What can retailers learn from The Curve?

A few months ago Nick Shanagher reviewed The Curve by Nicholas Lovell. He said: “The Curve is a book that will help you to think about your business differently and particularly about how to think about your customers and how to make money from them.”

After taken the reader through the value of free in our digital world and everyone who has a smart phone with their vast catalogue of apps or an internet connection will know about the world of free. Whether it’s music, books, TV programmes or films there is enough to satisfy anyone. The development of 3D printers has added the design of physical objects to what is available for free. The author has been successful in the computer games industry and discovered the value of free several years ago.

Using pop music and e-books to show how independent artists and authors have not only become their own publishers, but also how they play by a new set of rules that reflect today’s commercial environment. He then goes on to introduce the freeloaders, the superfans and everyone in between.

Freeloaders are people who take the free gift, but then don’t buy anything – I guess everyone is a freeloader. A superfan is a person who is prepared to spend much more than the average customer, much, much more.

You may say to yourself “surely I don’t trade in the digital world, do I?”. Well of course any newsagent will know that newspapers, their key product, have been disrupted by news going online in the 1990’s and a web site like BBC News is a freeloaders paradise. Lovell does however suggest that there is likely to be an opportunity for convenience stores to add a 3D printing service in the future.

There are 3 questions the author asks at the end of the book:

  1. What can I give away for free that I can make once and give away as many times as I like for no extra cost?
  2. How do I make sure that when people like my free stuff, I can talk to them again?
  3. How can I offer those people a range of different products or services at a range of different price points, so that those that only want to spend a little with me can do so, as well as those who want to spend an enormous amount?

My initial thought was that in a physical product retail business there is no real opportunity to meet the requirements of Q1. But after a little thought we did give something that was of significant value to many of our customers absolutely free every day – social contact. Operating a community based convenience store, my wife and I along with our employees talked to several hundred people every day.

Q2 was answered in the main because our customers were from our own community.

For Q3 every range in our store had a range of products that offered products from a band of prices. So customers had the choice.

Some of our daily customers could be considered to be “freeloaders” after all. These were daily newspaper customers who only bought their paper and were worth maybe £150 a year in sales. But we certainly had our superfans. Jack, Ken, Sonia and Cynthia stick in my memory as they all suffered from dementia. We developed shopping plans to help them to continue to living independently and they were worth 15 to 20 times more than the newspaper only customer.

Our top product that delivered our all-time best sale was a local product, Nyetimber sparkling wine. At around £25 a bottle for their award winning sparkler we regularly sold 6 or 12 bottles at a time. The biggest sale was to our super fan Barbara who bought 60 bottles and spent nearly £1500.


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