What if we all sold like Amazon?
But it was the angry woman in line in front of me in Peoria that made it all worthwhile. “I fly from Dallas to here every week,” she said. “This happens a lot.” I smiled and shrugged. What can you do?
“What did you pay for your ticket?” she asked. I told her.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. I agreed.
“Imagine this,” she said. “You go to the hardware store to buy a couple gallons of paint because you want to paint the living room. The paint costs $25.”
“So the salesman asks you when you’re going to paint the living room and you tell him you’re going to do it this Saturday.”
“So follow this logic,” she says, “because this is how the airlines work. The hardware salesman tells you the paint now costs $75. You ask why and he tells you it’s because you’re painting this weekend. The $25 paint is only for people who are going to be painting two months from now, not this weekend. Get it?”
Imagine if you tried to sell your stuff that way. A customer needs a new boiler because his old boiler just dropped dead. The contractor is installing the new one tomorrow, so that means you can triple the price of the boiler. Hey, it works for Delta Airlines so it should work for you, too, right?
Or how about this? Amazon.com has been beating the snot out of stores such as Walmart, Target and Kohl’s for several years, especially around the holidays. Amazon offers its Prime-membership program, which gives free (sort of) shipping to anyone who wants to pony up a hundred bucks each year for membership in the club.
Millions go for it because the only thing people love more than a good deal is free. So Amazon charges up front for the shipping and then tells its customers they can now have it for free, which reminds me of a sign I saw in front of a local greasy spoon. It read, “Buy two hot dogs at full price and receive the second one absolutely FREE!”
They were lining up for that. Go ahead and try it with circulators. It works.
But back to Walmart, Target and Kohl’s. Their response to Amazon was to offer the stuff on their websites for the same prices Amazon was charging, but instead of free shipping (which they don’t want to give because they don’t have a Prime program), they tell the customer to pick up the stuff at a local store. That way, the customer can have it the same day. And if you clear your mind for a moment and really think about this, it’s not very different from just going into the store and buying the stuff in the first place. But people do love to shop online these days, so adding the extra step makes the customer feel like they’re buying at Amazon prices but getting it the same day, and that’s just grand.
Amazon will be answering with drones.
Oh, and another plus for the Walmart et al. approach is when people have to pick up at the store they’ll probably buy something else while they’re there. The online part is just because that’s what the American consumer wants.
I find all this inspirational. How about if you start charging yearly membership fees to all your contractors who expect you to deliver stuff to their shops or their jobs. Give it a cool name such as Stunad or perhaps Mishegas. Can’t miss!
Or just make them go to your website first before they show up at your place to pick up their stuff. If it works for Target, it should work for you.
A tangled Web
Just after last Thanksgiving, The Lovely Marianne sat with her laptop and ordered five sets of Christmas pajamas for our five young grandchildren. She ordered from Kohl’s because she had a coupon.
A week went by and other packages arrived from Kohl’s, but none held the pajamas. So TLM called the 800 number and got into it with a clerk. He told her the order must have been lost in space and he would re-enter it, giving her the 30% off coupon she had tried to use before. This mollified her somewhat because TLM loves coupons. If I was bleeding to death, she would buy me a tourniquet, but only if she could get a second one for half price. But I digress.
More days passed and still no sleepwear. So TLM got on the phone again and went back and forth with a Kohl’s employee who probably lives somewhere very far away. The clerk told my sweet wife that they had cancelled the order because the pajamas were no longer available. So there.
This turned The Lovely Marianne into a frothing Looney Tunes character. The faraway woman listened as my darling raved, but still no PJs.
OK, here comes the part I love the best. The next day, The Lovely Marianne went to the brick-and-mortar Kohl’s store and there was a huge pile of the PJs and in all sizes.
All of which may make you wonder why she went to the store after going 15 furious, international rounds with a stranger. Or why she just didn’t go to the store in the first place instead of bothering with the online world. I didn’t ask her because I know better.
But know this: My sweet wife of so many years is the personification of the American consumer. I learn much by watching her.
There’s a shoe company that went on the Kickstarter website to raise a bunch of money so its startup business could make shoes in America and sell directly to the consumer, shortening the chain of distribution and delivering a high-quality product at a fair price.
The campaign, which ended successfully, included a video that showed the 134 steps involved in making the good American shoe. They fast-forwarded through dozens of workers during the video where each employee held the shoe at various stages of completion and stared patriotically into the camera. It was very moving.
The thing about this company, though, is you can’t just outright buy the shoes. You have to first put in a request for a pair. They then tell you when they’ll be making your pair. For me, they mentioned a date seven weeks from now. They first had to raise the steer, kill it, butcher it and cure the leather. They would let me know when all the stitching was done, the grommets in place and the laces laced. I would then be able to send them a lot of money to consummate the deal and seal our relationship forevermore, which is sweet as can be but not original.
Maker’s Mark does a similar thing with its bourbon, but has the good sense to make sure the booze is available for those who just got off the phone with a Kohl’s employee and need it right now.
Compare the striving startup shoe company’s approach, which is warm, cuddly and a bit exclusive, to Zappos, a company that puts the shoes on your feet before you have a chance to get up from your computer. And then think about your own customers. They’re all Zappos, right?
I showed the Kickstarter shoe company to The Lovely Marianne. She just shook her head. Pffft.
This article was originally titled “What if we all sold this way?” in the May 2015 print edition of Supply House Times.