The Modern Hunter Gatherer and the Rise of the Home Assistant

Consumer behaviours are constantly changing, and the consumer of today is a completely different animal to that of years gone by. As a result retailers and brands have to adapt and shift their strategies or face annihilation in the face of a new retailer versus consumer ‘arms race’.


Consider the humble supermarket visit, once the mainstay of a consumer’s grocery purchasing experience, the weekly shop is rapidly disappearing from the consumer psyche. Customers are no longer colouring within the lines of a shopping list in a ‘bricks and mortar’ store. Increasingly, consumers are carrying out smaller more frequent midi and micro shops whilst commuting home.


In this hyper-connected, on-demand and immediate world, time-deprived consumers are shunning the concept of planning ahead and shopping for the moment.

In a recent survey carried out by Waitrose, a third of us do not decide what to have for dinner until at least 4 pm that day, with 11% of us making a selection just before we eat.


This cultural shift towards frequent top-up shops can be seen in the fabric of the store. For example, Waitrose has been cutting back on their big trollies and investing in shallower ones to suit their customer’s less voluminous shopping trips. Add to this the rise of self-checkouts and ‘tap and go’ contactless payments, the nature of our shopping experience is evolving to become more streamlined and convenient.


Alongside the evolution of consumer habits within supermarkets, an equally interesting shift in the online world of grocery retail is occurring.

The number of home assistants being purchased is rising steadily, with units such as the Amazon Echo selling an estimated 24 million units in 2017.

So what is the impact of the rise of the home assistant to the consumer? Most voice searches by phone are generally related to Instructions to the phone, asking for a route, making a call or playing music, however with the rise of home assistants how consumers engage with retailers has interesting ramifications for the humble shopping list.

Consider the consumer in their home, they have excitedly adopted their brand new home assistant and are using it for online grocery shopping, they reach for some detergent and see the bottle is nearly empty…

“Alexa, add washing detergent to the shopping list”

In that defining moment, the voice recognition software has created passive loyalty, the consumer has unconsciously made a repeat purchase of the same product on their electronic shopping list.

Competing brands are eliminated in an instant.

The consumer is no longer walking past a wall of brand voices, each shouting for attention. Outside of the shopping aisle context, Alexa has reduced the list of competitors to one.

Voice recognition has the potential to turn indecisive in-store shoppers into a loyal consumer in their own home. If a brand has won the consumer’s primary purchase and made it on to their coveted shopping list, then in all likelihood, the consumer indifference will lead to repurchase again and again.

In this new tier of on-demand shopping, most consumers are basing their selection on a category, not a brand: “add toothpaste to the shopping list” is very different to “add ‘brand X’ toothpaste to the shopping list”. Unless the brand is synonymous with the activity itself (a certain well-known vacuum cleaner brand for instance) there is a slimmer chance than ever for a brand name to make it onto the shopping list.

Is this the beginning of the end for marketing and branding? Not at all! It just means brands must work even harder to gain the trust of the consumer, effective marketing and a quality product will always have the potential to become a category leader.

It is crucial that brands adapt their strategy to match ever-changing consumer habits to maximise their market potential and develop novel methods to attract and retain market share.

Micro shopping, tap and go, buy-as-I-need and voice recognition are remoulding shopping dynamics. What was once a ritualistic Saturday event has become either the passing visit of an impulsive hunter-gatherer or the absent-minded demand of a home assistant powered, passive loyalist.

“Alexa, play me a song”


– Anthony Welch @ DECIDE.


Awards presented to Decide include: DBA Design Effecttiveness Award Winner; IPM Awards Silver Winner 2019; The Luxury Packaging Awards Finalist 2014; MDA Marketing Design Awards Finalist 2014 Awards presented to Decide include: DBA Design Effecttiveness Award Winner; IPM Awards Silver Winner 2019; The Luxury Packaging Awards Finalist 2014; MDA Marketing Design Awards Finalist 2014