How Much for That Salmonella?

Last week I did something I thought I’d never do: I paid more for shipping an item than I did for the item itself. The Giant Microbes Salmonella from X-Treme Geek cost just $5.99, while S&H cost another $7.66. Yet the fact that I was willing to pay so much to have a plush replica of potentially fatal bacterium sent to my house points to why some catalogers survive Draconian postal hikes and others don’t.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to bore you with why I bought the pseudo salmonella. What matters here is that I did. Under normal circumstances the S&H would have been a deal breaker, but these weren’t normal circumstances. I passionately wanted that stuffed bacterium, and passion trumps rationality almost every time.

Multichannel merchants that can inspire passion in customers have the least to fear from rising costs. Which is not to say that they can sit back and watch their bottom line erode. But when consumers need to cut back because their own expenses are rising, they’ll avoid cutting back on their passions.

You don’t need to offer unique merchandise to inspire passion — though it helps if your product line isn’t available at every strip mall or sold for two cents above cost at Sam’s Club. Knowledgeable, nurturing customer service generates passion as well — that’s why so many people buy from companies such as CDW or Nordstrom even though they might be able to purchase the same products elsewhere for less. And of course there are certain brand intangibles that keep consumers loyal. How else to explain the survival of children’s books cataloger Chinaberry in the face of Amazon.com?

To profit from passion — yours and that of your customers’ — you do need to make sure that you reach the appropriate audience with the appropriate offer and that you deliver what you promise… you know, the keystones of any successful business. But without passion, all you’ve got is a commodity. Commodities are sold largely on price, and there’s always someone else (usually Wal-Mart) that can sell a commodity cheaper than you can.

P.S. — The Giant Microbes Salmonella is one thing I feel passionate about; the upcoming ACCM (formerly the Annual Catalog Conference) is another. Multichannel Merchant is the copresenter of the conference, so our entire staff will be there, May 21-23 in Boston. Leon Gorman, former chairman/president of L.L. Bean, is one of the keynoters, and I’ll be moderating the Power Forum, with ASAP chairman Love Goel, Lillian Vernon president/CEO Mike Muoio, and McKinsey & Co.’s Bart Sichel as panelists. For more on ACCM, visit www.ACCM07.com.

Hopefully I’ll see you at the conference. But if you can’t make it, be sure to check out www.MultichannelMerchant.com during the show for our coverage of the presentations and the scuttlebutt. We’ll also be sending an electronic version of our Show Daily to subscribers to the Multichannel Merchant Weekly e-newsletter; if you don’t already subscribe, you can do so at subscribe.MultichannelMerchant.com.

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