You Won’t Understand

Not long ago, I was meeting friends for dinner, and one picked a restaurant at the mall. I am allergic to malls and am a self-described commando shopper. If I can’t find what I want online, I run in, buy is needed, and run out often before the car engine gets cold. Anyway, it was a Friday night, and the mall was packed with schools of roving teens, couples on dates, and families milling about. The only parking spots were far from the restaurants making my fitness tracker euphoric but forcing me to absorb the whole mall experience. I walked past store after store, all of which displayed their 50% off, blowout, going out of business, early Summer, back-to-school, Fourth of Memorial Day Sales. But there was something else.

One store had no signs. There were no sales, no spinning red lights, no posters of flawless people, no lavender scent wafting out the doors, and no music banging into my ears. Instead, it had a curtain — just a curtain, floor to ceiling and translucent obscuring garments from view but not the shoppers behind it. Something was going on back there, and I wasn’t invited.

I stopped and asked an associate who told me it was an invitation-only sale for shoppers with store credit cards. What? Why am I excluded? I have credit cards! I have a lot of them. Why couldn’t I save 50% at their 25% off of 25% off sale? (Ignore the incorrect math; just go with it!) That’s the moment I bit the hook, it pulled me out of the water, and dropped me at the cash register.

After some coaxing, a sales associate told me she’d give me a break and let me take advantage of the sale. Surprised aren’t ya’? I ended up buying stuff that I didn’t want, didn’t need, and barely remember. More importantly, the curtain did its job. It told me I was excluded. I wasn’t worthy, and my money was no good. It was like a velvet rope in front of a nightclub or a line outside of a restaurant. Instead of inviting me in like all the other stores, it told me to go away. Like a petulant child, I screamed, “No!”

I, like every shopper, was prepared for the usual sales tactics and that’s why the curtain worked. While I protected one thing, it stole another. I locked my home’s doors and windows, and the curtain took my identity from the trash.

Everyone wants the power to choose, and the curtain took it from me. Sometimes the easiest way to get people to join a group is to tell them they can’t. Had I been excluded there would have been no curtain. My vision would be entirely obscured not partially. I would not have seen anything different at all, and the sales associate would never have given me access.

People want to believe they are part of an exclusive group. They know something others don’t or can do things others can’t. Reaching customers requires more than reiterating how awesome your product is. Sometimes it requires telling them that only certain people can buy. Only the diligent and the devoted can cross the threshold. Tell them service might be too extreme, too hard, too difficult. Construct a barrier and see who’s willing to scale it. You’ll be surprised who will. You did!

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