If businesses could read consumers’ minds, retail and food service would look very different than it does today. The ability to predict a consumer’s preference – to know what they will want to buy before they go looking for it, and then to sell directly to that consumer – would be a game changer. That’s because consumers are constantly making tradeoffs in their minds that businesses can’t perfectly predict. Quality versus price, brand name versus positive reviews – these are the things consumers weigh against one another constantly, every day, and all the time. While no company can read a consumer’s mind, effective market research can reveal important insight into consumer trends. Given the enormous swing toward online shopping options, one of the biggest questions researchers have tried to answer in recent years is the emphasis consumers place on convenience. How much will a customer pay for an easy shopping experience? What is the price tag a business can put on the speed and user friendliness of their ordering process? In other words: Does convenience really matter to consumers? 

Our intuition tells us that convenience does matter. A fast and easy purchasing experience is superior to a slow and difficult one. Moreover, there is some data to suggest that consumers will actively seek out convenience when they go shopping. According to market research conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in January of 2020, the following figures paint a picture showing the importance of convenience: 

  • 83% of consumers say that “convenience while shopping is more important now compared with 5 years ago.” 
  • 93% of consumers say that “they are more likely to choose to shop at a specific retailer based on convenience” 
  • 97% of consumers report they have stopped proceeding with a purchase because it was inconvenient 

These figures demonstrate theres a trend in the market that is shifting toward a greater priority on convenience. The fact that the overwhelming majority of consumers self-report that they place a greater premium on convenience now compared with 5 years ago is a possible indication that in order for companies to compete in 2020, they can’t focus solely on the quality and price of their products. They need to actively invest in making the shopping experience more convenient for their customers who, more and more, are increasing their valuation of convenience. 

However, while the figures above are telling, it’s possible that there’s something missing there. An abstract and unspecific preference for convenience has no stakes attached to it. It doesn’t say anything about how a consumer would weigh a more convenient option against a cheaper or higher quality one. To understand consumer preferences in greater detail, some additional evidence found by the NRF needs to be considered. First, they determined that most consumers do not rank convenience as the most important factor in their shopping decision process. In fact, only about one in ten consumers reported that convenience was more important than any other factor. Comparing that to the combined six in ten respondents that prioritize quality and price, it seems that convenience isn’t the most salient factor for most consumers. The tradeoff that occurs in the mind of the consumer, significantly more times than not, prioritizes quality and price over convenience.  

If this seems like an incomplete answer to the question of whether convenience really matters, consider one final statistic that is bound to send even more of a mixed message. That same pool of respondents – the ones that overwhelmingly express a trend toward prioritizing convenience, and yet do not allow it to trump their preference for quality and price – showed that 52% of consumers “say that half or more of their purchases are influenced by convenience.” In summary, half of the pool says that half of the time convenience influences their decision. This, to understate the obvious, shows just how nebulous consumer preferences are when it comes to convenience. Is the faster and easier option preferable to the one that makes more financial sense? Does convenience really matter? Without access to a crystal ball, we must look to market research for answers, and that research presents an unsatisfying, but honest answer about consumer trends in 2020: sometimes it matters.