A New Consumer Class

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 07-19-2002 Print Email

A New Consumer Class

What do you call this phenomenon?

It's really the emergence of a new Consumer Class. It's the shift in people's belief systems about what their relationship is as a customer to a business—and as a worker to a business. If I'm running a business, I'm going to have to really rethink everything. I need to seriously redo my social relationship with my customers and with my workers. Sure, a lot of people have talked about the need to do this. Now, though, you need to start thinking about "hiring" customers and actively working to retain your best employees. In the past, they came to you—and stayed. Not anymore. You've got to work at it harder. You can't take anything for granted.

A lot of people in business today just aren't ready for this shift. Even now, most businesses still think they can fill a store with things and stand behind a counter and simply take money for the things they sell. Now, though, you've got to give them information, an experience, a context for the things they are buying from you. We're in an information age; even our commercial transactions now have to be information-rich. It's with information-added value that you're going to get people into the store, keep them there, and keep them coming back for more in ways some businesses never imagined—and against competitors who are figuring out how to change in the same way.

So, I'm making information part of the product?

People don't just sell widgets anymore. They're selling experiences tied to the actual thing, the widget—so that they're selling a construction experience, if desired—not just a hammer. Businesses that don't at least offer that context in their interaction with customers are going to lose them.

Consider Home Depot. They get it. Sure, you can simply go there and buy a hammer. But you also have a choice. Every Saturday at 10 a.m., there's going to be a one-hour tutorial on how to properly use the hammer, or tell you why an electric screwdriver might in some cases be a better deal. And if you really want to get into it, they provide you, as part of their process, more education about how to build a deck or lay tile or whatever. I call it the Martha Stewartization of America.

I think this rising level of customer sophistication is surprising to a lot of industries. The fact that prospective buyers—of everything now, from plumbing equipment to door stops—are armed with all kinds of information is actually quite frightening to some merchants. Many, if not most, businesses are still of the mindset that product is king and scarcity is the principle of price-setting, and that you, the business owner, know your business better than anyone else. That, too, is changing. A customer today probably knows more about a specific marketplace than the people selling goods in that same marketplace. You can't make money off the lack of information that a customer has anymore. Now you've got to figure out another way.



 

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