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The Agony Filter

IMB_Hipmunk There is a new travel website called Hipmunk that has an interesting philosophy about searching for the best flight deal online. Instead of showing you every flight combination that could save you an extra $12, they remove options that no normal human would choose. Sure you could save some money by taking two connections to get from DC to Boston – but you would end up spending 16 hours in airports to save a miniscule amount of money. We all know that no one would choose to do that, but somehow that option still presents itself on almost any other travel site that you might search.

Hipmunk calls this feature their “agony filter” – but the benefits of something like this go far beyond just the online travel booking space. Imagine if you had an agony filter for your small business. Or a way of removing those options that you might currently be offering which no one really chooses. Or those which are not at all beneficial to your business. Here are three ways that using something like an agony filter could help you make your small business more pain-free for your customers.

  1. Reduce your choices. All you have to do is stand in front of the toothpaste isle in a supermarket to be reminded of how complex the world that we live in actually is. The power of an agony filter is that someone (or their technology) is taking the time to somehow curate the options that are immediately provided to a customer. The result of this is that you can reduce that initial moment of being overwhelmed and often make it more likely that someone will actually move ahead and take your desired action.
  2. Create more useful filtering options. Are you really letting someone see the different ways of working with you in the way that they most care about? The most common way for any small business to describe different levels of working with them is through cost or actual deliverables. If you have a retail destination, perhaps you focus on your location. What about how long you take to fulfill your services? Or your relative experience within a particular industry? The point is, you may not be sure of the exact one or two criteria that your potential customers making their decision based on, so make it easier for them to filter out the things that they don’t care about.
  3. Get rid of your worst loss leaders. The idea of a loss leader is a common one: offer someone at a below market price to get a customer in the door and then you can make more profit over them in the long term. The problem is that sometimes those loss leaders might be causing you a particular kind of agony … the agony of giving away too much for free. Instead of continuing to do it, consider how you might replace (or get rid of) some of those types of deals that your small business is using and instead focus on those which have real value for your business.

This post is republished from the original article I wrote for the American Express Open Forum website. It is part of "Small Business Friday" on this blog (though sometimes I'm a day late!) – a featured series on ideas and marketing techniques for small businesses.

To read more articles like this, visit the "Small Business Friday" category on this blog.

2 thoughts on “The Agony Filter”

  1. I love Hipmunk and totally agree with getting rid of the worst loss leaders. I work managing a credit product and it’s something that we’ve worked on but not found a sweet spot for yet.

  2. I think what Hipmunk is doing will work well in the airline industry. In others, I’m not so sure. For this concept to work, the customer needs to understand how they are helped by having less options. If they do not understand this, they are likely to see your company as not having a good list of options!


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