Are You Wed To Your Market, Or Your Model?

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Not long ago, I posted about the lament of a local optometrist and how taking a much broader view of that industry and the role the internet might play could redefine how he solved his customers problems and potentially reinvigorate his business.

I’ve never stopped thinking about that example, because it was indicative of a wide swath of industries that sell a product bundled with either a personal service or need to “touch” that product before buying that are being redefined (read “hammered”) by the web.

Recently, I came across another example at the convention center in Melbourne, Australia.

My wife and daughter were bouncing through a mega-crafting show and as I meandered out to the cafe to do some writing, I passed by the presentation stage. At that very moment, a panel of craft industry experts were asked,

“how has the internet affected the crafting industry?”

One of the women on the panel answered that it’s made it far easier for buyers, many of whom are moms, to find what they need and be able to buy on their own schedules, often during random windows when their kids have gone down for naps or the evening. In fact, she added, the internet had so transformed her own retail business that she was about to shut down her brick and mortar store after 20 years and focus her energies entirely online.

Before closing, though, she made one more point. The internet, she said, also created a certain tension in the buying process, because many of the things that are being shopped for are items that people would very much like to be able to handle before they buy. In that industry, touch, feel, sensation is very important. And, you just can’t get that same visceral stimuli over the internet.

Hmmmm, yet again, the business strategy and marketing wheels start turning as I walk away…

If you remember back to the optometrist example, the big problem for local businesses was that people were coming in to get a prescription, try on a ton of glasses, then they buy them online at a fraction of the price. The optometrist hated when people did this and often refused to give out the model numbers and makers of frames in response. I suggested a radically different approach.

If glasses were something most people much preferred to try before they buy, then there’s value in that very experience. So, why not offer an unlimited try-on fee, seek out, rather than shun the try-on crowd, then set-up kiosks in the store that encourage people to buy online, listing the web stores with the best prices and then making commissions when people buy through your affiliate links on the kiosks?

It seems like a similar thing may be happening in the craft industry.

Much of the retail side of the business is moving online. But, at least for significant slices of that industry, the fundamental nature of what’s being sold compels buyers to want to touch, feel and handle it BEFORE buying, if at all possible.

So, I wonder if there’s an opportunity to satisfy this need by creating a brick and mortar storefront that specializes in these highly-tactile products, charges a modest unlimited “playtime” fee, then directs people to in-store kiosks with the best web-prices and benefits from kiosk sale affiliate commissions from the online merchants.

And, like the optometrist example, I’d venture that a decent number of people who visited the store looking to try live, then buy online would end up buying live, even at a premium, simply to be able to walk out of the store in possession of the item that just triggered an emotional, visceral, tactile reaction in them.

Maybe, these are not the best models. I don’t operate in either industry, so I don’t know.

The point is…

A radical shift in any industry almost always opens as many doors as it closes.

But you’ve gotta be open to seeing the doors that are opening and, if needed, even creating very substantial changes in your business model if you want to stay alive.

Be wed to your market, not your model.

Love to hear your thoughts in the comments below…

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15 responses

15 responses to “Are You Wed To Your Market, Or Your Model?”

  1. Wow, I love that. It’s not often that I read something and feel like I’ve been schooled, but this was a case of that 🙂

    If only I had some brick and mortar to innovate with.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jonathan Fields, remarkablogger, Grant Griffiths, Nathan Hangen, Elysia Brooker and others. Elysia Brooker said: Gold as always. RT @GrantGriffiths: Are You Wed To Your Market, Or Your Model? by @jonathanfields […]

  3. Tim Brownson says:

    I buy lots of books and as I have am amazon Prime account that’s where most come from. However, if I ever go into Borders for a browse I nearly always buy something that I know I could get 30% cheaper if I was only prepared to wait a couple of days.

    So I agree that a good percentage of people would still buy after trying. There’s also the whole reciprocity thing going on when people have had great service they want to honor that.

  4. Steve Wolfson says:

    Actually this idea came to me in the late 90’s but as you said retailers weren’t ready to change their model and the Internet guys thought people weren’t going to care about touching goods. My thought was that either like a department store where you supported multiple sites, or small 1-3 site stores. Brick and Mortar stores became more “show rooms” fulfilled by the respective online retailers. A subset of popular items were avaialble to look touch feel, and small quantities for “gotta have it now” buyers at a slightly higher price.
    Square footage was way down from traditional retailers of the same store.

    Maybe time to resurrect this idea!

  5. Do I remember that post???

    Everytime I have walked past an optometrist since I have reminded myself of the need to evolve with my market. I am currently two thirds of the way through a re-design of my services to fit one of the ways I see my market evolving.

    The challenge in being “wed to my market” that I see -is that as a consultant I am by nature not able to see the market as clearly.

    It brings home the importance of my relationships within the market and being open to real conversations with them.

    Thanks for keeping me thinking and continuing to evolve!

  6. It seems to me that in the case of the craft store if people are doing the “touch and feel” in the store that they would be likely to purchase right there. The purchase of those materials are a “I want it now” purchasee rather than I wait a week for the mail.

    I guess the store could be set up in such a way that they don’t charge if you purchase from the store and charge if you do it online.

  7. Daniel says:

    That’s a really good idea. It seems like your brick and mortar store would have to have pretty low overhead since I’m guessing the affiliate commission would be substantially less than the your margin on the wholesale item you have stocked in the store. Of course if you’re losing money to internet sales anyway, maybe that doesn’t matter as much.

    Interesting concept!

  8. Susan says:

    This is so “right on time” for me! Never having commented here before, I’m afraid if I get too detailed as to my industry, my comment will be labeled as “spam”.
    I have seen many of the retailers who were my long time clients, close down business due to the economy. I’ve been trying to help them evolve with the internet. As mentioned by Steve Wolfson, the “showroom” concept (in a much cheaper location than prime retail) coupled with the online merchant is ideal. Regarding the modest unlimited playtime fee, would this be charged to the merchants who are being represented? I can’t see charging customers to browse, though as a merchant, I would pay for representation. Great article!

  9. Doug says:

    Your local brewery has solved this problem. If you live where they have a microbrew place, go in and ask for the sampler. They give you shot glasses with a sample of each beer. The whole thing is usually the price of a regular beer, or free.
    For a craft sale, make up a yarn sampler, or bead sampler. Include one with an order over $50. Charge for it, don’t give it away.
    It is the perfect up-sell item. Put a free sampler picker on the checkout page of the web site.

    Amazon has free chapters, and view the contents page. Same thing.

    The next order will be bigger, I bet.

  10. Nina Still says:

    I am really enjoying your posts, this one hits the mark for me as I have an online design shop.

  11. Jon Strocel says:

    Zappos showed us that you can buy shoes online without trying them on, just make the customer service experience fantastic.

    The optometrist’s problem is they are still married to the fat margins on the glasses they used to sell. The new player never sold a $500 pair of glasses, so they’re going in fresh and open to new ideas.

    It’s a psychological problem more than a business problem. Wishing the world didn’t change isn’t going to bring the buggy whip, or the $500 glasses back.

  12. Daniel Sroka says:

    I do something similar for my wedding ketubah business. Ketubahs are works of art that will be a significant part of the customer’s wedding. I do nearly all of my business online. But to give customers a better appreciation for the high quality of my artwork (the color, the texture and feel of the paper) I offer them a sample print for $10. Then, when they purchase their ketubah, this $10 is refunded from their order. This allows them to have a sample in hand, while also rewarding them for their future business.

  13. Christine says:

    Terrific point, Jonathan.

    I’ve been having not dissimilar conversations with coaching colleagues who are wedded to traditional ways of both thinking about and doing coaching work. My own view is that, as a result of both economic challenges and the existence of awesome online self-development thinking, coaching will morph as an offering. I’m trying to develop a mix of both in person, and online stuff. I can’t pretend I’ve got it right yet, or know all the answers. All I know is that there’s a change afoot in the way my market is both thinking about and buying this kind of service and I need to pay attention to it.

  14. Angela Cleary says:

    the pic is cute, but i just cant get the image of that baby being strangled with that hat out of my head.

  15. bag321 says:

    I really like your post, this made me, because I have online design shops.