Don’t Throw Away Your One Strength

As a wise man once said, “Why do they even have stores?” There’s a very good reason, as it turns out, but many stores appear to be working hard to destroy their one remaining important advantage.

And I’m going to tell you how to make sure this doesn’t happen to your live entertainment organization.

"New Future Shop in Edmonton," © 2008 Mack Male, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

“New Future Shop in Edmonton,” © 2008 Mack Male, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.

In-person retailers are on the ropes. They’re losing ground to the convenience and selection of online retailers while still having heavy cost structures. Despite this, in-person retailers have one edge versus online: You actually get to see and potentially even try the merchandise before you buy it. This is a big deal for a purchase like the one I was in the market for the other day: a new keyboard for my office computer.

As a pretty good touch typist, the keyboard makes a big difference. A little spring to the keys speeds things up and reduces the number of errors in my typing. I know … you’re fascinated. But anyway, to be able to buy the right one, I actually have to touch the keyboard.

So off I went to … let’s just say the last remaining major national electronics retail chain, where I hoped to buy the best keyboard available for my particular typing style. Most of the keyboards were broken: keys missing and stuck. The one keyboard that I thought would probably do the job was not on display, so I surreptitiously opened the box, clacked the keys out of sight of the staff, verified its awesomeness, taped everything back up and took it to the register.

Naturally, on my way, being an early adopter for most electronic stuff I had to check a few things out. So I dropped by the mobile phone section. All the phones were stuck down with those incredibly bulky black security devices on the back. This was true for even the dummy phones, which are really just plastic models of the phone in question with a picture of a typical homescreen on the front.

Wait … let’s pause there. You don’t actually get to see the phone. You get to see a plastic imitation of a phone, if it were attached to a giant plastic security device and a long cord. Useless. Barely better than a picture on a screen. Actually worse, since many online representations of phones are interactive.

So, moving on from there, I went to the smartwatch section. I’m a big-time early adopter here. I really liked the Pebble ’til it kinda fell apart, so I’m interested to see what the next gen smartwatches look like. Here’s what I got to see:

photoThat’s right. To “see” the watches advertised on all the posters in the store, I had to “see a customer specialist.” I think I speak for every customer whose ever gone to this store in any location when I say that the last thing in the world I want to do is chase down one of your “customer specialists.”

In fact, the ONLY things actually on display in the entire section were these little pieces of film you put over the face of the watch either for privacy or to prevent scratches. They’re $14.99, if you’re interested.

This organization, and indeed most in-person retailers, doesn’t seem to understand that this ONE thing is what they’ve got to work with: The ability to see and try the actual product (and the ability to just go ahead and buy it right then and there) IS what an offline retailer should be all about if they plan to exist in a decade. Instead, the displays are poorly laid out, the stuff is broken or incomplete, help is nowhere to be found and the products on display are either not real (like the mobile phones) or just not there.

You’re repenting of your ONE strength.

Live entertainment has many of the same qualities. It’s inconvenient, it’s expensive and so forth. But it has one unbelievable strength, and it’s the fact that the person is ACTUALLY there, experiencing it as they never could at home. But you could easily turn that strength into a liability, as many offline retailers have done, by forgetting that every little thing about the experience matters, and that, as Jordan Roth says, the experience needs to be a live one.

You’ve got to make your strength pay off.

So, here’s my challenge to you. You probably can relate to my experience as a customer in the store in this example. It was pretty underwhelming, even though I actually made a purchase. Put yourself in that frame of mind, and go to one of your own productions.

Where are the points where you’re making less of your strengths than you could? It doesn’t even have to be bad. Just find the places where it’s underwhelming, and then make it better. If you’re not involved in the show itself, do this with the rest of the experience. If you’re involved with the show, think of it in terms of the show. If you’re involved in both, then look at it holistically.

People used to admire certain retailers for the panache they brought to the customer experience, including this particular retailer. They don’t do that so much anymore. That’s a shame because there’s a real role to be played by them.

But that’s a secondary issue for me right now, because my real message is to live entertainment: Don’t go down this road. Think about it now. Make it better, even when it’s not bad.

The live entertainment experience is about being great, not being pretty good. Let’s make sure we rise to that challenge.

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