The Nature of Convenience

by Dec 5, 2019

Shelton Stat of the Week

47% of Millennial women are either using or considering using reusable period products.

Are we changing how we define convenience?

Twice this year I’ve co-presented at conferences with Dave Marcotte of Kantar, and both times I’ve heard him say:

  • “We do research all over the world, and in every country we hear the same two things: ‘I don’t have enough time, and I don’t get enough sleep.’”
  • “Thus, the need for convenience is growing, to the point that it’s eroding price sensitivities. As an example, when was the last time you negotiated with your Uber driver?”

On the surface, the systemic challenge with this insight is that convenience is at the heart of our take-use-dispose linear economy. So, if we now have an intense need for even more convenience, it will be damn near impossible to shift to a circular approach which might seem to be less convenient.

But as Susannah Enkema, our VP of Research, wisely said, “What if the way we think about convenience is changing?”

In our report A Period of Change, released earlier this year, we found that concerns about health and toxicity, and angst over waste generation, is driving some young women to purchase reusable period products. Some women reported that cost savings were a major plus, and in their view the reusable products performed better than the conventional products – and having fewer leaks is definitely more convenient. We’ve heard that not having to remember to buy a box of tampons, and not having to go around asking other women for tampons when you realize you need but don’t have one, are also major forms of convenience. Somebody in our office actually commented that she finds the whole experience of using a Diva cup more convenient than traditional tampons.

I don’t have the data to back this up, but I have a hypothesis that if you’d asked young women 10 years ago if the process of dealing with their periods with disposable products was convenient, they would have agreed. And they wouldn’t have been able to conceive of a reusable product being MORE convenient.

According to another report we released this year, Americans are now more concerned about plastics in the ocean than they are about climate change. As we all become aware of the plastic waste crisis, it seems some of us may be waking up to the impact of our purchases and choices and willing to rethink what’s convenient and what’s not.

I know SC Johnson has made a couple of runs at selling concentrates. Instead of buying an entire bottle of Windex (which is mostly water), you buy the bottle once, buy a concentrate and pour it in, adding your own water. Ten years ago we did do some qualitative exploration around refillables and Americans weren’t “there” yet. The perceived mess of mixing their own products and fear of getting the mix wrong and winding up with a cleaning product that didn’t fully clean was enough to stop folks from being interested in saving a little money and reducing their waste. Mixing your own seemed inconvenient.

SC Johnson has steadily expanded their concentrate offerings in the last few years, which they wouldn’t do if they weren’t getting some traction (no matter how committed to the environment they are, and Fisk Johnson certainly is). I hope this means that Americans, spurred by guilt about their plastic waste, are seeing that it’s actually more convenient (and less expensive) to have a couple of small bottles of concentrate tucked under the sink so they can easily mix their own when they run out vs. having to carry, store and pay for more plastic and water when they run out.

In the wake of so many news reports about China and other Asian countries refusing to deal with our recyclables, causing municipal curbside recycling programs to implode and shut down all around the country, I also wonder if this will be a wake-up call for Americans. Will it make us see that the “convenience” promise we’ve been sold – “Just buy the products and don’t worry about the waste … chuck it in the bin and it will be magically turned into another product!” – is a bit of a fantasy? And will that drive us to more fully reimagine convenience and pave the way for a circular economy?

These are all great questions … questions we intend to dig into in our Pulse™ research in 2020. Stay tuned …


Americans Say ‘Enough’ to Plastic

American consumers care about the problem of plastic waste more than ever – even more than climate change, our 2019 research reveals. We polled 1,000 Americans on environmental issues, and “plastics in the ocean” ranked as their top concern. Now is the time for brands to tell their plastic waste story, and to step up and give consumers what they want: alternatives to single-use plastic – perhaps some circular options.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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