers to expect to get what they want when they want it (GWTWWTWI). You can order it today and have it tomorrow—or even later today. You can order it online at home and swing by the store in an hour and it will be waiting. The retailers that participate in this type of activity raise the bar and expectations for everyone. They create demanding customers who demand the same level of service they get from their favorite retailers who offer this version of instant service.

Ed Stevens
Ed Stevens
2 years 11 months ago

Shoppers want flexibility in how they receive the things they buy. They want to craft their own fulfillment experiences. This is where shopping meets other interactive trends in the broader world.

Demand for fulfillment flexibility is only going to grow. Why? Because it allows shoppers to save time. They can craft fulfillment to match their complex lives. Convenience saves time, and more time leads to richer lives.

Retailers who are out of touch or buried in old, on-premise technology will simply be replaced by those who use cloud-based technology that enables all of these experiences easily and at a fairly low cost.

And if none of today’s retailers are up to the task, there are plenty of ambitious Millennials who will open retail stores, chose modern technology stacks and take market share from the old and slow.

Jeff Hall

There is an interesting convergence of need states surfacing here. On the one hand, consumers are increasingly channel-agnostic when it comes to the source of purchase (driving the “I need it NOW” mentality), and on the other, there is something to be said for Millennials (and any customer segment, for that matter) wanting to be viewed and treated as individuals.

The risk to many retailers is in attempting to fully satisfy the needs of the most demanding, petulant customers, who likely represent a very small percentage of their customer base, and who exhibit absolutely no brand advocacy or loyalty.

The most sustainable retailers focus relentlessly on their brand promise, and work to align the omni-channel purchase touch points in a consistent and intentional manner. Connecting with customers on some level, hence the personalization/treating customers as individuals, can be the more powerful, lasting measure of meeting expectations.

Ralph Jacobson

In a word, “Yes.” When retailers and CPG brands do not respond to consumer demands effectively, they simply become irrelevant. Think for a moment about some obvious brands that go way over the edge on customer service. Those brands are most often the most successful brands in the market place. If shoppers know they can get what they want…and even things they didn’t know they wanted, the loyalty tends to be deeper than with other brands.

Roger Saunders

When a customer’s needs are inconsistent with a retailer’s strategic objectives, a breaking point comes into the equation. Some salesmanship, and some sharing of information may be called upon to rekindle a relationship, or to provide the polite, “I’m sorry we can’t help you this time, but we look forward to the opportunity to serve in the future.”

If I’m a diamond merchant, and a client needs a certain product tomorrow, at a certain price, the diamond merchant doesn’t close up his case. It’s important to listen to the client and make certain he understands how the merchandise is to be used, how important is reliability, how long-lasting will this purchase item may be of value to the client, and why does it have to be ready tomorrow.

Not all items that are purchased are diamonds. And, not all Millennials’ demands have been completely thought through. No retailer can meet every Millennial, Gen X, Boomer, or Traditional shopper’s needs. Sometimes a deal cannot be completed. If a retailer’s strategic and operational objectives don’t match up, then it might be an occasion to let that “instant gratification demand” slip past.

Lee Kent

Folks, you’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again: There’s no such thing as a collective mindset, there are differences within every demographic, there is no perfect customer for your scenario. No, it’s about understanding your customer’s path(s) to purchase and addressing the touchpoints that will take them to the happy ending.

If retail can provide meaningful engagement along those paths, they might be surprised at the customers reaction. Sometimes the customer will find out that they didn’t know what they actually needed. Those are the opportunities where retail can shine.

Perhaps we can then change IWWIWWIWI to IYCHMDWIWIWBI (If you can help me determine what I want I’ll buy it)…or something like that!

And that, my friends, is my 2 cents!

Ed Dunn
2 years 11 months ago

IWWIWWIWI does not have to be the full transaction/fulfillment process. Retailers should focus on accommodating IWWIWWIWI at the order submitted level over the Internet or allow a customer to place a hold at the store for the customer to satisfy IWWIWWIWI.

Christopher P. Ramey

Great merchants will see “WANTING IT NOW” as an opportunity.

Profit has always awaited retailers that moved with/ahead of trends, or those who create trends.

Understanding your customer and fulfilling their needs, wants and desires has always been the Holy Grail. Frankly, I wish more of my clients “wanted it now.”


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