How To Buy Without Getting Distracted By
It's November, and it's buyer's guide season here at TMCthis is the
time of the year when three of our four print magazines begin their quests
to compile a comprehensive lists of sellers, aimed toward a comprehensive
list of buyers. However, I'm not here to talk about buyer's guides.
Let's just talk about buying. Anyone who has anything to sell knows that
right about now, the purchasing horizon is fairly dismal, unless you're
selling bottled water, flashlights, the Acme Anthrax Home Testing Kit For
Nervous Yuppies or food that's fantastically high in fat and starch, and
subsequently topped with melted cheese (funny how diets have the propensity
to fly out the window in the face of a global crisis). It's not just a
buyer's market at the moment -- the buyers have picked up the market and run
away with it.
All it takes is a quick surf on the Web or a tour of a retail outlet to
confirm this. Consumers being imperfect, however, are indulging in one of
two kinds of behavior, something I see both professionally and personally.
Business and personal consumers are either:
- Taking advantage of lower prices by purchasing pointless things they
do not and probably will never need; or
- Assuming a bunker mentality and purchasing nothing at all.
My personal inclination leans toward the former approach. When Costco, a
large-volume buying club, first opened close to our offices earlier this
year, it barely caused a blip on my radar. I live in a condominium and have
little of the storage space necessary to keep items such as five-pound cans
of coffee and tent-sized sacks of flour. In the end, though, I joined the
club, attracted by its never-crowded pharmacy, film developing services, and
Having now converted into a full-blown Costco addict, I wander the aisles
on a weekly basis, coveting items such as gallon jars of dill pickles,
packets of spice large enough to season the food of Norway for an entire
year, tubs of mayonnaise and packages of paper toweling that could double as
flood walls for a seasonal surge in the Mississippi River. Alas, on the
practical level, I recognize that I don't much need a pound of turmeric, nor
would it be wise to purchase a package of 48 rolls of kitchen towel at once,
unless I planned on having it double as a loveseat in my apartment.
In a highly impractical manner, I ignore the items I ought to be buying
in bulk: cat food and litter, saline solution (as any contact lens wearer
knows, the stuff is expensive) and commodities like shampoo. I become too
easily dazzled by the possibility of owning a bucket-sized container of
mustard, even though I use an approximate total of two tablespoons of
mustard per year.
It occurs to me that most people suffer from some level of this
affliction, and it may be an explanation why, as a nation, we are in record
debt though no happier today than we were a generation ago, before credit
card companies started flooding our mailboxes with frantic credit offers.
(I, personally, am thinking of suing Capital One for stalking.)
The call center and e-commerce markets seem to be suffering from a
combination of the overbuying and underbuying ailments (though I see little
evidence that they are buying large quantities of dill pickles). I've seen
call centers ignore their fraying customer contact software from circa 1989
to shell out money on a wireless LAN for a 2,000 square-foot office. Most
companies' buying processes are so scattered and disorganized, by the time
they figure out exactly what it is they do or don't need, the invoice is
already paid and the product installed.
Someone I spoke with recently told me the upper management of their
company had paid for a feng
shui analysis of their corporate headquarters' offices. NowI'm not
backhanding feng shui, but I would have to admit that I put it slightly
below improving customer service or aggregating the company's databases on
the corporate priority list. Another friend recently told me about the
$8,000 restaurant-quality cappuccino and espresso maker one of their branch
offices purchased. Their customers are logging off their Web site with
disgust, but their employees are well caffeinated and meetings are over in
half the time because everyone talks so fast.
Soif you'll allow Dill Pickle Girl to hand out a little advice, here
goes. Make a list. Even if you've never made a list in your life before,
begin the year 2002 with a list that contains two columns: Things We Need
and Things We Don't Need. No one person in a company can come up with this
information. It must have the input of the entire organization. Fred from
Purchasing may think he needs custom-built frames for the pictures his kids
drew for him at summer camp so he can hang them in his office, but he
doesn't. Ditto on Phil the receptionist who sends you a weekly request to
buy an egg poaching pan for the office kitchen. On the other hand, if Edna
in the call center is complaining that your customer database dates from the
late 14th century, you may want to put her request on the opposite column
from Fred and Phil and see about replacing Ye Olde Customer Lyste.
Right about now, the time is ripe to alter a hackneyed old phrase:
"It's the customers, stupid." It's fair to say that you and I are
going to be irked when a company takes the cash it should have used to build
a Web site that wasn't seemingly put together by a hyperactive five-year old
and spends it on a new modern-interpretive
sculpture for the front lawn of corporate headquarters.
Sounds elementary, doesn't it? You would be stunned to find out what
remarkable revelations these are to businesses across the globereally.
I have seen some encouraging news lately in the form of good quarterly
financial reports from both workforce management and logging and monitoring
companies. What this means to me is that many companies are beginning to
recognizing the intractable need for stellar customer service, and they are
doing all they can to make sure they deliver it, in the form of automated
quality monitoring and employee scheduling packages.
In the meantime, I'll keep wandering the aisles of Costco in an attempt
to avoid getting distracted byLook! A twin package of five-pound tubs of
Share your Stupidest Company Purchase Stories with the author at email@example.com.