What brands can learn from the Coles Little Shop craze

MercerBell senior strategy planner of CX Claire Webber
By MercerBell senior strategy planner of CX Claire Webber | 4 October 2018

Towards the end of July, something strange started happening to both my family and friends. My son started demanding that I shop in Coles, while my social media feed was filled with frantic mums desperately trying to swap small toothpaste tubes for miniature tubs of Vegemite. Coles’ Little Shop promotion, which offered tiny replica shopping items for every $30 spent in store, had been unleashed and it was gaining an unstoppable momentum.

Unlike the Woolies animal cards and Disney Pixar dominos that quickly moved into my junk drawer, Little Shop was showing no sign of fatigue, even after the campaign officially finished.

A trawl through the internet reveals some seriously impressive bidding for the collectables on eBay, Facebook Groups (the Coles Little Shop - Minis Swap Group Australia had 21,819 members at last count), and a whole host of new keywords and search terms trending with Google. What’s more, this all took place around the time that the major supermarkets were embroiled in issues around ditching the plastic bags.

So I wondered what the marketing play was? Now that the campaign has officially come to an end, I thought I’d analyse the strategy behind the success.

And what a success it was. Recent reports from analysts at Citi suggest Little Shop was a driving force in helping the supermarket giant to outperform rivals Woolworths for the first time in two years. What’s more, Coles actually reduced the number of discounts on their shelves, driving up their profit margin.

As an aside, I don’t know how Coles and the assorted brands managed to negotiate to get included in the shop small “roster” but whichever brands made the cut, must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Little Shop worked initially as it was the kids who loved the concept - they’re little toy versions that children can “play shop” with - but the hook went deeper. The kids may have kicked off the demand, but the mums, Coles’ heartland, took over the obsession.

Flipping CX convention on its head

The amount of time and effort that the mums were putting in was remarkable. In customer experience (CX) we talk about removing pain points, striving for smoother CX across the journey, and making it easy for the customer to meet their needs.

But Little Shop completely goes against the grain. It deliberately makes it hard to obtain and swap the set. And yet, here were Coles customers setting up shop, trading on Ebay, searching out their missing pieces, and posting daily on Facebook about their swapping status. All while returning to Coles in search of that elusive piece.

It was a very clever gamification. It was the mums that were seeking to complete the set. Not the kids. So it went beyond a fad and the adults were no longer getting pestered, but the obsession continued. The kids had lost interest and moved on – in the case of my house, it’s now Fortnite dance moves.

This idea of striving to complete is not new. Completeness is a facet of the gamification trend and the idea that never quite completing the ‘whatever’ frustrates the hell out of us. Again, ask any CX specialist and they’ll tell you frustrating the customer isn’t clever. And yet Little Shop was smart.

Perhaps the masters of combining CX with a frustrating level of gamification is LinkedIn. We’re constantly reminded our profiles on the site are only partially complete, which is frustrating, yet behind this is a tacit understanding that if we complete our profile we’ll get a better experience, while LinkedIn gets a richer data set. It’s the same reason many loyalty programs push us to fill out our profile, although few do it with as much finesse as LinkedIn.

So what can other brands learn from Little Shop?

In the case of Little Shop, which was clearly set in the offline world, the gamification was never actually about completing the set. It was about the participation and the experience of being part of something – not the outcome. It might have been frustrating searching for that mini-Tim Tam, but it was fun and added a human element to the experience. Loyalty programs are personal to us, but Little Shop encouraged us to be part of a community, all centred around Coles. That’s smart, as Coles itself doesn’t even need to be part of those conversations.

The extra effort involved with gamification raises your engagement with the brand. When you really get your customers involved and they are more emotionally involved in your brand, this can mean they are, in turn, more conscious of your brand – what a typical marketer would describe as brand awareness. What brands then hope for is that experience turns into longer term brand commitment.

As Little Shop winds down, it’s likely those collectable folders will eventually make their way to the junk drawer, but the strategy and results were anything but disposable. The challenge now is for Coles to build on this through a well-rounded customer experience that keeps shoppers in their aisles rather than those of Woolies.

Given there’s rumours of a new Coles Little Shop campaign next year, it’s highly likely my kids will be dusting off the miniatures and dragging me back into Coles. And I’ll be back willingly. Purely from a strategist’s perspective, you understand – it’s honestly nothing to do with the fact I desperately need that miniature Milo tin.

MercerBell senior strategy planner of CX Claire Webber

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