The Ugliest Cool Reading Glasses — ReadingGlasses.CO/
This business, this website, was founded as a "lab" to help students learn the basics of e-commerce. It's served its purpose well and has provided some interesting learning experiences for the "adults" behind the scenes, too. For example, the people who were supposed to benefit from it most, college students of about age 20, don't understand the reason we need reading glasses.
No matter how many times, or how many ways, it's explained to them, they just don't get it. We explained presbyopia to them, about how one's body changes as one ages, and that some people even under the age of 40 need readers.
We're sure, from their reactions and decisions, they think of reading glasses in the grand category of "eyewear." Another slice of learning we accrued is we're not the ultimate tastemakers--or taste consumers.
When Professor Levit worked in New York advertising agencies, he was considered quite well dressed, always in a fine suit & tie plus accents such as suspenders, bold socks, or an unusual pin for his lapel. We believed he would be the tastemaker for the students' website.
A couple years after this website launched, one of the sales reps who supplies us with optical eyeglass frames recommended we a style that didn't appeal to any of us: they were round frames with a dull finished stainless-steel. The consensus of opinion was they were "awful." Ugly! Unacceptable!
Cool/ugly: once, best sellers! Undiscouraged, that same sale rep presented those same eyeglasses visit after visit after visit. We must have turned him down for 3 or 4 years, and had some fun turning him down, at his expense.
Finally, after those several years, we said "yes." We took delivery of several dozens to placate the rep, or to "shut him up," if you will. He was elated. One of the students working on the ReadingGlasses.CO/ project, following a lecture on buying motivations, said the rep must receive a "spiff" or bonus when selling the style.
It was an astute observation. We had the round stainless-steel reading glasses photographed and placed them for sale online. To everyone's amazement, they were sold out in less than 6 weeks! The ugly, awful, unacceptable eyewear was beautiful to many of our customers! Professor Levit explained the reason, "The Internet is like direct response advertising.
We may believe we know what customers will like, but we can't know for sure until we test." Such is the case in direct response advertising and there's a complex protocol written to that important fact. Online e-commerce has been evolving. And only in the past few years have we come to recognize it's similarity to one of the oldest and most effective forms of advertising: direct mail.
That the round stainless eyewear sold out in weeks was one lesson. But that it remained the single best selling style on ReadingGlasses.CO/ for six years is another!
It could still be a popular style if the manufacturer hadn't discontinued manufacturing it. We learn a lot of lessons here, behind the scenes. Many of us are still trying to learn the difference between prescription eyewear and reading glasses.