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This past month at Macromedia's DevCon 2002 I presented a talk based on my article "What would Wal-Mart Do?" While the beginning and end of the presentation are straight from the article, I updated the middle. The new content takes another look at what Flash developers can learn by looking at the success of Wal-Mart, the most successful company in America. How can we learn from Wal-Mart and turn that into more usable Flash content with a better experience for our users.
This article is the result of that thought process. It serves as a compliment to the original Wal-Mart article and offers my latest thoughts on one of the most pressing questions that we need to ask ourselves about using Flash; when is it best for the user?
Good, Fast or Cheap
When I started working on computers creating interactive content back in 1990, I worked in a service bureau. When business was slow, my boss would often share his insight into the world of business with me. In addition to insight on how to deal with our customers my boss would often tell me that in the service industry there was an old saying that said "good, fast or cheap; pick two." What the saying means was that you could expect a service to be fast and cheap but not good, or good and fast but not cheap or cheap and good, but never fast. That was the way things worked before the Internet, but things have changed a great deal in the past 12 years.
In today's world of hyper-consumerism the old saying of my former boss has been turned on its ear by Wal-Mart. Not satisfied with merely offering two of those three options to their customers, Wal-Mart offers all three.
Wal-Mart is good (well, for their customers at least); their stores offer a large selection of products organized so that it is easy to find the things you need. The staff at Wal-Mart is generally friendly and the stores are usually pretty clean. All told, it's a good experience shopping there from the moment you are greeted on entry to the store.
Wal-Mart is fast; you can get in, find what you need and get out. In the Wal-Mart near my house there are 46 check-out lanes. During peak shopping times the majority of those lanes are open. Everything about their stores is designed to make the customer feel like they are not waiting.
Wal-Mart is cheap; everything is lower in price at Wal-Mart. If Kmart has something for $1.99 then Wal-Mart sells something identical for $1.96.
By offering their customers the trifectea of service, Wal-Mart has grown to become the largest company in America knocking oil giant ExxonMobil to the number two slot on the Fortune 500 in 2002. Wal-Mart has found success because for their customers, shopping at a Wal-Mart is better, faster and cheaper than shopping at Wal-Mart's competition.
This service model that Wal-Mart has employed is the same model that we've seen being successful on the web. If there is anything that the Internet has shown, it is that the user's experience with the online offerings of companies is a very big factor in their success. Take Amazon.com for example. Like Wal-Mart they offer their users a better experience. Their web site is possibly one of the best shopping experiences on the web, these days the site does a better job selling to its visitors than anyone else in the ecommerce arena. The Amazon.com site is fast and designed for slow-connection users. Finally, Amazon.com offers discounts on just about everything they sell, making them cheaper than their competition.
A good experience can be a very valuable asset
What do Wal-Mart and Amazon.com know that eludes their competition? They both know that the experience of their customers is critical to the success of their brand. Other companies who pay attention to the total experience in their products have also either done very well, or carved out a loyal user base who they can sell to at a premium. Companies like Apple Computer, BMW, OXO Kitchenware, Volkswagen and a host of others consciously seek to own the 'experience' niche in their fields.
During Rob Burgess's keynote at DevCon he spoke about this shift to marketing experience as a sign that we are entering the 'experience economy.' The experience economy being an economic system that sees the experience of the product or service as an essential part of the product or service's brand. As Burgess put it in his keynote we've gone from selling a cup of 25 cent coffee at the corner store to selling the experience of drinking a $3 coffee at Starbucks.
A bad experience will drive people away
Where there can be benefit in economic gain from offering the user a better experience than the competition, there is always the opposite effect when the experience is poor. Nothing angers the consumer more than the feeling that their experience is not important to the company they are dealing with. In California this week, SBC Communications is under fire for attempting to lay-off customer service reps. The issue is not that the customer service reps want to keep their jobs (and I am sure they do) but that the customers of SBC do not want to get worse service from the already consumer-unfriendly industry.
If you have ever had bad service with a waiter/waitress at a restaurant then you will understand what bad service can mean to a company. If your waiter is everything a waiter should not be, mixing up orders, never bringing drinks, interrupting conversation and so on, then chances are no matter how good the food and the atmosphere of the restaurant are you are likely to think twice when considering the restaurant in the future. Your bad experience has affected the economic gain of the restaurant.
In the experience economy the quality of use breeds loyalty from the consumer, and brand-loyalty is money in the bank.
I thought this article was about Flash?
- an experience that is better than HTML
- an experience that is faster than HTML
- an experience that is cheaper than HTML
At this point you may be wondering to yourself just what is an article about economies and brand-loyalty and Wal-Mart doing on a site about Flash. Well, it is simple; like Wal-Mart and Amazon.com we now know that the experience of our users, the consumers of the services and information on the web, is central to the success of our clients. To that end, with the release of Flash MX, Flash Remoting and the Flash Communications Server we can offer users:
Running from Bears continues with:
Part Two: Better than HTML!?!
Part Three: Free Refills Forever!*
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