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When the Cure is Worse than the Problem

Years ago, while training for the NY Marathon, I went to a doctor as I was experiencing pain in my knee.  He proposed immediate surgery.
I went to another doctor.  He proposed a noninvasive treatment.  I took that option. It worked. I finished the marathon in a great time.
With the first doctor, the cure was worse than the problem.
Companies make the same mistake.
Take Costco’s announcement last month that they are changing how they give out free samples in store.  They will still be free and still unlimited.  But now, they will be accessed through self-service kiosks with a sign saying, “take one.”
Sure, that should seem like a small thing, but for those of you who go to Costco often, for some reason it feels like a bigger deal. It just feels different.  And not in a good way.  It compromises the experience.  It just feels less fun.
I hate shopping, but for some reason shopping at Costco has always been fun.  Of course, it is the sense of discovery and getting some great deals.  And the unexpected surprises at the free sampling tables just added to that experience.  For some reason, the fact that some samples were hot and “cooked” in real time by a real person just made that experience better.

In Costco’s “Make the Most of Your Membership” PDF, one page’s headline trumpets “Value, Variety and a Vow to Wow.”  Reaching into a self-service kiosk for some food that has been there a while doesn’t feel very “Wow.”

Certainly, the cost of labor and training cannot be underestimated – especially for a chain like Costco that has 597 stores in the United States.  And the appeal of advanced technology, like these kiosks, seems like a great answer to reducing labor expense.

But, in Costco,  getting people to try a sample is more than just an expense incurred to encourage more purchases of that product. It is an integral part of what customers perceive to be the “Costco Experience.”

People don’t just go to Costco to buy things.  They also go to have an experience. Experiences matter.

Compromising one of the core tenets of Costco, “The Costco Experience”, could have the effect of alienating Costco customers in unintended and undesirable ways.  Less fun in-store might mean less store visits and less time spent in stores. All resulting in less revenue – fewer impulsive and fewer unplanned purchases (and there are currently lots of those at Costco!)

And when an expense cut produces a larger than expected revenue decrease, that is a cure much worse than the problem.

New revenue comes from giving your customers more of what they love about your company, not less.

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