The Profit Of The Path Less Traveled

Written by Evan Schuman
November 4th, 2010

Last month, a vendor was hawking one of those mall kiosk clothing-measuring systems that uses millimeter radio waves to take hundreds of thousands of measurements to deliver the perfect clothing fit. A company representative started pushing a columnist from a major Philadelphia newspaper to try the machine and write about it. As you can guess, this test didn’t go well.

The columnist took the vendor up on its offer and tried the machine, working with company owners. At the end of the process, the machine is supposed to cough up a list of jeans that will fit that consumer perfectly and where to get them. In this case, though, the machine found zero. Zilch. But this is not merely a case of a vendor proudly doing a demo before the technology is ready. It’s the latest example of a vendor focusing on the majority of consumers, when the gold actually lies in the minority.

The problem with the rollout of the MyBestFit kiosk at the King Of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania was that the columnist was not a common size. Given that the kiosk was introduced only with apparel suppliers that focus on the most popular sizes, it didn’t work.

Behind this problem is a deliciously non-intuitive retail truth. The kneejerk reaction of most business managers is to stock and otherwise prepare for the most popular of whatever is being hawked. But with technology offerings such as these kiosks—and many other advanced retail systems—the pot of gold lies in pursuing the opposite.

In the columnist and the kiosk episode, her attraction to the machine was precisely because she had difficulty finding jeans that fit properly. Unfortunately, the vendor designed its system for people with the most common measurements. In short, those are the people who will have little interest in such a system. If they can walk into most clothing stores and get a perfect fit off the shelf, why hassle with the kiosk?

This concept certainly doesn’t only apply to kiosks. An ideal Web example would be search engines specializing in finding local inventory at brick-and-mortars. The idea behind these engines is wonderful. But this kiosk vendor tried to make life simple by initially focusing on SKUs that are common and easy to find and match.


One Comment | Read The Profit Of The Path Less Traveled

  1. Rob Rice Says:

    Agreed that “chasing the long tail” [of the graph-no pun intended] leads to profits. It’s like developing internet applications, where opportunity lies in the long tail where customization, exception, personalization and relevance all are optimized to the user.


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