At the Tipping Point?

A lot of the discussions around the GoodGuide office touch on why people buy specific products. In most cases, a purchase decision comes down to price, efficacy, and convenience. Only recently has health impact really been a serious factor and, even though we may not like to admit it, environmental impact and social justice issues are barely on the radar screens of most shoppers.

It looks like convenience actually plays a pretty big role in what we choose to buy. Based on this article from the LA Times about concentrated cleaners, shoppers may not be ready to switch to new products because these items are just too great a departure from what they’re used to. Logically, concentrated cleaners should be a win for companies (lower shipping costs), the consumer (no more heavy products to carry around), and the environment (less packaging). However, many consumers aren’t buying in because they are focused on how much their behavior would have to change to use the cleaner: they’d have to add water on their own and there would be a constant worry about making mistakes mixing.

Is this change ultimately too much for us to get used to? It would be ironic if this were so, as there was a point where we never used bottled household cleaners (we still cleaned, though). We’re clearly willing to change under the right conditions.

Establishing these conditions requires some serious shifts in how we think. Unfortunately, there is no window of time to educate the consumer before a product’s sales performance is measured, putting leading-edge companies at a distinct disadvantage. According to Kelly Semrau, an SC Johnson spokeswoman, “most retailers would kick us off the shelf before we’d even have time for an idea like this to catch on fire,” indicating that there is little wiggle room for products that need time to percolate with shoppers. Mass marketing campaigns (that could create awareness and cultivate a “new way to clean”) aren’t really on the agenda for companies, as such efforts are estimated to carry a multi-million dollar price tag.

So what does it mean when we can’t meet a company halfway? Companies like ours are trying to help connect the dots, but there’s obviously still some climbing to do before we get to the tipping point.

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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