The Formula of Product & Experience

One scene, two ways.

A customer walks into an upscale mall, red-bottomed heels clacking against polished marble, and traipses into a Prada store. She pushes her oval sunglasses to rest atop her coiffed hair, places a manicured hand on her hip, and looks around the shops. At the register, a group of employees leans and laughs, oblivious to her dramatic entrance.

Perturbed, she steps across the black and white tiles to a shelf lined with coveted Cahier handbags. She extends her red-tipped fingers to the handle but jumps when she hears a voice behind her: “You finding everything ok?”

She turns her head and finds one of the errant employees a mere foot behind her, raises her hand to her heart in surprise, and utters, “Oh my, you frightened me!”

“Yeah, well that price tag’ll frighten you too,” the employee says. “$3,500—can you believe it? I found a replica at the swap meet last week for $35.” He winks. “By the way, you can’t touch the handbag unless you’re buying it; it’s a liability.” 

The customer raises her nose and returns her hand to her hip. “I am not looking for a replica, nor am I looking for your service—or rather, lack thereof,” before clacking right back out the door.  

End scene.

Now let’s begin the scene again from the moment she walks into the Prada store, but this time, let’s base the scene in reality, not a dystopian vision. 

Before her stride even meets the cool air of the store, the employees—busily tending to the details of the shop—are aware of her presence. As she balances the sunglasses atop her head, one of the associates is already striding toward her with a greeting, “Well hello Mrs. Vanderbilt, so good to see you, how are you doing today?”

They chit-chat, stroll, before the associate pauses, “What can we help you with today—perhaps a present for your daughter’s graduation?”

Mrs. Vanderbilt smiles and nods as the employee walks her toward a lighted shelf lined with a small selection of Cahier handbags. “For such an occasion, I’d suggest the Cahier handbag,” he explains. “It’s a classic model, but youthful with this season’s special editions.” He lets her hold the bag, helps her imagine her daughter traipsing across campus with the bag, explains to her the process by which it’s made, shares the history of the artist who designed the special edition, and walks her toward the register with one final question: “Would you like it gift wrapped?” As she hands over her credit card, he proposes a toast. He pops a bottle of champagne as a coworker wraps the bag and customer and associate clink glasses of bubbly in retail celebration. 

End scene. 

The lesson? There is an irrefutable formula between product and experience, a formula that must be respected and fostered. When that formula goes awry and a quality product is not paired with a quality experience, sales sink. 

It is experience that justifies and validates hefty pricetags. It’s the reason folks will shell out $3,500 for a handbag when they can get an identical replica for a fraction of the price. It’s why we’ll pay more for this season’s sweaters at Nordstrom than we will for last year’s at TJ Maxx. Heck, it’s why many of us choose to shop at Target rather than Wal-Mart, even though we could save nickels and dimes on toothpaste and toilet paper. 

What’s that mean for your business? Well, it could mean a lot of things. It could mean the end of red tag sales and bad Yelp reviews; it could mean the end of awkward conversations persuading customers of your products value, and it could mean an increase in profits. Balancing the ratio of customer experience and product price in your store could mean success.

Let’s say you’re an outdoor retailer and you have a Patagonia jacket, MSRP $199. If you present this jacket with lackluster service, don’t explain the benefits of the jacket to the customer, and don’t offer the customer alternatives, you’re never going to achieve that $199 pricetag—even though it’s a price dictated by the manufacturer and successfully sold at that price point at competing retailers, and even though you try to cajole the customer into the sale. Instead, the jacket will end up on a broken hanger in a messy sale display at the back of your store. 

Instead, let’s say you offer the customer a friendly greeting, and approach with a set of valid questions when you see them eyeing the Patagonia jacket. You engage them in chit-chat—what do they plan to use the jacket for, where are they traveling, tell them about your own experience there—and then share the technical aspects of the jacket, presenting some similar options as well. You’re offering an experience that justifies the price of the jacket, which sits on a tidy display. You don’t even have to ask for the sale, because it was made the moment you offered this customer a great experience. 

Most of us aren’t peddling $3,500 handbags and celebrating sales with champagne toasts, but that’s doesn’t mean we shouldn’t provide a $3,500 experience. Take a lesson from luxury retailers and treat your customers—every customer—like a millionaire. Folks will pay more for a product if it’s paired with a great experience, and they’re far more likely to return for another purchase, meaning you’re building your brand value. 

The math is simple: great experience + great product = profitability. 

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