Article Date: 12/1/2003

A Holiday Lesson from Consumers
How optometrists benefit when people get excited about $1,000 washers.

While standing 20 people deep in holiday shopping lines, take heart: Consumers can teach us a valuable lesson. At least Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske think so.

Willing to pay more

Mr. Silverstein, of Boston Consulting Group, and Mr. Fiske, CEO of Bath & Body Works, surveyed 2,300 consumers for their book, Trading Up: The New American Luxury, published by Portfolio. What they found was that today's consumer is willing to spend more, or trade up, for goods and services that possess higher levels of quality.

Why would consumers pay more today? According to the authors, it's because over the past few years, the traditional middle-market American of modest means has transformed into a "sophisticated and discerning consumer with high aspirations and substantial buying power and clout."

Which is not to say that there will be a run on Rolls-Royce Phantoms any time soon. But consumers will purchase top-of-the-line household appliances, a BMW 3 Series automobile or Starbucks coffee -- items that are expensive but still within reach of many buyers.

These products are so different and of such quality, say Mr. Silverstein and Mr. Fiske, that they engage the customer emotionally. You can test this premise for yourself. Ask the BMW owner to test drive a Chevy Lumina or in the case of the chocoholic, propose trading your Snickers bar for some Godiva.

The companies that produce these "accessible super-premium" items can actually raise prices while other manufacturers in their categories slug it out in price wars.

Why not optometrists?

What's in this for optometrists? Trading Up corroborates the advice given by the practice management experts who write regularly in Optometric Management. To put it another way: If Whirlpool can inspire passionate customers in categories as mundane as washers and dryers, then O.D.s can create a practice where unsurpassed excellence, not price, attracts and keeps patients. Could an investment in new technology, facilities, specialization and staff training create a super-premium practice? Would the benefits realized by this practice extend far beyond those of a traditional practice?

Holiday wishes

At this time of year, OM would like to extend wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season. And here's to a 2004 that surpasses your highest expectations!

Optometric Management, Issue: December 2003