92. The Wal-Mart Effect
I once had a woman at a Fair ask me if the three piece set (plate, bowl, and chalice) marked $45 was, “for four.” It took me a while to understand that she meant four place settings for the $45 price. Twelve pieces. I know that I replied politely, but my face must have revealed my shock and anger, because she scurried away looking hurt.
We are not competing with Wal-Mart. They don’t sell what we make and we don’t make what they sell. But their existence has had an interesting influence on the minds of shoppers. I call it, “the Wal-Mart Effect.” It’s not about price, despite her example. It’s about presentation, and the retail experiences that encourage sales.
Simply put, the more you have to sell the more you will sell. Consumers seem to be comforted by large displays. A large display makes you look more like a professional and less like a hobbyist. Further, high volume implies quality. It’s a faulty logic but it goes, “these must be good, look at how many of them there are.” Car-makers love this sort of thinking.
People are also reassured by the idea that lots of people own these things. They’ll fit in with the crowd because they’ll own one, too, and no one will laugh at them for having wasted their money on something stupid.
I’ve even noticed at the end of a long Fair, when stocks are low, customers’ reluctance to look at displays that seem too sparse. Either it looks too much like a flea market or (like polite people everywhere) they don’t want to take the last one, as if your pots were desserts at a potluck.
The lessons for me have been several. One, have as large a display as possible, without letting the customer access get cramped. People fear bumping your pots and won’t enter a dangerous looking shop. Two, try to have simple, clear-cut prices and signage. Three, even though your individual pieces are one-of-a-kind encourage your customer that you’ve made an awfully lot of those kind of pots. Four, don’t let the shelves look bare. Better to remove excess display capacity than to let yourself look “picked over.” Five, bring lots of stock. Literally, ‘the more the merrier.’ And six, be reassuring. Your customer dreads being thought a fool. Give them every clue that buying your work is a smart thing to do.
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