Published:Sunday | September 2, 2018 | 12:00 AM
A few days ago, I saw some locally handcrafted sandals being promoted on social media that caught my attention because of how beautiful and distinctive they were. I was pleasantly surprised.
Currently, casual handmade sandals for women are popular among emerging creative entrepreneurs. However, most of them use similar designs, materials, and textures, which makes it hard to distinguish between brands.
So, when I saw a style that had somewhat unique detail and finishes, I was very interested and immediately posted a comment under the picture.
“Love these! How much are they?”
Two days later, when I’d almost forgotten them, I got a notification of a reply.
“Please DM for price.”
For those who don’t know, on social media, ‘DM’ means direct message and is the typical way to ask someone to contact you privately. The delay and their response made me lose interest entirely, so I didn’t bother to ‘DM for price’. And yes, I found it a bother.
What’s most troubling is that this secrecy about price is not restricted to local sandal makers, but is a widespread practice. Many companies with pages on Instagram and Facebook routinely post pictures without pricing or proper descriptions for a wide range of items, including clothing, shoes, bags, art, accessories, home decor, furniture, hair, skin care products, and even food, and instead ask that you ‘DM for prices’ if interested.
It is a critical teachable moment for business owners and consumers, particularly in this digital age where e-commerce, effective online communication and customer engagement are key pillars of the future of retail.
Many businesses will either see explosive business growth or devastating stagnation as they navigate the next few years. As a result, I posed the following question on social media:
Why should a customer DM for the price of a product you posted online? Are you doing business, or keeping a secret?
I then explained key business principles behind transparency, which I will outline shortly.
My post triggered an avalanche of responses. I knew that several consumers had similar sentiments, but when over 1,000 people engaged me on Instagram alone, I was taken aback.
The responses from Facebook and Twitter were also incredible. People were so vocal and passionate, it was clear I had struck a nerve for many.
I could barely keep up with the hundreds of comments bemoaning this practice of businesses withholding prices and asking customers to either send a private message, call for details, or, worst of all, visit the location. Users even called out offending companies, tagging them in the comments and insisting they ‘read and learn’.
The clear consensus was that this was a significant disincentive to doing business with local entities especially when similar products were easily available on Amazon and other websites with detailed product descriptions, dimensions, frequently asked questions, customer ratings, and helpful reviews with real customer images post-purchase.
Interestingly, several business owners boldly defended the practice as either necessary or strategic. The common reasons put forward were:
It filters prospects from the curious to the serious;
It hides product information from competitors;
It’s a marketing strategy that promotes exclusivity;
It allows for personal engagement with the prospective customer;
It prevents disparaging comments from social media trolls or those who can’t afford it or aren’t their target market; and
Some products, such as cakes and art, are custom-made.
TRANSPARENCY IS THE BEST POLICY
Although some entrepreneurs had seemingly good reasons for withholding prices from the public, I believe many are losing money and damaging their brands in the process. Here’s why:
Customers love transparency. They are less trusting of companies that hide prices and may feel that the business is shady and will increase the quoted amount if it perceives the customer can afford to pay more.
Customers like control and real-time information. A basic customer-service principle is that customers like to feel and be in control. They’ve become accustomed to real time information in the digital space. They may also resent being asked to take several actions or steps based on company policies that appear mindless or don’t serve them.
Customers don’t need complexity or extra work. Businesses should make their customers’ lives easier at every opportunity. In this highly competitive digital space, customers have many choices and lead complex lives. The easier it is for a customer to buy, the more likely it is they will if they perceive utility.
Stop competing on price. Compete instead on unique value as competing on price is almost always a race to the bottom.
It’s unproductive. It can’t be the best use of a business’ time and resources to hide prices then respond to a wide net of people individually with the same answer DM for price.
Focus your resources and energy on creating powerful experiences and delighting your customer.