Internet Broke Brand Loyalty
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A few winters ago, I and several other American women bought an Amazon coat, a fairly affordable piece of outerwear that grabbed attention for a hot minute. It’s an OK quote, but I keep forgetting the name of the manufacturer. I doubt I am a lifetime customer.
I am no oddball in this regard. The way our online lives have rewired our minds is that we are more comfortable buying from an unfamiliar brand. And those same changing habits are making us less loyal to anything we buy.
I was recently talking about this phenomenon with Josh Lovitz and Michael R. Levine, co-founders of the research firm Consumer Intelligence Research Partners. We talked about the ways in which online customer reviews, relatively low-cost social media advertising, and new shopping destinations like Amazon and Instagram have reshaped the way products are evaluated and shopped. It’s thrilling in many ways, and not so cool in others.
Think about the ways you might have bought something in an earlier time – eg, before 2010. Maybe you went to your local hardware store looking for a cordless drill, and it only had stock DeWalt models.
You relied on the store to sell a good product – or if you didn’t, it was your only option anyway. That’s what you bought The retailer essentially made the choice for you, Levine and Lovitz said.
Usually we don’t shop like this anymore. Instead of that single option, we can browse gazillion cordless drills on Amazon from our couches and evaluate customer reviews online.
Start-ups like Dollar Shave Club and Warby Parker proved that a clever product and great advertising can steer us away from the old standbys. We no longer need a store to be the arbiter of everything we buy. We might just need a nudge on Instagram to convince us to try new cookware.
In many ways it is wonderful. A one-person company may only need a Shopify website, listing on Amazon, or a Facebook page to compete with multinationals. Powerhouses like Nike or Levi’s can’t rest on their laurels for a century. We get more options, are more open to trying something new and great products can break.
But like me and my Amazon coat, building a lasting relationship can be more difficult than ever. Maybe you bought that vacuum cleaner you saw everywhere on TikTok, but will you ever be able to buy one from that company again? These young companies, as Lovitz described, “succeed to make sales but not customers.”
What happens if companies focus solely on selling something to us right away, and not on making us loyal customers? If companies only need to persuade us to buy something once, I wonder if that creates an incentive to make meh products.
Choice also has a price. We are more likely to be duped by fake reviews or other online tricks. Sometimes, it’s a relief to have only one option of cordless exercises rather than taking one of them online from the ocean.
Molson Hart, owner of educational toy company Viyheart, which I wrote about earlier this year, told me he believes it’s still possible to build a great brand with enduring customers. It just takes fresh skill.
Products that can be drive-by purchases on Amazon can encourage repeat shoppers by tucking in welcome messages into product packaging, or reaching out to people who post rave on social media, he said.
The idea should be in people’s mind, so that they can come back for another purchase, leave a positive review on Amazon or both. (Not all customers like these tips. And some Amazon sellers go too far by offering gift cards in exchange for reviews, which is against the company’s rules.)
“Whether it is a store, Shopify, Amazon, a billboard, an ad…whatever. If you can capture people’s attention and make them think your product is good, you are building a brand,” Hart said. “It doesn’t matter how you do it.”
We usually don’t hold back and think about why we buy certain products. When we do, it’s remarkable how much we’ve changed, and how much our habits have bent the shopping world.
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tip of the week
Digital Video Games or the Real Thing?
Brian X ChenoThe consumer technology columnist for The New York Times confronts a burning question for video gamers, especially novices.
This week, Greg Bensinger of The Times Opinion team asked me for help on vacation:
“We got our kids a Nintendo Switch for Hanukkah,” Greg said. “But it’s been a long time since I’ve had any kind of console. Is it better to buy physical versions of games or download digital copies?”
There are pros and cons to each format, and you can mix and match. Here’s my advice for making a similar choice to Greg and others.
Game download: The biggest benefits of buying digital copies of video games are instant gratification and convenience. You don’t have to drive to a store or wait for games to arrive in the mail. Downloads also don’t clutter up your living room the way physical games do.
But downloading the game may cost more. Stores drop prices for older games fairly quickly, but this usually only applies to physical versions. Digital titles tend to stay at original prices for a longer period of time, and price cuts can happen only occasionally.
Another disadvantage of going digital is that games quickly take up the storage space on the console. On the Switch, this can be resolved by purchasing a memory card.
Physical Games: One advantage is that you can lend a game to someone else after playing it or trade it in at a reseller like Gamestop for store credit.
There is no difference in performance. Video games play just as fast if you’re playing a digital copy or playing it with a cartridge.
There’s another big advantage to having a game in your hand this time of year: Gift wrapping a game is far more festive than emailing a digital download code to a loved one.
(And in case you’re curious, Greg decided to go in for physical sports for his family’s new Switch.)
Before we leave …
Good news for your wallet and the planet: It will be annoying and costly if you can only get your car muffler replaced at the dealership. Until this week, this was essentially how Apple handled repairs for the iPhone. Brian explains the benefits of agreeing to Apple for any repair shop and home gadget fixer to begin selling parts, tools, and instructions.
A strange side effect of the US ban: Mailchimp, the software company that emails newsletters, temporarily blocked at least three independent news organizations in Cuba from sending their information to subscribers, reports the rest of the world. The account ban appears to be related to a decades-long US embargo on Cuba, but Mailchimp reinstated the news organizations’ accounts.
They want a piece of the potential US chip boom: My colleague David McCabe went to Taylor, Texas, to visit one of the many US cities or states that are trying to get a new computer chip factory in their backyard. His strategy is raising questions about how far communities must go to get a piece of the high-tech economy – and how much money taxpayers should pay.
Baby Ruffles is believed to be the first native-born harbor seal in New York’s Jamaica Bay for nearly 100 years. Local news publication The Wave said the birth was a sign of substantial improvement in water quality in Jamaica Bay.
Join us for a virtual event on Thursday to discuss the secrets to productive and healthy online communities. read this To learn more about the event and reserve your spot.
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