Earlier this week I ordered a new pair of glasses. I did it online.
Last summer I was looking for a new pair of prescription sunglasses. After getting my eyes tested, and selecting some frames, the high street optician I was using (one of the chains) came up with a number in excess of £500 for what this pair of glasses was going to cost me. With the words of the CIO of another of the optician chains ringing in my ears (“We make 90% gross profit you know?”) I decided that enough was enough.
For £86 I bought my first pair of specs online, from Glasses Direct. They sent out frames for free for me to try at home. They took an old pair of glasses in from me to measure my pupillary distance (the space between my eyes). They got the glasses delivered (and the old ones returned) as quickly as any high street optician has ever delivered any pair of glasses to me before. I am converted.
For the first few weeks of this year my wife and I, in one of those New Year things, were quite seriously moving house. The endemic dust in the place at the moment is testimony to the fact we decided, on balance, to stay and renovate.
Nonetheless, we got estate agents around to look. We got valuations. We got quotes for their fees (mostly around 1-1.5% of the sale price, which with London prices is a significant chunk of cash. We also got internet agency Purple Bricks to value, and their quote (all in) was to charge fees of less than £900.
That should have been a done deal, but it wasn’t. There was something holding us back from committing to a digital provider who would have been substantially cheaper, and in these days of Rightmove no doubt able to offer just as good a service.
What are the factors that hold us back from making the leap into new models of delivery? It’s more than just matters of logic – otherwise the likes of Purple Bricks would have cleaned up by now. It’s as much emotional, matters of trust and confidence, as it is about quality or price. Glasses seemed a big leap for me – opticians are trustworthy (well, they are until you hear about their margins); food shopping was OK, but a bigger leap for my wife (“they’ll always send out of date stuff”, which to an extent is true sometimes). Even, back in the day, music purchasing was a big leap. Now a convert to streaming services, I can’t remember the last record I bought.
Customers making the leap is crucial for new businesses looking to disrupt. It’s also crucial to enable established businesses to understand not only their current value proposition, but also how to maintain clients and customers in the face of disruption. The less canny will launch a fear offensive (exactly what the established estate agents did when they heard we were considering Purple Bricks). The savvy will enhance what’s valuable to their clients to make them demonstrably distinct from pretenders new to market.