Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Figuring Out the Consumer

The inscrutability of the species Felis catus has been well known since the first ancient Egyptian brought home a tiny ball of fur (“Honey, look what I’ve got?”) and learned that he had to do a bit of work to create the perfect relationship with this tiny ball of fur that suddenly became a cat.  

Those of us who own cats know that figuring out what they want is endlessly fascinating and rewarding and well worth the effort. 

There's Nothing Better Than a Laundry Basket Full of Clothes Right Out of the Dryer
Photo © Marie-Thérèse Norris
Take my Miss Kiri Kat, for example.  About a month ago, she started pushing her water bowl around, dipping her paw in it, shaking the wet paw and looking up at me with that “What part of this don’t you get?” look.  For days I didn’t get it, and then I suddenly did. 


It's My Turn to Help with the Dishes.  How Do You Put This Thing On??
Photo © Marie-Thérèse Norris
It suddenly occurred to me that she didn’t like the taste of the water in the bowl.  Frankly, I didn’t blame her.  We have dreadful tap water here, full of grit and silt.  I don’t drink it; why should she?  I hate even washing my hair in it.  So, I decided to put my theory to the test.  I put down two bowls of water – one with tap water and one with Poland Spring bottled water.  Guess which one she chose?  Poland Spring won paws down. 

My husband still shakes his head in disbelief over how I figured it out.  It wasn’t hard.  Miss Kiri is not shy about letting us know what she wants.   He also can’t believe he is now buying bottled water for a cat. 

Dan:  “Maybe we should give her a choice; she might prefer something French, like Badoit.”

Me:  “If she does, she’ll let me know. 




Les Parisiennes de Kiraz

If only it were as easy for businesses to figure out what the consumer wants.   It’s not that they don’t ask; they do.  Market researchers are not only ubiquitous but absolutely essential, we are told, no matter the size of the business.  But are we consumers telling them what we really want or are we telling them what we think they want to hear and what we think we really want?  Hmmm.  Apparently, it’s all very complicated, especially when it comes to clothes and accessories for women on a mass market basis.  Perhaps the truly inscrutable species is Felis feminus.    

Two years ago in my internet hunt for the perfect, special occasion shoe for our trip to Bayreuth, Germany, for the Wagner Festival (see “The Hunt for the Perfect Special Occasion Shoe”), I stumbled upon a web site that not only carried my tiny size (4B), but allowed me to customize my shoes to an amazing degree. 

I ordered my first pair designed to my personal specifications from Shoes of Prey.  I’d never had so much fun on line.  I felt like a Louboutin en herbes. 









When they arrived, I was thrilled with the results.  Over the next year or so, I ordered three more pairs and loved them all. 








These blue suede shoes with blue leather cap toe were the last pair I ordered.  In March of this year, Shoes of Prey closed up shop and filed for bankruptcy.  What happened?  What went wrong? 









For the first two and a half years, Shoes of Prey’s growing success was due to word of mouth and their internet presence without resorting to expensive marketing.  They had tapped into a niche of women who, like me, loved the idea of customizing their shoes and knowing that they were wearing a shoe that no one else had.  That niche was several notches below the women who could afford totally made-to-order footware, and it made them a huge success in the industry. 







Jodie Fox, One of the Three Original Founders of Shoes of Prey
The next logical step for Shoes of Prey was to go mass market.  They did their marketing homework, which told them that, if they made a few changes, such as simplifying the design process, shortening the delivery time, etc., the mass market woman would love the idea of customizing her own shoes.  And so, they made some changes, hired more people and after a big injection of investor cash, they set out to conquer the mass market. 

Only it didn’t happen.  What they discovered was that the women who told them they would jump at the chance to “customize/design” their own shoes sat back on their heels when offered the chance to do so.  When it came right down to it, it was just easier to see what the latest “it” shoe was on Instagram, go to the site, find it in their size and click the Buy button.  In the end, what they said they wanted was not really what they wanted at all.  It was just what they thought they wanted when asked because it sounded so good. 

Michael Fox, one of the three original founders of Shoes of Prey, put it this way, “If I ever find myself in a position where I’m attempting to change consumer behaviour, I will ensure I’ve peeled back the layers to truly understand the psychology of my target customer.” 

If it were easy to figure out what the consumer really wants, every business would be a success and there would be no need for highly paid marketing firms who sometimes get it completely wrong. 


 



Photo © Marie-Thérèse Norris

As for me, I think I’ll just stick to trying to figure out what Miss Kiri Kat wants.  It’s endlessly fascinating, rewarding and well worth the effort.  Besides, unlike Felis feminus, she always knows exactly what she wants – just ask her. 



20 comments:

  1. Marie-Therese,
    Having been a former cat mother of course we know what their meows mean along with every sashay of a tail. I chuckled at your giving Miss Kiri bottled water. I did not know of Shoes of Prey, I would have placed orders; I love the idea of custom made shoes. When I was 18-20 we had a place in Los Angeles called 402 shoes that did custom work. I ordered a pair of red shoes with a blond heel.
    They were a high heel sandal in the style that Marilyn wore in the 7 year itch when standing on the subway grate. Oh how I loved those shoes! But the current trend is cheap even when they hurt and retailers are giving the masses what they demand. Comfort and leather are becoming obsolete. It's a shame that SOP didn't get onto Shark Tank for greater exposure and visibility.

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    1. Dear friend,

      I am very sad about SOP going out of business. I loved the shoes they created for me. Based on what has been publicly discussed by the former owners, I speculated on the problems inherent in relying solely on marketing information. That said, however, I have know idea what internal problems may have been involved that contributed to their demise.

      Your red shoes sound gorgeous. Don't you just hate having to retire a favorite pair of shoes -- the ones that make you feel fabulous every time you slip them on? I know I do.

      All my best, M-T

      Delete
  2. I enjoyed reading this very much. But then, when you blog, I always do enjoy reading it.

    As my degree is in business and marketing as well, I enjoyed your take on the process. I believe you have "cracked the nut" and you have come to the right conclusion as to what happened with Shoes of Prey; and what a shame.

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    1. Well, Dear Katie Isabella, this is clearly right up your alley, so I am delighted that you feel I have "cracked the nut." Of course, I have no idea what internal problems may have contributed to the problem, but, yes, it is a real shame to lose what was once a thriving business. One less place to find great shoes in my size (sigh).

      Always love your comments and appreciate that you take the time to leave them.

      M-T

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  3. New blog subscriber here, and WOW! Between this post and Married to the Maestro, I know I'm going to enjoy these!

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    1. I am delighted to have you on board, Mary Katherine, and I hope you will continue to read and enjoy my cyberscribblings and take the time to comment. Comments from my readers, especially new ones, are my reward.

      A warm welcome,

      M-T

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  4. Comment sent to me by my friend Anna:

    "Terrible news that Shoes of Prey went bankrupt. I am truly sorry. Otherwise I loved the blog, Novis too, looking at Kiri pictures."

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    1. I know, Anna. I share your feelings. You, too, were a more than satisfied customer after I brought Shoes of Prey to your attention. Very sad. Hope the Kiri pictures helped to soften the blow a little.

      Love, M-T

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  5. I love your story about the water. Cats are purrfectionists! Can I suggest that you get a water filter instead of buying bottled water, though. You can get ones that go under your sink with a filtered water tap or just the watercooler type that sits on the bench and has a filter inside the chamber. It will save you lots of money as it makes your tap water clean and drinkable and save all of those nasty plastic bottles.
    I bought a few shoes from Shoes of Prey as i have feet of different sizes but they were never quite right or comfortable and I went back to only buying shoes that I can try on in the shop. However I am sorry that they went out of business as I thought this a great idea and was prepared to use them more.

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    1. Great idea on the water filter, Melissa. I have thought about it and will definitely do it.

      Even though you were not a satisfied customer of Shoes of Prey, it's always sad when an innovative company goes out of business. As for me, I can't walk into a shoe shop and try on shoes in my size. They just don't make them, so Shoes of Prey going out of business was a big blow for me. I have this recurring nightmare in which I run around barefoot trying to find a store that carries my size. I never do. I know seven-year-old girls who have bigger feet than I do.

      Luckily, when it comes to flats and summer sandals, I can wear Size 2 or 2 1/2 in the Girls Department, and they really are quite cute.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. Always enjoy your comments.

      Cheers, M-T

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  6. one of our good friends is a real estate agent and her mantra is "buyers are liars", meaning that what people say they want and what is most important to them sometimes goes out the window when presented with reality. that's why she often shows them houses they might reject on paper but love when they enter.

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    1. Such a great point, Adele. I'll remember that line "buyers are liars" whether they are lying to their real estate agent or to themselves. If we can't figure out what we want who can?

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Cheers, M-T

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  7. I remember your original blog and love the blue block heels denim pair above. I find it disheartening they are now filing for bankruptcy. Oh dear!

    I wonder if they wish they had not changed their business model? Despite it leading to failure, sometimes not taking the risk means not having the growth a business needs to be sustainable long-term. At other times, it means they should not have tampered with their success by expanding. Might you know which case it is for Shoes of Prey? I wonder if there is a chance of putting the lessons learned into starting over ... a new company?

    You did what you could to keep them open. Ahhh truly, I'm sad for them. It takes years of sweat and hard work to get a business off the ground, and now this sad news. :(

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    1. You posed two very good theories, and I don't know which is correct. I've known quite a few small businesses over the years that just got too big and unwieldy and toppled over from their own weight. On the other hand, isn't that the dream of most small business owners to grow and become even more successful? It's a Goldilocks choice -- which size porridge is just right?

      As I said, there may have been some internal problems that contributed, as well. I do know that the marriage between Jodie and Michael Fox, two of the three original owners, ended in divorce during this period. Family turmoil can affect business decisions. In any case, we may learn more. I read that Jodie Fox will be writing a book on the rise and fall of Shoes of Prey. Could be a most interesting cautionary tale.

      Warm wishes, M-T

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  8. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    Yes, our felines do communicate their wishes to us in a perfect way!
    But as with fashion, most just hop on the band wagon and want to have what the masses have!
    Not knowing what would look best for their size, shape, lifestyle... You were lucky for having those special shoes to your liking, for as long as they stayed in business.
    Sending you hugs,
    Mariette

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    1. Ma chère Mariette,

      You are so right about our feline friends sending us very clear signals about what they like and dislike. We just need to pay attention. I've certainly learned that over the years.

      I do feel lucky that I was able to benefit from the Shoes of Prey business model that allowed you to customize your shoes to such a degree that you could pretty much get exactly what you wanted. Every time I wear a pair of their shoes, I get compliments.

      I will miss them.

      Gros bisous, M-T

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  9. My kitty loves to drink from the bathroom sink faucet and meows until I turn it on for her at a slow flow. Fresh and aerated. I too figured out what she wanted and purchased a motorized pet water fountain with a built in water filter. The water flows down just like the sink faucet. Apparently cats prefer moving water as they have learned it is cleaner, fresher, and tastier! https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07RXPKXHJ/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

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    1. What a great tip, Chris. I will look into it. Thanks for the link. I have read that cats prefer water that moves as it means that it is not stagnant and polluted. They are so smart about these things, which is why they have survived and thrived for hundreds and hundreds of years. Of course, being impossibly cute may have had something to do w/it as well.

      Wonderful hearing from you, Chris.

      Cheers, M-T

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  10. The last photo of Miss Kiri Kat is the most perfect cat photo ever. Her coloring, especially at the pale pink ears and nose, perfectly complements your bedding. The pillow's motto is quintessentially cat. The composition of curves and straight lines is worthy of an oil painting. I wish you would print the image on a mug or something. I would buy several!

    You hit upon the perfect juxtaposition when you contrasted Shoes of Prey's customers with Miss Kiri Kat. If only Shoes of Prey's founders had been lucky enough to have more catlike customers, like Marie-Thérèse!

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    1. What a wonderful comment. Thank you so much. Some food for thought here as a result of your excellent idea. I do think she'd look adorable on a mug, if only to give to friends for birthdays, etc. Of course, first I would have to copyright the image. Will look into that.

      If I go forward w/this, I'll let you know on my Blog. You are clearly one consumer who knows exactly what he/she wants. On behalf of Miss Kiri Kat, "merci beaucoup."

      Cheers, M-T

      Delete

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