Stick or Switch



A few years ago one of my best friends, Lucy, asked me to be her bridesmaid. (I haven’t even changed her name for this story - yes I have permission). She had two bridesmaids but I was the only one who lived locally which meant I had the great honour of going with her to help her choose the wedding dress. You may have been a bride or bridesmaid yourself, but regardless, you will know that choosing the right dress is a really special and important part of the wedding experience.

Lucy’s mother lived in another part of the country but wanted to participate in the wedding dress buying experience too, so we came up with a shortlist of three stunning dresses in one store to choose from, and her mother came to visit. I already knew that all three dresses looked incredible on her and she would have looked drop-dead gorgeous in any of them. I also suspected that she had put them in reverse order to show her mother, leaving her absolute favourite to last. A little like how contestants on the TV show ‘Pointless’ give their three answers for the final prize in reverse order – for dramatic effect. It turned out I was right about that too.

Lucy’s mother and I sat on little stools while Lucy again tried on each dress in turn. She came out in the first one. Her mother agreed she looked beautiful but added, “I don’t really like the bubble hem” and commented on a couple of other small details she didn’t like. A flash of disappointment crossed Lucy’s face, but only for a moment, because she still had two more to show her, and she was sure she’d love them both.

She reappeared wearing the second dress, a figure-silhouetting mermaid-style gown. Again she looked stunning. “Oh, I didn’t expect you to go for a dress of this style,” her mother said flatly. Lucy now looked more alarmed. We gave each other a look that said we were thinking the same thing. She only had one dress to left to show her mother – what if she didn’t like this one either?

Lucy appeared one final time in THE dress. A gorgeous strapless A-line dress. OF COURSE IT WAS THE DRESS!

“Darling, what about the dresses you didn’t shortlist?” asked her mother!

…and then spent much of the remainder of the weekend digging herself out of the little hole she’d leapt into.

It was a brilliant lesson in considering how options are presented to people when they have a choice to make and the clues we look for when making important decisions. Without realizing she was doing it, Lucy’s mother had been playing “stick or switch”. She had taken each option as it came, and in the comfort of knowing there were more yet to look at she had opted to “switch” and focused on what she didn’t like about each one. Switch. Only when she realized there were no more to compare did she start to consider what she DID like about them.

The problem with focusing on what you don’t like is obvious – it damages what people feel about their choice. They end up feeling like they are choosing between a bad bunch.

Imagine your customers have to make a choice between a number of options and it is your role to help them choose well. Here are some suggestions to avoid them playing “stick or switch” with you too:

• Lay out all the options at once.

• Or at least say how many options there are at the beginning.

• Demonstrate, describe or talk through all the options first, without judgement or persuasion, before you start to weigh up each one. Ask them to wait until they have seen all available options before they get to share out loud what they are thinking.

• Encourage customers to say out loud what they do like about each option before they say what they find unappealing.

In the wedding dress example there was also the consideration that there were three dresses and only one Lucy. She couldn’t try all the dresses on at once. The sensory experience of how it felt to be in each dress became clouded and compromised by the sensation of the next dress and so on.

Have you ever been shopping for a new item of clothing and tried an item on in store, then tried on another item, taken it off and tried on the first one again? Because you wanted to be reminded what the first item felt like again? It’s the same when you are flat-hunting, or test-driving new cars, for example.

Sensations and emotions make a significant part of the buying decision, so if customers can't directly compare each option, can you help them capture a ‘sensory memory’? Can you record what they looked like? (Though bridal stores really don’t like women being photographed in the dresses.) Can you record what they say? The language they use? The way they hold themselves and stand? (Make a note of the dresses they burst into happy tears in!) Their expression when their mother suggests there may be a better dress somewhere else…

P.S. Happy Anniversary Lucy and Iain!