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July 4, 2017

‘Sort by Price’ Is a Lazy Approach

Summary:

There are differences in products, and, sometimes, those differences are worth what they cost. What if we tried "sort by delight"?

Photo Courtesy of Pexels

In an April 14 LinkedIn Pulse post, I quoted an excerpt from Seth Godin’s blog that was related to the issue of online insurance buying. I got so much response to that LinkedIn posting excerpt that I asked, and received, Seth’s permission to reprint it here in its entirety. You’ll find it below.

More recently, he blogged about “When Time Catches Up.” Here is an excerpt from that post:

Bad decisions happen for one of two reasons:

  1. You’re in a huge hurry, and you can’t process all the incoming properly. But more common…
  2. The repercussions of your decision won’t happen for months or years. This is why we don’t save for retirement, don’t pay attention to long-term environmental issues and, tragically, tolerate (or fall prey to) irrational rants about things like vaccines. It might be engaging or soothing to promote a palliative idea now, but years later, when innocent kids are sick and dying, the regrets are real.

A bad decision isn’t only bad because we’re uninformed or dumb. It can be bad because we are swayed by short-term comfort and ignore long-term implications. A bad decision feels good in the short run, the heartfelt decision of someone who means well. But there’s a gap when we get to the long run.

This is related to what many of the insurtech start-ups refer to as the “customer experience.” Their solution for what can be a painful process (purchasing insurance) is to just reduce it to a phone app with a two- to three-minute processing time. The problem is, as Seth puts it, we are often swayed by short-term comfort and ignore long-term implications. As an insurance professional, your responsibility is to educate consumers that shortcuts like this can result in financial disaster if they do not take the time to ascertain their exposures to loss and address them.

See also: Smart Things and the Customer Experience  

Seth characterizes himself as someone who “writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything.” I find that much of what he blogs about can be applied to our industry.

If you don’t subscribe to Seth’s daily blog, I encourage you to do so. It is almost always interesting and often very insightful.

Now, on with the original blog post I mentioned at the start above….

‘Sort by price’ is lazy, by Seth Godin

Sort by price is the dominant way that shopping online now happens. The cheapest airline ticket or widget or freelancer comes up first, and most people click.

It’s a great shortcut for a programmer, of course, because the price is a number, and it’s easy to sort.

Alphabetical could work even more easily, but it seems less relevant (especially if you’re a fan of Zappos or Zima).

The problem: Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s as useful as it appears.

It’s lazy for the consumer. If you can’t take the time to learn about your options, about quality, about side effects, then it seems like buying the cheapest is the way to go–they’re all the same anyway, we think.

And it’s easy for the producer. Nothing is easier to improve than price. It takes no nuance, no long-term thinking, no concern about externalities. Just become more brutal with your suppliers and customers, and cut every corner you can. And then blame the system.

The merchandisers and buyers at Wal-Mart were lazy. They didn’t have to spend much time figuring out if something was better, they were merely focused on price, regardless of what it cost their community in the long run.

We’re part of that system, and if we’re not happy with the way we’re treated, we ought to think about the system we’ve permitted to drive those changes.

What would happen if we insisted on ‘sort by delight’ instead?

What if the airline search engines returned results sorted by a (certainly difficult) score that combined travel time, aircraft quality, reliability, customer service, price and a few other factors? How would that change the experience of flying?

This extends far beyond air travel. We understand that it makes no sense to hire someone merely because they charge the cheapest wage. That we shouldn’t pick a book or a movie or a restaurant simply because it costs the least.

There are differences, and, sometimes, those differences are worth what they cost.

See also: Key Trends in Innovation (Part 3)  

‘Worth it’ is a fine goal.

What if, before we rushed to sort at all, we decided what was worth sorting for?

Low price is the last refuge of the marketer who doesn’t care enough to build something worth paying for.

In your experience, how often is the cheapest choice the best choice?

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About the Author

William C. Wilson, Jr., CPCU, ARM, AIM, AAM is the founder of Insurance Commentary.com. He retired in December 2016 from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, where he served as associate vice president of education and research.

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