In times of great upheaval, it’s important to remember that some things never really change.
Human hardwiring, our basic needs, drives, and desires are the same today as they were 2000 years ago. Our external forms of living and conditions change, sometimes fast and sometimes slow.
Those forms might last for a thousand years (think Rome), or perhaps only a decade (think disco). But people, as the cliché goes, are people.
Over the last few weeks, you’ve probably spent more time at home than any time in recent memory. You’ve also probably spent more time in a bathrobe and pajamas than would be considered normal for a productive adult.
So, here’s what your bathrobe can teach you about what’s coming next in the post-quarantine business environment.
Since the earliest days of human existence, comfy sleep and loungewear has been a pretty universal need. After a long day hunting mammoth, you came home to the cave, took off that bulky bear skin and threw on a supple buckskin wrap to enjoy some “me-time” around the fire. Someone in the family likely made that robe for you – after you dispatched it’s prior four-legged owner.
In ancient Rome, if you wanted to buy a fancy new robe you went to a fabric merchant. This garment was unique and made just for you. Non-essential clothing was a luxury item. These merchants catered to a small subset of affluent customers, not peasants. Buying a robe was an experience and a status symbol, not just an errand.
In the 1800’s, mass production of clothing drove prices down. A plush robe became a consumer good available to the working masses. With mass production, availability increased and customization decreased. Instead of a custom-tailored robe, you chose from a few standard sizes – some variation of small, medium, and large. You bought this robe from a clothing “retailer”, who bought goods in bulk from a “wholesaler”, who bought their goods from a “manufacturer”. If you lived out in the boonies and far from town, no problem – the new option of “catalogue” ordering opened the new possibility to “shop from home” for the first time. Modern capitalism was taking root and it changed your robe-buying experience, options, and expectations.
In the mid 20th Century, the same system was still at play, but you probably got your robe at a “department store”, which aggregated many retail items that would normally be offered in separate shops. At Sears, you could get a bathrobe… and a blender… and a canoe. You now expected the convenience of being able to purchase these things in one place and in one shopping trip.
In the late 20th Century you went to the “mall” which aggregated several department stores, plus smaller retailers, that you could peruse indoors while sipping Orange Julius and stopping by the arcade before you left. As these retailers were aggregated on one piece of real estate, you now compared models and prices more easily, retailers were forced to compete more aggressively and you expected special “sales” and deals to woo your hard earned cash.
Today, you can buy the plush robe of your dreams while sitting on the couch (and while wearing your old robe), click a few buttons, and have it delivered to your home in two days.
Also, on Etsy you can once again have a custom robe made just for you – just like a Roman overlord. And so, we have come full circle.
So, what does this have to do with the post-quarantine world?
Well, from a business perspective, most of us provide something that people have always wanted: dry goods, education, food, entertainment, or a professional service of some kind.
The truly core need that your business is designed to meet is likely very durable. The need itself doesn’t change that much in relation to external conditions.
What does change is the mode required to deliver your core product, and thus, the options and experience that people expect when buying it. The need you fill is where your true value lies, not the mode of delivery. Needs are durable. Modes can become irrelevant overnight.
Post-quarantine, most needs will not have changed dramatically – but demand for new forms of delivery and expectations around the buying experience will likely be very different. Modes come and go. Businesses who won’t change modes, will pass away with them.
Be nimble. Know the need you fulfill. Be willing to dramatically change the mode of delivery and provide the new type of experience people are looking for now, not eight weeks ago.
Do that, and your only business limitation will be how long you feel like selling bathrobes.