Lou Reed recorded a ditty (can’t quite call it a song) for his 1972 album Transformer called “New York Telephone Conversation.” Some 34 years later, I heard something that I’ll call a “Jersey Shore Conversation” that humbly reminded me why marketers really ought to listen to consumer closely. Really closely. Like close enough to smell the sunscreen closely.
Over the course of about five minutes, I heard a conversation that gave me fresh perspectives on the two dominant trends in retailing today: experiential marketing and, of course, online purchasing.
I don’t want to infringe (too much) on Lou’s estate, so here’s a cover version
Let me set the scene: Monmouth Beach in the great state of New Jersey, the Saturday after Labor Day. Two 60-ish folks enjoying a chat footsteps away from the storm-tossed Atlantic. She: trim, well-kept and brassy lady whom, my wife recalls from a previous conversation, sells some kind of industrial product. He: silver fox type reading “Private Empire,” a book about ExxonMobil. She’s unmarried, as far as we know, so that makes him…friend? Boyfriend? Relative? We don’t know.
He: Shopping is going to change forever.
He: Go to the Garden State Plaza. There’s an appliance store called Pirch. [editor’s note: closed on Sundays, as per the Paramus custom] It’s high-end appliances. You go there and the first thing you’ll see is a receptionist. She’ll ask you if you want a water or a coffee.
She: Or whatever.
He: Right. Whatever. So you’ll see the high-end appliances all laid out nice in a comfy setting with dramatic lighting and every hour, there’ll be a factory representative from one of the brands demonstrating a product.
She: So, like Electrolux or Bosch?
He: Right. Or whatever. That factory rep is gonna show you all the cool features of the stove or the oven.
She: Or whatever.
He: Or whatever. Right.
He: So what?
She: So why would I want to watch some guy use an oven?
He: He’s not just going to show you how the oven works. He’s going to show you all the cool features and tell you what’s different about that oven.
She: Why would I want that?
She: I don’t care about appliances. I know how to use an oven and a dishwasher.
He: Or a washing machine. Whatever.
She: Or whatever. I don’t care. I’m not going to waste my afternoon watching some guy use an oven when I can go to the beach or whatever.
He: OK. Well, what’s something you do care about buying?
He: Shoes, OK. So I suppose you buy from Zippos? [editor’s note: yes, he said Zippos. Like the lighter.]
Shipping is free both ways!
He: Yeah, you don’t know them? They have every shoe you could want. You buy online and they ship it to your door.
She: But I want to try them on first. A Stuart Weitzman fits very differently from a Nine West.
He: You won’t need to try them on. You’ll just have to know your last.
He: Yeah, last. It’s the mold they use to shape the shoe. So if you know your last, you’ll know the shoe will fit.
She: But I also want to know how the material feels, what they look like in real light, whatever.
Clearly, She had interest neither in experiential shopping for appliances, because She hates them nor in online shopping for shoes, because She loves them. Naturally, the needs of a 60-ish, trim, well-kept and brassy lady do not preclude large numbers of people from wasting their Saturdays watching dorks in polo shirts show off the rinse-and-hold feature of the new Miele dishwasher. Nor do her needs gainsay Zippo’s–I mean Zappos’s–success.
However, the conversation reminded me that whenever I think I have the golden key to the future, I probably don’t. Consumers want what they want. They want technology to add, not to take away. They want experiences to be relevant, not wastes of time. And they don’t want to be told how to buy, where to buy or…whatever.