Right now, I’m wearing a pair of Warby Parker glasses. They’re new, and I got them for about $250 online. I used to go to an eye care center, where I could count on spending about $500 for a similar pair of glasses. This time around I decided to try something different (and more affordable), and Warby Parker makes it easy.
You download an app (only available on Apple devices) and send them a photo of your face. They apply their measuring technology to the photo, scale those measurements accordingly, and let you see what the glasses might look like when they're on your face. You select up to five pairs to have mailed to you, so you can try them on in reality, too. Pick the pair you want, scan your prescription into the app, and send everything back to them. A few days later, your new glasses arrive.
You Want What?
The glasses arrived, but they didn’t fit exactly right; I needed to get the frame adjusted. Warby Parker customer service said, "No problem," and told me to take them to the nearest Warby Parker store—in Manhattan—or to any eye care center. I could have the glasses adjusted to my liking, and if there is a fee, Warby Parker will reimburse up to $50.
To spare myself a trip into New York City, I took my new glasses to the eye care department in the local Walmart. “These aren’t ours!” says the manager, shaking his head as he hands them back to me. “You bought them online, good luck to you!” I then went online and found a company called Visionworks, which operates retail optical stores. The Visionworks employee adjusted the glasses, for free, and couldn’t have been nicer.
Category Killers, Killed
Technology is on the move at breakneck speed, changing the way we select, pay for, and receive a product or service. Examples are everywhere. Remember going to the video store on Friday night, checking out three or four movies, and returning them on your way home from work Monday? No longer—today, everyone streams movies via Netflix or iTunes. Even The Onion spoofed just how strange the Blockbuster business model appears now, barely five years after its closure.
As soon as a faster, more convenient way to get a product or service appears, the old business models wither. In its heyday, Toys "R" Us (which recently declared bankruptcy) was known as a "category killer," or a merchant that moved into a product field with such strength that it obliterated competition. But then Toys "R" Us began losing business to general merchandise retailers, including Walmart and Target, and the online shopping marketplace, including Amazon.
Not If, But When
Contractors ought to be asking themselves, "When will technology wreak similar havoc in our world?" Of course, there are no online behemoths selling roofing, siding, and windows yet, but it’s only a matter of time before a large entity figures out how to estimate and sell a roofing or siding job to someone on an iPhone at Starbucks.
The technology to do that already exists, but more importantly, the consumer who wants to buy a remodeling job that way also exists. This transformation in buying and selling has changed the thinking and expectations of all consumers, including the ones that own houses. The percentage of consumers who want a different experience with home improvement companies is growing.
What They Want
Homeowners today want five things from a contracting company. First, they want to know they’re dealing with a reliable business, which they’ll determine by reading your online reviews. Second, they want our expertise: Can you suggest a different layout for my kitchen? Is this the best roofing system? Third and fourth, they want a price and to be treated with respect throughout the process. This includes taking into consideration their time, budget, and style, and being honest and open about every step in the process, from getting a lead to closing out a job. And lastly, they want their product now. Or yesterday. Cyber Monday used to be scoffed at, but in 2016, Cyber Monday “raked in nearly $2.7 billion in online sales,” according to TheStreet, outpacing Black Friday sales. People want to open their phone or laptop, scroll, and buy, all in the same moment.
All Bets Are Off
You might be thinking, "Hey, we do what we do, and in our world our only competitors are other contractors. Robots can’t install a roof or put in windows." No they can’t, but they can make or take a call. If you can buy a car online, why not buy a roof or windows in the same manner? Amazon, which has also entered the grocery and health care industries, has tested use of drones to identify likely candidates for roof replacement. They can then contact that homeowner and offer a price on a new roof.
The internet has changed everything, because it’s where nearly everyone goes when they want or need work done on their house. It would be naïve to think that remodeling is immune to the kind of disruption that’s upended other industries. Remember when you might get a phone message from a homeowner on Friday and call back Monday morning? Or get a call Monday and return that call a week later? In today's world, the customer needs to know that you’re there, be convinced you’re a company worth contacting, and get a response to an inquiry within hours. Our website, like many contractor websites, has a popup so a visitor can chat with a representative immediately, and any calls are forwarded directly to my cell phone.
If your business isn't online and investing in technical tools such as CRM, aerial estimating, and drones, you may soon find yourself left behind. You could be like the guy at Walmart. He was aggravated because I bought my glasses online and had the nerve to bring them to a brick-and-mortar store for adjustment. Walmart thinks it’s too big to fail, when actually it’s too big to think. A lot of contractors think the business they have is too small for anyone to bother coming after, but with such a mindset, they may end up part of Amazon’s fulfillment department.