Thursday, 8 April 2010

What do customers really want?

Theodore Levitt famously said “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole”.

Despite this being something of a shock to countless women who routinely accompany their men folk to the DIY store to buy yet more drill bits, it’s a stunningly good point. We like to think we are in the software business, HR services, coaching or bed and breakfast. But customers don’t want software, HR services, coaching or bed and breakfast. They want improved efficiency, the luxury of staying away from law courts, improved productivity or an enjoyable break away from it all. The products and services are a means to an end.

Focusing on what your customers actually want, rather than what you provide, makes a difference.

Does Amazon sell books? Or do they sell the ability to deliver knowledge to me exactly when I want it (faster than I ever believed possible)? Countless excellent bookstores have gone before, but only Amazon perfected the art of on-time delivery with such frightening efficiency. Or are they in the business of knowing what I want to read next (better than I do)? Whilst my favourite bookseller might give me a recommendation of a great novel they have enjoyed, only Amazon can produce such a worryingly on-message list of books I’m keen to get hold of right now.

Amazon have redefined bookselling as eBay have redefined bring and buy sales. Both have dominated niches we didn’t even know had gaps. All because they figured out what customers actually want.


  1. Good post Caroline and I agree that Amazon has redefined book selling and got it down to a fine art ... although for me there's something about browsing in a real book store, taking a real book from a real shelf, reading the real back cover and flicking through the real pages ... often what this customer really really wants :-)

  2. I so agree! But I have to admit that I buy far more from Amazon these days than I do from my (very) favourite bookseller. I guess I want speed and convenience so much more ...