I’ve done some preliminary market research, and I’ve learned that the Internet is really popular these days. Have you tried it?
Of course you have, unless you live in a re-purposed beaver dam and make all your own clothing out of walrus pelts and alpaca hair. In fact, you couldn’t even be reading this without the Internet, because it’s never going to be printed anywhere. And I probably wouldn’t have a job, and neither would you, and by the way all of our food is grown somewhere else and then distributed to us through networks that are run by the Internet!!!! I’ve heard one person say that the Internet is now as essential to our modern society as oxygen, and I’m inclined to agree with that.
Indeed, the Internet is so massive and so important that any business not based on the Internet can easily feel like it’s under constant assault. The decade-long decline of brick-and-mortar retailers is just one example of the way that traditional industries have been upended (or entirely eliminated) by the onslaught of online everything. And yet, some of us have jobs that aren’t digital, and plenty of us don’t want to spend our entire lives enslaved to our computers. But how are we supposed to compete?
Well, it turns out that there are some things the Internet can’t do quite as well as a more old-fashioned system. So if you feel as though your business is constantly competing against the online world, here are a few ways you might try to distinguish yourself.
Yes, that’s right. Some things are actually more convenient in real life than they are online. You can’t get a car repaired via the Internet, for example, or sit down to a long and lively dinner in a beautiful restaurant. Indeed, it’s actually quicker to go to a bookstore and pick out a book than it is to order one and wait two days for Amazon to ship it to you. So perhaps you want to remind people that the product or service you offer is actually extremely convenient – or better yet, make sure that it is exactly as convenient as people expect it to be. If you’re a dentist, for example, you can make it a point of professional pride to make sure people don’t wait longer than 3 minutes for their appointments to start. The Internet has trained all of us to believe that things should be easy to obtain and happen exactly when we want them to, so use that universal character trait to your own advantage. It’s not enough to know that you offer convenience; you need to show it to people.
The Right Amount of Options
You ever try to buy a dining room table online? It’s virtually impossible, because there are a billion options to choose from, and it turns out that the more options we are presented with, the more likely we are to choose nothing. It’s a psychological phenomenon called the ‘poverty of choice,’ and it explains how you can ever have complained that there’s nothing to watch on TV when today there are more television options than ever before. My wife needs about a year and a half to plan a vacation, because there are too many beautiful Airbnb houses and they’re all interesting in different ways and so how can you really choose?!?! The inability to make decisions when confronted with the entire breadth of human creation is a very real issue, and it’s one you can exploit. “Everything you could want, nothing you don’t” is a governing philosophy you can actually use to distinguish yourself as superior to the vast, sprawling, indiscriminate Internet.
Ever try getting a refund from Amazon? It’s nearly impossible, and infuriating enough to make me not want to buy things from them. Ever try calling your Internet provider about a service outage? You may as well take a nap, because after 16 minutes going through endless automated menus you’ll wish you were in a coma. The Internet has a terrible reputation for customer service, and it’s probably your biggest competitive advantage. A business that cares about me, knows what kinds of things I like, and goes out of its way to make shopping as convenient as possible is exactly the kind of business that can make me skip the Internet entirely the next time I need to get whatever it is that you do.
Are these things easy? Not necessarily. The Internet is big and giant and is only going to become bigger and gianter all the time. But unless you want to throw in the towel and become a order fulfillment processor for some massive Internet company, it’s a fight absolutely worth fighting.
Or you could unplug entirely and whittle your own home out of elk antlers and cedar shavings. Some days, that actually doesn’t sound so bad.