Monthly Archives: June 2012

Selective Customer-Centricity – Is Ikea Shooting Itself in the Foot?

Many in the group have commented about “what’s customer-centric for one segment might not be for another.” Perhaps the most commonly cited example is Ryan Air, which helps the knapsack crowd get around dirt cheap while utterly offending many suitcase carriers. Recently, I’ve run into another example, but the seller advantages aren’t as clear cut.

Recently, my wife and I sold our house of many years and moved into an urban condo. While I wouldn’t stick even our college-aged son with Ikea furniture, they do offer good deals on “safe” items including bookshelves and cabinet/drawer pulls. So I went in there, which I’m generally loathe to do. And once again I discovered that Ikea does not want my business.

First, Ikea is overdue for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) penalties. While I’m still erect, hip and back arthritis can make walking long distances difficult. That can make shopping at Ikea very painful, because once you enter the store, they make you walk in bewildering loops past every piece of merchandise on display before you can find an exit – and the only way out is past the registers (unless you turn back early and retrace your steps). The day I went to buy drawer and cabinet hardware I hurt like hell before uncomfortably standing forever in a seemingly interminable checkout line, especially because I had to walk another mile to find a clerk who could find the online catalog items we’d selected. Of course, I could have stayed in my La-Z-Boy if they’d take orders over the web, but that doesn’t bring you face-to-face with every damn item they sell. No accommodations whatsoever for an aging Boomer, never mind someone disabled.

But then came bookcase shopping. First, walk the entire circular route to see items to make sure they’re right. Then, keep walking to the furniture warehouse, where they expect you to load your own cart (but only after walking another mile at the direction of three different clerks to find one). And then one unit is 80 pounds, and Ikea expects you to bring your own help, if you need it, to lift it onto the cart. They will pull the items and deliver them for a hefty charge. But if you want to get them into your car, so your ripped son can unload them, you’re outta luck. After two shoulder surgeries, I ain’t messin’ with 80 pounds. Next to impossible for anyone older, never mind someone actually disabled.

But hey, I’m just an ordinary aging boomer. And there’s the proverbial 78 million pound elephant (the Boomer generation) walking across the time line towards or past the day when they can no longer comfortably handle a shopping experience designed for younger, sounder of body generations. I do believe Ikea is shooting itself in the foot. What about you?

Customer-Centricity: Let’s Not Let the New Block Out the Old

In our rush to see business through customer-centric lenses, we have a tendency let go of some valuable product-centric insight. A past client that asked me to return for a new initiative just reminded me of the value in holding onto some “old” business concepts and techniques – in this case focusing on the product lifecycle rather than the more popular (and trendy) customer lifecycle.

This company’s industry took a severe regulatory hit that all but eliminated the largest of four related industry sectors. And the larger two of the remaining three continue to shrink from Internet competition.  Now the stronger industry players are trying to morph into “something other,” creating a “new” – or more accurately “enhanced” – service sector. The jury is still out on their success. Weaker players are going away. But in the face of all these departures in a shrinking industry, my client decided to plant both feet in the smallest of the four industry sectors, the one with historically weakest service delivery because it’s hardest to provide – but a service sector they’re confident they can grow by raising service quality.

Gutsy move. But certainly not without precedent. Depending on which version of product life cycles we learned, we might label this dozens of different ways, but I’d call it the “last act standing” strategy. Much bigger piece of a smaller pie (and not as many forks). Ample customer need for the foreseeable future fortified by opportunity to grow demand. Plus opportunity to move smartly into the “enhanced” service category, but with a cornerstone service for many customers that competitors have either abandoned or deemphasized. Wise move. But a move you’re unlikely to make if you’re thinking all customer all the time.

For an analogy, think about incandescent light bulbs. Who would invest in incandescent bulb manufacturing today? Try a really smart operator with impeccable timing, While on one hand I’d shudder at the thought of investing in picking up where GE is leaving off, on the other I’d rub my hands with glee at the thought of being the last incandescent bulb maker standing, or even the strongest of the last few. Demand won’t dry up for a long, long time. And margins will grow as competition declines.

If you abandon the past and only focus on more fashionable customer-centricity and customer life cycles, you’ll miss opportunities like these.

A Compliment Where a Compliment is Due

I’m not shy about beating up on the likes of Best Buy, Wells Fargo & Intuit for horrible customer service. Enough so I really should compliment sellers for a job well done.

The other day I went into my local Discount Tire store, without an appointment. A staffer quickly checked me in and had my car checked in in no time. Obviously, they’d had some very effective training, because they were extremely solicitous without being obsequious. They gave me a firm time when the car would be ready; beat the estimated time; asked if I had any suggestions for them and genuinely thanked me for coming in. Even walked me to the car to point out the work. Great impression.

Now, here comes the kicker. I was there for a free tire rotation. DT offers free rotations for the life of their tires and actually encourages customers to come in frequently. But don’t get complacent guys. The magazine selection needs a little work J.