Wait, You Sell What?

In the movie 40 Year Old Virgin there is a great scene where a customer (played by Jonah Hill) walks into an eBay store to buy a pair of thigh length boots with goldfish in the soles. Confused? So was he. The store owner (played by Catherine Keener) tries to explain that they are an eBay store, so the goods are for display only…if you want to buy them you have to go on eBay. From what I recall the dialogue continues a bit like this:

  • Customer: “what? I just wanna buy these boots. You’re making this really hard for me”
  • Shop Owner: ” yeah. I get that a lot. Sorry”

There are two main problems here, besides keeping goldfish in the soles of your shoes.

The value proposition is too complicated

This is a great example of the need to be able to elevator pitch your concept. If your customers can’t get it pretty quickly, you’ll probably lose your window of opportunity when winning new customers. So keep it simple. Probably the best examples of value propositions with simple explanations are those than need no explanation at all. Being able to hand someone a tool with the words “here, use this” will always trump “here. it’s a wahatdyucallit. Let me explain how it works and why you would find it useful…”

Make sure you solve the right problem

More important than keeping your concept simple is making sure you are actually solving a problem that your customers care about. Typically this means that customers are already trying to solve the problem but are either failing or finding it difficult with existing solutions. For completely new concepts, you need to create the problem first and then solve it. Curiously  for our eBay store the problem of not being able to handle experiential goods is actually negated by the solution e.g. once you have the goods in your hand, why would you need to shop online for them? You already have them. Perhaps a better concept would be to use eBay to find sellers instead of buyers:

  1. Buyer finds good in shop
  2. eBay store puts up reverse auction to find a seller who wants to make the sale. The lowest cost provider wins (if chosen by the buyer)
  3. Buyer pays for goods, seller then compensates the shop and sends over their stock to replace it.

Okay, so this might need some work as a concept. Whatever the approach, the main outcome should be to validate your value proposition against customer behaviour. In the case of this movie, our store should be pivoting by now…



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