In the film Legally Blonde, Elle (played by Reese Witherspoon), as an absolutely unexpected Harvard law scholar, comes up with some totally improbable lines. Like: “It’s impossible to use a half-loop stitching on low-viscosity rayon.” Should a ditsy blonde be capable of such high-strung evidence?
Ask the counter question: Should a judge on an august English bench be empowered to deem a product legally un-cool enough? That’s what happened in July, according to an article in The Guardian. “Samsung won a victory over Apple in the UK high court . . . after a judge ruled the design of its Galaxy Tab isn’t cool enough to be confused with an iPad.”
According to the judge, the Samsung products in question “‘do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool. The overall impression produced is different.'”
The ruling has a host of intellectual property implications – some of them amusing . . . and others seriously expensive in an attention-getting way:
• Apple considered the Samsung products to be an encroachment, so much so as to take the battle to court. Apple’s taking issue actually may have endowed consumer perception of these Samsung products with more competitive muscle than the court believes they have.
• In a major way, Apple may have benefited Samsung with substantial free publicity. After all, being not quite as cool as Apple is, in fact, . . . pretty cool. Samsung’s quarterly profits, by the way, are bulging.
• Will copycat brands – touting their utility and not their design – now be able to dabble in a whole host of features as long they shroud those features in an intentionally un-cool, dowdy way?
Lastly, who would ever have thought that a judge would ever render an intellectual property verdict based on product coolness? Then again, who would ever have thought Elle could have rolled through Harvard Law School like a Sherman tank?
THE PRICE IS RIGHT! . . . SO WHAT?
There’s so much retail posturing going on about price:
• one price
• low price
• ad price
• best price
Retailers keep hunting for the definitive pricing policy. Is price truly the holy grail of customer satisfaction?
A pure focus on price can be blinding. Remember the Law of Supply and Demand? Stuff flooding the market drives price lower. The opposite remains true, too. Short supply, quality and desirable features push price higher. Pricing is inescapably item-driven.
Supply-and-demand is a potent and underestimated force. That’s especially so in apparel and domestics. Retailers will often try to impose their standards on what consumers ought to pay for certain merchandise. They have a bull-headed conviction about what their “best” products are worth. In our transparent age, consumers may be quick to disagree. And, social media are ever ready to telegraph that public consensus.
Inflexible price policy is an incredibly weak answer to sheer over-abundance of me-too merchandise. A retail team may pride itself on wielding ultra-smooth marketing. It will never be smart or convincing enough to cloud consumer judgment about price. Marketing rhetoric can never make magic with pricing long-term, and it’s foolish to manipulate pricing short-term. Attempting to masquerade pricing policy through slick marketing is a dangerous and certain way to shipwreck a retail brand.
Quality control – especially in items like electronics and cars – has paved the way for clearer and higher consumer expectations in other categories. People expect merchandise to perform and to last. They now direct their premium-price dollars to a different more – i.e., rewarding real customization, comfort and state-of-the-art edges.
So many retailers would benefit from heavy-duty introspection about pricing . . . and less from haranguing customers with pricing policy. What have you really got in your inventories? Give the goods a hard-nosed assessment. Price the merchandise in a credible way, not according to abstract profit formulas. And, as you replenish, shift the emphasis to value. Catch up with where the consumer’s head has long been.