Running a qualitative consumer research group recently, one of the participants surprised me with a metaphor that made great sense.
She said that the web had taught her to “forage”, her term, looking for stuff of interest, checking out the Sku’s available in a category far more widely than previously, when she had a modest “basket” of regulars, with a pecking order, and that did not change much from month to month. This reminded her of the behavior of the farm dogs she had as a kid, always looking for something to eat, in different places, and always nuzzling something new when it became available, and then deciding if it had any interest.
The implications are pretty clear. Experimentation within categories, and into adjacent categories may have been encouraged by the transfer of the “nuzzling” behavior we undertake every day as we cruise the web, looking for tit-bits of interest.
Sku numbers in supermarkets have exploded over the last 20 years, and I always thought it was just the drive for shelf presence and often minor differentiation in an effort to attract consumers that had driven it, but perhaps there is something more primal in our reaction to variety.