I live on Portobello road. So I am quite used to waking up every Saturday to the noise of merchants assembling their stalls and getting ready to sell their products. As a designer, I have never thought about selling my products in a market as I have always placed them in the high-end category.
I was asked to participate in a street market as part of my masters programme. Upon pondering the thought of placing my premium priced product line in a street market, I vividly recalled a dinner conversation I had with my friends who own To Home From London (A shop that sells UK made souvenirs). They said that selling their product in the market was the best customer research they have done because they get feedback directly from consumers.
I went back to a book I have read long before I enrolled to business school, namely The Lean Start-Up, and dug up this quote as my mantra for that day: “We must learn what customers really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.”
I set up my stall in the market and stood there uncomfortably not knowing what to expect. As the first customer approached, I stiffened up and said nothing at all, not even a smile. My Saudi friend/classmate nudged me and mumbled to me in Arabic saying “don’t be stand-offish”. So I took a mental note, that my nerves and awkwardness can sometimes be perceived as arrogance.
A few minutes later, a couple walked by and stopped at my stall, the lady pointed to her partner at the geometric pattern in the Tshirt and then pointed at the bracelet emphasising the consistency and coherence and her husband smiled and then they both walked away. That was positive feedback delivered in silent gestures and it gave me some encouragement.
Another observation was when people looked at the T-shirts and asked me “how much is that brooch?”. “It’s not a brooch I said it’s part of the t-shirt.“why not sell the brooch? Why go through the hassle of making a t-shirt?”, they would ask. “Because the value is in the Tshirt itself just as much as the accessories. Everything from the pattern to the quality of fabric and the weight of the material has been well designed. I received a phone call once from a customer asking me if I would make him 10 of those T-shirts without the accessories to wear every day because they were so comfortable.
In conclusion, the T-shirts and the hardware were equally desirable by customers. Some preferred one more than the other, but the lesson I learned is to simplify and give options to customers. It is called “Bundling & Unbundling” in the book The Personal MBA.
“Bundling and unbundling can help you create value for different types of customers without requiring the creation of something new.”
The interactive experience I have had with people stopping by asking questions, giving feedback and making gestures and facial expressions has taught me more about my customers, than an online survey or a sales analysis.
Ries, E (2011) The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses. London: Portfolio Penguin
Kaufman, J (2012) The Personal MBA: A world-class education in a single volume. London: Portfolio Penguin. pp. 66-67