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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Which Is Better? Buying Cars or Carpet?

We Buy Cars originally uploaded by AntyDiluvian.

I consider this serious stuff.

So serious, that I'm referring to most of it here.

It's the kind of thing that gets my attention. Because it gets to the heart of issues that plague the carpet business. Not that these issues are unique to carpet or flooring, but they are all too prevalent. And, I predict that they will become even more objectionable as the consumer gains more power, can more easily express frustration and becomes better able to come up with solutions to the frustrations. In fact, I've also discovered Cullison's comments on Helium.com.

At the heart of these issues lie transparency and authenticity - telling the truth and not obfuscating - so that consumers feel enthusiastically delighted about their purchases [think of the delight that an Apple iPod purchase generates] rather than that they've been taken for a ride.

It gets my attention because I frequently compare the carpet buying retail experience to that of purchasing used cars. But it's another thing for a real-live consumer to use that analogy, and rate car buying ahead. Considerably ahead.

Here follows part of the letter. Brace yourselves. It's not pretty:

I am in the market for new wall-to-wall carpet for my home. This sounds simple enough. You decide on a color and style and make a purchase based on your budget. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am the type of person who reads Consumer Reports and other similar review publications and buys accordingly. I won't pay more for something because of a designer label or snob appeal. I will spend more for something; let's say a car tire, if the performance and wear justifies the expense. In our family, we strive to make thoughtful informed decisions, especially regarding large-dollar purchases.

Unfortunately, unlike just about any other purchase one can make in this civilized world, the carpet industry has effectively established a marketing culture making it almost impossible to determine general values of quality and pricing. This culture of imposed confusion is embraced by all the companies that make carpet. This is exacerbated by the fact that fiber selections are not directly related to actual rug construction. You can choose a great fiber and good luck finding out what company actually made the carpet out of that fabric. Further, each carpet manufacturer has its own cute criteria/system for determining wear ability, stain resistance, static protection, etc. Lastly, the industry refuses to use the same terms from one manufacturer to another.

One company uses a term "Softbac" for a flexible carpet backing, while others call it “Action Back” or “OPTIBACK.” Density, weight and other determining factors should be quantifiable absolutes but become abstract and nebulous in the way the industry presents this information. Buying carpet is not fun. It is easier to buy a used car in terms of decision-making.

My family is willing to pay more for a product if it can demonstrate cost effectiveness albeit there is no way of effectively researching carpets in order to make an informed decision. I have spent more time than I care to admit trying to find reliable data and some common denominators in the carpet industry. The carpet moguls have won. I am at the mercy of my carpet salesperson and the industry marketing hype.

Ironically - going back to the Apple example - anyone walking into an Apple Store knows that anything within costs more than the equivalent MP3, laptop, phone... And, yet, everyone walks in willingly. Each one knows exactly what s/he is considering - having been able - assuming a desire - to compare it to equivalent products. And, yet, consumers still walk in and purchase willingly and with delight, impatient to get it home and start playing.

So, carpet industry. What are we waiting for?

Let's make carpet buying as exciting and inspiring as buying something from Apple - and a LOT better than buying a car!


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