Pavlov ecommerce convenience

How Paul Magnette got himself captured by the myth of convenience

“Let Belgium become a country without e-commerce, with real shops and bustling cities.” With that statement from his double interview with right-hand man Thomas Dermine in Humo, PS president Paul Magnette raised eyebrows all over the country in recent days. Not least among the many entrepreneurs who rely on digital shopping to keep their business model going and their eager customers: all of us.

After the nuclear exit, the leader of our country’s largest French-speaking party also wants to make an e-commerce exit if possible. Indeed, Magnette says the focus should be on real shops and vibrant city centres. However, the mayor of Charleroi should not be expected to give any further indication of how these traditional shops will survive amid the digital force of e-commerce giants. The fact that the statement caused such a stir shows how far away from reality politicians sometimes are.

Naturally, such political quotes should be consumed with a much-needed context-sensitive grain of salt, especially when they come from a party leader under electoral pressure who is mainly preparing the next move on the Vivaldi chessboard with this opinion. At the same time, Magnette seems to ignore a reality that has become self-evident to many companies and their respective customers. After all, people are increasingly buying online, especially after suffering a pandemic that introduced new habits to a group of consumers who previously shunned the online shopping basket.

of Belgians ordered online in 2021 (Ecommerce Europe)

At the same time, there is something to be said for some of Magnette’s reasoning when it comes to the ill effects associated with the sometimes ruthless digitalisation. Of course, from a classical socialist point of view, he wants to defend the often low-skilled workers responsible for processing all those orders and the flood of free returns that often follows, resulting in recent abuses at several couriers. But when he openly wonders in the interview whether we, as consumers, really cannot wait two days for a book to be delivered to our homes, I immediately make the link to my own thesis that we have slowly but surely acquired a completely wrong interpretation of the loaded word convenience. And let that be precisely what comrade Paul and his followers appear to be fulminating against.

of Flemish consumers are not willing to pay a premium for sustainable delivery (Descartes)

Convenience has become something of a holy grail in the world of branding and marketing. It is a vain pursuit with no end point, with organisations in the wake of, Amazon and other Zalando’s responding ever faster, more efficiently and completely fricitionless to the perceived needs of their target audiences. The rule in e-commerce is therefore: the more convenience the better. Rather deliver that parcel to a demanding customer yesterday than tomorrow.

Smart brands, however, are increasingly stepping out of that race towards ever more convenience, more correctly interpreting the term as “without fuss and with respect for everyone involved”. They understand that convenience is not so much about speed as it is about putting customers’ real motives at the centre. Based on a clear brand purpose, they have understood that those customers prefer an authentic experience and a shared set of values to speed and convenience – and are also willing to pay more for it.

The winners of the future, online or physical, are organisations that have understood that it is better to invest in relationships than in transactions. It is the brands that focus on the customer (and therefore not on the process) that can count on loyalty and ambassadorship. Moreover, the channel becomes irrelevant: a customer will entrust his purchase to the medium in which he experiences the most added value in an interaction with a brand at that moment – whether digital or not.

Politicians would be well-advised to listen to smart brands like that more often, to discover how putting the target group at the centre can often lead to insights that go beyond sloganeering calls to isolate us collectively as a country, in which e-commerce is to be avoided as an evil evolution at all costs. The harmony between bustling cities brimming with fine shops and efficient web shops will be given to them for free.

This article also appeared as an opinion piece in Trends.