Published on: July 26, 2016by Michael Sansolo
There is almost no way your company - whatever kind of company it is - can avoid a discussion about how to deal with e-commerce.
You might choose to embrace it fully as so many companies are, offering specifically timed deliveries and a wide range of products. You might be partnering with a company like Instacart to get in the game without building your own organization's skills. You might be offering some pared down services, whether a click-and-collect model that avoids last-mile hassles or a limited assortment of products on line.
Or you might even decide to avoid e-commerce fully.
But even if you've come to that decision, you have to have the discussion.
Consider the experience of the Metropolitan Opera, the New York-based company that is the largest in its field, for a case study in both how hard the path forward is going to be and just how many unintended consequences there may be.
Ten years ago, the Met had what seemed to be a winning strategy to introduce its product to a new audience and hopefully build a future fan base for opera. The company started airing specific operas in chosen movie theaters. Today that effort has expanded to 2,000 theaters worldwide, reaching 2.7 million people and bringing in $18 million annually.
But like so many operas, this story isn’t happy or simple.
Attendance at live operas continues to decline at the Met and beyond and many in the opera community blame the broadcasts for allowing customers to trade down. That is, instead of buying tickets for live performances they can spend less, and go to a nearby movie theater to see the nation’s premier company.
As a result, smaller companies say their performances cannot compete with the quality of the Met, so they are losing business. And the Met itself is struggling, with ticket sales down to about 66 percent of capacity.
One retailer with whom I discussed this story summed it simply: “Be careful what you wish for.”
Finances aren’t the only issue. Opera purists - a group that certainly does not include me - say the slick movie productions remove many of the elements of a live performance that make opera so special. So even if people enjoy the video broadcasts, they might feel differently about the experience in a live theater.
Here’s the thing: there’s still some debate about whether the very idea of these broadcasts is good. Some argue that opera’s bigger problem is a failure to connect with and win over a new audience. Looked at that way, the outreach through movie theaters makes tons of sense.
It’s just that the path is really challenging, and the story provides object lessons for retailers grappling with uncertain futures.
E-commerce is quickly (everyday more so) becoming a reality, no matter what your feelings about Amazon, Prime Days and every other promotion. Consumer habits are shifting and like opera companies, sitting pat is a recipe for trouble. As those smaller opera companies have found, the outreach by the Met changes the realities in far distant markets. The exact same thing can happen to retail.
Action is necessary, but results may not come easily or expectedly. Somehow your business needs to solve the same problem the Met is having - finding a way to translate an experience into this new world and to do it in a profitable way.
As the cliché tells us, some operas end when “the fat lady sings.” When it comes to finding a foolproof strategy to win the emerging market place understand this: She’s warming up.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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