Law of Purchase
Consumers, by seeking quality and value, set the standards of acceptability for products and services by voting with their marketplace dollars.
- Ronald Reagan
The Law of Purchase states a sole reason for purchase:
Customer buys a product or service in anticipation that it will serve as a solution to satisfaction of customer’s need.
“Anticipation” is the keyword in this Law. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, anticipation is “a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action; the act of looking forward, especially pleasurable expectation.” A customer imagines the process of satisfaction of a need, and he foresees that this particular product will take an important part in this process. This act of anticipation is usually subconscious, with conscious rationalization.
If anticipation produces a feeling of substantial degree of satisfaction, customer – again, subconsciously – compares it with anticipation of all costs involved in ownership of this product. These costs include price, i.e. money withdrawn from budget, cost of bringing the product to the usable state, e.g. assembly or installation, maintenance, servicing and getting rid of, potential difficulties and inconveniences, etc. If comparison shows that benefits, i.e. improvement in satisfaction of need, overcome the total cost of ownership, customer decides to buy. Otherwise, customer continues shopping.
From this standpoint, an innovation is the product or service modified in the way that assumes better satisfaction of customer’s need. Customer buys this new product or service in anticipation of improved satisfaction of customer’s need. If it happens later that customer doesn’t use a product purchased before, it is due to unforeseen inconveniences or difficulties of use; reality has a bad habit to differ from anticipation.
Self-improvement books, according to observation of Shad Helmstetter, [Shad Helmstetter, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, 1990.] are usually the bestsellers, but… more often than not they collect dust on bookshelves remaining unopened. Why? Because their suggestions assume a substantial effort on reader’s side, while readers expect something more convenient.
Sometimes, customer doesn’t buy a product that could really improve satisfaction of the need simply because its appearance doesn’t create an appropriate anticipation.
Hence, a product to be successfully commercialized should meet both requirements: produce an appropriate anticipation and deliver on its promise.
Elmer Wheeler (1903-1968) created the Tested Selling Institute. Wheeler’s 1937 book, Tested Sentences That Sell, included his famous salesmanship maxim: “Don’t sell the steak—sell the sizzle!” This is, probably, the most exact formulation of “selling the anticipation.” However, if steak is not properly cooked, one who bought it won’t buy another steak at the same restaurant…
It is important to understand that sometimes customer buys a new product or service to improve satisfaction of a need other than one it was assumed to satisfy by its provider.
While innovative services are assumed by their providers to deliver on client’s need in new products, some managers purchase these services to “cover their anatomy” and avoid supervisors’ accusation in lack of interest in innovation. As a result, even reasonable concepts remain unknown to the rest of the company, and aren’t timely implemented. Moreover, such client blames the service provider for inability to deliver. Is it the provider’s fault? No, it is not, since provider delivers on promise. Yes, it is, because provider hadn’t recognized timely the real need a client wanted to satisfy.
To an “informed” observer who expects that customer buys this product to satisfy the “foreseen by provider” need, such purchase could be seen as unreasonable. However, it is not unreasonable from customer’s point of view: customer doesn’t care of provider’s assumptions, but cares of satisfaction of multiple needs.