Quick Read: Recent innovations across sectors underscore how Convenience is at the core of their offering to the consumers who are happy to pay a premium for the same. While these could have disruptive implications to traditional business formats, they too are not far behind in figuring out the new playing field – otherwise called Convenience with a Capital ‘C’.
Convenience as a core value proposition is getting all pervasive.
And for proof of this, one needs to just look at the vending machines in Japan or the jidohanbaiki as the Japanese call them.
Japan, they say, is like the spiritual hub of the vending machines. In fact according to this CNN report, there are currently around 5.5 million vending machines in Japan, which is one vending machine for every 23 people in the country! You have them across categories spanning every conceivable kind of location.
You have vending machines at street corners, restaurants, coffee shops, toilets, even in trams and on mountain tops selling everything from canned drinks to drinks that are supposed to be a surprise till you buy them, from hallucinogenic herbs to charms, from books peddling porn and erotica to those listing test questions for exams, from footwear to bras and panties. Almost everything and everywhere!
Regardless of the amusement that these jidohanbaiki or the vending machines in Japan evoke from people around the world, the simple grain of human truth that seems to emerge out of all this is the fact that people tend to value convenience over price on many an occasion – irrespective of the category and location. And more so in the recent past.
More recently a Japanese food company Kagome has installed vending machines at the start/finish lines of one of the city’s major running routes to sell fresh red tomatoes to the exhausted runners. The tomatoes are priced at a 280-gram bag for 400 yen ($3.80) and a 180-gram bag for 300 yen ($2.80) which is nearly 270% higher than the price at which you would have gotten it at a supermarket in Tokyo. (as per Tokyo market prices at the time of writing this article). Despite the price premium, reports suggest that these tomatoes are selling well, given that these vending machines are said to be replenished every day.
(Kagome Tomato Vending Machine. Source)
What does the consumer value here? Kagome – it appears – is not actually selling tomatoes through their vending machines, but a natural alternative to energy drinks and bars delivered at your convenience.
Let’s Take Pharmacy
Disrupting the equation that patients traditionally had with their doctors, insurance agents and drug stores, IDEO has recently worked with a startup to design PillPack. This short video explains the concept neatly.
As this FastCompany article says, PillPack is an end-to-end pharmacy and delivery service for pharmaceuticals that is using design to vastly simplify the process of swallowing pills each day. You don’t have to worry about pillboxes, reminders, refills, insurance, co-pay, ad hoc doctors’ prescriptions etc; PillPack takes care of all that for you. All you need to do is tear off the latest M&M Fun Size packet and swallow what’s inside when it tells you to.
Costing $20 per month for the user, PillPack’s service is an interesting example of how – despite several regulatory, legal and FDA challenges that govern drug/drug delivery – selling healthcare in a convenient package could indeed be big business. In fact, the company has now successfully raised $4M in funding from investors and is boldly stepping up its bid to become the top mail-order pharmacy disrupting all existing players in the traditional value chain.
Again, which business is PillPack in? Drug delivery? Or is it Convenience in medication?
Lamoda is an online fashion retailer in Russia. Albeit with a twist. Not only does Lamoda’s uniformed deliveryman bring the clothes that a customer orders, but he also waits for her to try them on, offers fashion advice, takes returns, and processes her payment on the spot.
(Delivering the experience of your local store at your door step, Lamoda. Picture source)
As per this Businessweek report, Lamoda currently employs about 700 couriers and services 1.5 million active users in Russia with sales of more than 6 billion rubles in 2013 despite the logistical challenge of having had to deliver mail orders to the world’s most sprawling nation, spanning nine time zones with an extremely unreliable postal service. The fact that Lamoda looks at it as a serious bet on the business of offering convenience to its customers becomes apparent when you look at its underlying cost structure.
Reports say that despite the cost of delivery for Lamoda accounting for as much as 25 percent of an order totaling less than $1oo, the company doesn’t charge for shipping and keeps prices at the same level as in stores. As a result, its 2013 annual expenses were expected to have exceeded its annual sales. And the interesting part is this. These current losses haven’t stopped investors from betting big on Lamoda’s potential. Over the past two years, Lamoda has raised more than $200 million from billionaire Len Blavatnik, JPMorgan Chase, Kering etc.
Is Lamoda selling clothes? Or Convenience? It appears to be a moot question again.
Retailers not far behind in the new game
Interestingly the underlying theme common in all these 3 examples – Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines, mail order pharmacy business model of PillPack and Lamoda‘s clothing courier with a twist of convenience – is unmissable. The brick and mortar store as it stands today is at threat.
But it appears they are not far behind. For the first time in decades US cities are said to be growing faster than suburbs with customers seeking convenience more than anything else. So, stores like Target and Walmart are embarking on major experiments in scaling down, finding the right locations while ensuring the right formats in order to cater to this convenience seeking urban dweller.
With emerging markets rapidly catching up in spending power, with money value of time increasing for average consumers and an infinite ocean of choice to choose from in virtually every single category, convenience has already become a key differentiating factor.
Probably in a very near future, most products and services will have offerings that sell convenience as their core value proposition. Otherwise they are perhaps in the fitness industry.