How Impulse-Buying Supports Comic Sales, and the Internet's Weakness in Reverse-Propositional Sales Strategies
The blog Living on Digital Gadgets has an interesting analysis on the sales strategies of online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, and ways in which online bookstores could learn from the physical stores to better stimulate impulsive purchases. (All costs have been roughly converted to dollars at a rate of 100 yen = $1)
Regarding "purchasing comic books," the Internet is powerless. Why is that?
Because they are small-ticket items, comics cannot overcome the hurdle of shipping fees. For example, Amazon and bk1 offer free shipping on all items over $15, but for comics, $15 is a tall hurdle to overcome. Stated in simple terms, this means that these online services can only be used on bulk purchases of at least 3-4 books; nobody wants to pay $8 for a $5 comic, do they?
When you click the thumbnail, you get an enlarged image. There are also services where shipping is free if you have your package delivered to a convenience store for pickup, such as 7andY. These are borderline-acceptable. If there is a 7-11 where you can pick up your orders located somewhere along your route to school/work, then you could make good use of the service for small-ticket purchases like comics. However, if you must go out of your way to pick up your orders, then you may as well go to a bookstore to begin with.
Because they are small-ticket items, comics promote the habit of impulse-buying in consumers. It is OK to impulse-buy comics. If these were digital gadgets in the range of hundreds or thousands of dollars, it would never be acceptable to impulsively purchase an item you just saw in a storefront and had no prior knowledge about. The same holds true for music as well; it depends on how rich you are, but it's very rare that somebody just grabs 3 or 4 CD's at random, at $30 a pop, and brings them up to the cash register. With $5 comic books, this is quite doable.
And here is the key point: with small-ticket items that you can buy on whim with no reservations, you must be able to window-shop. The rationale behind your purchases is not objective-based ("I want this!"), but rather you are in a receptive mood, wanting to be offered something ("what do they have that piques my interest?")
We have often seen cases where people who headed off to the bookstore looking for a specific title ended up purchasing 7-8 different comics on a whim, despite the fact that he or she didn't find what they were originally looking for. The reason? Because the comics corner in the bookstore has hundreds of books stacked and on display, all of which can trigger an impulse purchase.
In comparison, it is difficult to experience this "reverse-proposal" experience of having hundreds of comics stacked in front of you for perusal. When you search for a title on Amazon, the site offers a specific list of recommendations offering volume sets or similar titles, but unless you actively send queries to them, Amazon's recommendations rarely result in an impulse buy.
However, the reason that, in each of these scenarios, consumer interest in online stores is weak is because their "reverse-propositional abilities" are weak. Brick-and-mortar bookstores have mastered the art of marketing to the "impulse-purchase" crowd, by creating an environment where you can have fun just staring at all sorts of comics; they stack the books face-up to show off their covers, and display new releases, best sellers, staff recommendations etc, to the tune of hundreds of volumes; all the store needs is for a customer to browse the displays, and for 1 or 2 of those books to catch their eye. This "new release/best-seller/recommended" style also makes the store displays a media center where people can catch up on the latest trends and information. That is why people continually end up buying something whenever they visit a bookstore, and how they manage to stay in business.
Amazon and other online bookstores have developed their businesses by focusing on their core strength, "searchability and selection," which brick-and-mortar bookstores cannot compete with. This is truly the foundation of the online bookstore. However, now that that strength is close to being developed to completion, it may actually be time to take a more serious look at brick-and-mortar stores' "recommendation ability" and ability to trigger impulse purchases."
The implication is not that the internet and online vendors have any critical weaknesses as a user interface to conduct business in a reverse-propositional manner; on the other hand, it could be said that until now they have focused on developing their fundamental strengths and created an interface specializing in searchability and selection in order to compensate for their weakness in small-ticket items.
What we want is a world where we can emulate the physical experience of wandering around a brick-and-mortar store, looking for something interesting, by browsing through items in an online store. Of course, simply lining up products is not good enough; actually trying it would make anybody realize just how much painstaking detail brick-and-mortar stores put into how they organize their displays.
Online business still has a long way to go.
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