Break Free

Some of the most common quick-run-to-the-grocery items—milk, eggs, bread—generally find themselves in the farthest reaches of the store, accessible only through a labyrinthine journey through the maze of aisles.

Of course it’s done purposefully. The stores want to you purchase more than you intended. And their research, for which they pay dearly, supports the notion. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the grocers’ average sale increased every time they changed their shelf sets, confusing the shopper.

What their research isn’t capturing, however, is how many people are buying those quick purchase items elsewhere. Ever wonder why so many convenience stores seem to thrive next door or across the street from the large grocery chains, selling many of the same items?

The grocery store model is based on a premise that keeps customers inside longer, walking across the greatest possible number of items. And they keep force-feeding themselves this logic. They combat competition, not by making the shopping experience easier and more direct for consumers but by gutting their prices and sending profits into a nosedive.

And shoppers are hip to this. They shop specials. They buy perishables and non-perishables from different stores. They look for coupons and stock up on bargains when they can. Look at the articles here and here, both offering tips on how to save during trips to the grocery.

The established grocery model isn’t working because it is all about the grocer and not the customer. It’s the same problem the music industry has been facing and fails to come to grips with (see this post from Seth Godin and this HEYMONKEYBRAIN debate).

Network television has (at least until the writers’ strike) used a similarly bone-headed model, spreading 20 new episodes among 26 or so weeks, interspersing repeats and other “specials” to extend the season and saving the better episodes for sweeps.

Yet they wonder why they lose viewers to scripted cable series of 8 to 13 episodes with minimal, if any interruption, shown at multiple times (in case you miss one and don’t have a DVR) and carrying devoted audiences. Those series also tend to have tighter writing because they have fewer stories to tell in a season.

Strangely, the same can be said for so-called unscripted shows heralded by the networks. Those are so successful because it takes longer for them to get stale, they come in short bursts and aren’t repeated.

So, ask yourself this about your business model: What changes can I make for my customers’ benefit? What is it that they want from me? How can I deliver it to them?

When you focus on giving your customers what they want, how they want to get it, breaking free from your existing model, you create a loyal customer base that keeps coming back for more. Amazon did it with books. Priceline did it with travel. iTunes is doing it with music. What about you?

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