What purchasing is about EFFORTS

Right behind Valencia’s town hall there’s a family business, Herboristería Navarro, now managed by Paula Navarro, a great aromatherapy specialist, whose herbalist's shop has now been extended up to 2000 sq.m. The company sells all types of organic products and offers highly appreciated natural cosmetics that are included among their wide range of products.

On social media people speak really well of the herbalist's shop Navarro.

On "foros.vogue" online forum a person, “mandarina”, commented on 23 November 2007 that her boyfriend had bought his natural soap made of Dead Sea salts there. And he seems to be delighted.

A notary, a person whose job consists of attesting what really happens, would certify that the girl’s boyfriend gets an amazing soap in exchange for a certain amount of money.

However, in the same forum, another person, “leonor79”, wrote on that very same conversation:

“I want to go to Germany and rock it!”

“leonor79” unveils in the comment that the soap is a less important thing… Actually, it seems to be the road to “rock it” in Germany. Put in other words, as we understand from “leonor79”'s comment, the product is not what is said on the label, but the meaning it has to the person-customer. That is, the solution that the soap provides.

Solution for efforts

Most of the times we take for granted that purchasing is an exchange of Product (or Service) for Money. In economics it’s even called “commercial transaction”.

However, from the customer’s perspective, buying is not about that, but about getting a certain solution, for which he/she is wiling to give much more than money: efforts.

A real solution

A product itself is not necessarily a complete solution. For example, 4 car tires can even be a discomfort if you buy them with your smartphone and you get them home. If you are not skilled enough or haven't got the right skills, these good tires become a problem.

In marketing a solution can be composed of three elements that might be provided or channeled by the company:

  1. Products
  2. Services
  3. Activities

For instance, in some countries, such as Peru, the example above varies. There are companies that sell tires through the Internet and other ones that go with a well-equipped van to the customer’s house to change the tires. Also in this case we can see that the solution -provided by two companies- consists of the product (tires) plus the service (the third party installer).

The efforts

The efforts are all those inconveniences, problems, worries, activities and “pains” (including the payment) that customers have to assume to obtain the desired solution.

For instance, in the store....

To arrive before they close

To park the car

To find what you’re looking for or ask for help

To pay

To bring the products home...

There are also other efforts -sometimes invisible- like feeling lost or ignorant when reading a product label during the purchase.

Even in the e-shops there are many efforts the customers have to face: sign up, read and confirm the purchase terms and conditions, verify they are a real person by typing weird combinations of numbers and letters, wait for the delivery, be at home when the product arrives, etc.

It’s not only about the efforts in the shop

When we talk about the efforts the customer has to make to reach the solution offered by the company, we can’t only think about those that happen in the physical or digital store. We must take into account the whole the purchasing process, including what comes before and after the moment in the shop.

To facilitate the way to arrive by car, make a packaging that is not terribly difficult to open, or create an accessible and friendly post-sales service are examples of effort reduction beyond the store.

The different dimensions of the efforts

Not all the efforts are of the same nature, or need to be addressed the same way. We propose three dimensions to classify customers’ efforts that might be useful to understand and then try to reduce them with a right approach and given priorities.

  1. The moment of the effort: in the shop (or e-shop), before or after.
  2. The way customers feel this effort: it is an objective effort, or rather subjective.
  3. If there is a relationship with a given customer context: effort caused or increased by that context, or not.

Two examples of efforts according to these two dimensions could be:

In a hypermarket, normally attended by families with kids, there’s not always a playing area for the kids, so parents have to be with them all the time. Nowadays you can frequently see kids running, hear parents shouting, and see their nervous and exhausted faces. This is an example of efforts in the purchasing moment, subjective (they feel overwhelmed by the situation) and linked to the context (tired parents who care about their children).

A person buys a movie streaming service, and when she tries it, she realises it doesn’t work. She calls the post-sales service and they pass her from a teleoperator to another, without getting her problem solved. After half an hour on the phone, she is told she’d better call the next day, because the expert is not there at that moment. This would be an example of an effort after the purchasing moment, objective (she doesn’t get her technical problem solved) and not related to the customer’s context.

Reducing efforts, a key pilar of the customer experience

When the efforts customers have to make during the purchasing process are significantly reduced, there’s an important increase in his/her quality of life at that moment. Therefore, there’s no doubt that it can boost customer’s preference towards the vendor.

Amazon is a clear example of a company that has developed a retail concept whose main engine is the effort reduction when purchasing, applying it to almost every product category.

Furthermore, there are studies that show the companies focusing on reducing their customers’ efforts foster their loyalty more than those that basically focus on delighting them (Dixon, M., Freeman, K. & Toman, N., 2010).

In summary, no matter what the management approach is, it is profitable to allocate resources to reduce efforts, especially the ones perceived as most annoying by the customers.

A practical proposal

To be able to detect most of the efforts customers have to make, we suggest to organise a game:

A “Safari of efforts”

It consists of an internal game -better with a prize- in which the collaborators try to find out all the efforts customers have to make during all the purchase process. You will be surprised by the huge amount of efforts that can be detected and that hadn’t been identified to that moment.

Obviously, after the game I suggest to prioritise the list of efforts to eliminate or reduce, even by reengineering the purchase process.

Reducing efforts is a fundamental pillar of the purchasing experience. As we explain in the chapter about purchasing experience, this is based on two pillars: imagination and efforts reduction. If we want our customers' purchasing experience to be really positive and make them come back, it's undoubtedly worth an effort to reduce the efforts.



Dixon, M., Freeman, K. & Toman, N. (2010) Stop trying to delight your customers. Harvard Business Review, July.


Text by Lluís Martínez-Ribes, BCN, 2017


Now that you've read the chapter, we invite you to take the quiz.

If you want to give better answers (and get a better grade), think if you should read the note again before going to the quiz.


Created with images by jar [o] - "Chopstick" • lungstruck - "New Tires #2" • Steve Snodgrass - "CLOSED" • Hans - "multi storey car park parking park level" • PublicDomainPictures - "help matches red" • jarmoluk - "money card business" • kaboompics - "shopping bags paper"

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