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Why People Buy Sunglasses On The Street

Last week when I was in NY, I passed a street vendor selling sunglasses for $5 a pair. They were clearly copies of best selling designs from top designers, and had fairly obvious quality flaws. It would be a miracle if any of those sunglasses lasted more than a couple of weeks. And yet several people were still buying them. Why? Was it an impulse buy walking down the street? It is a choice because they lose or break sunglasses so often that it’s not worth paying a lot for them? Probably all of the above – which points to an interesting lesson: for some people, good sunglasses just aren’t worth paying for.

How much of your marketing is focused on selling the features and benefits of your product or service? You are probably illustrating how to set it apart and why it fills a need. The problem is, if a consumer doesn’t believe products in your category are worth paying for, you are unlikely to convince them to make an exception for you. Someone who is used to paying $5 for a pair of sunglasses may buy two or three pairs every month. Of course, the truth is over time they will end up paying as much as they may for a single good pair … but that doesn’t matter. Instead of asking if your marketing is selling the right messages, you really need to ask if you are targeting the right customers. The real question isn’t whether you can compete with the guy selling sunglasses on the street … it is whether you should even be trying to.

21 thoughts on “Why People Buy Sunglasses On The Street”

  1. I would guess there is a fairly sizeable group that buys $5 sunglasses knowing full well that they won’t last and that’s fine, because in three weeks those people will want a new look anyway. In May they want to look like Lindsay Lohan, but in June it will be Eva Mendes and July will be Eva Longoria.

    The $5 sunglass guy works because, just as you have suggested, he is targeting the right customers.

    Reply
  2. I would guess there is a fairly sizeable group that buys $5 sunglasses knowing full well that they won’t last and that’s fine, because in three weeks those people will want a new look anyway. In May they want to look like Lindsay Lohan, but in June it will be Eva Mendes and July will be Eva Longoria.

    The $5 sunglass guy works because, just as you have suggested, he is targeting the right customers.

    Reply
  3. Thanks for the analogy Rohit, It’s incredible how even some of the most important companies in the world, recognized by their strong marketing culture make this very mistake of not targeting the right audience, no matter if it is B2C, DTC or B2B any company is susceptible to this mistake.
    I will definitely be sharing your post with my colleagues at work today.
    Have a great day!

    E.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for the analogy Rohit, It’s incredible how even some of the most important companies in the world, recognized by their strong marketing culture make this very mistake of not targeting the right audience, no matter if it is B2C, DTC or B2B any company is susceptible to this mistake.
    I will definitely be sharing your post with my colleagues at work today.
    Have a great day!

    E.

    Reply
  5. Rohit,

    Experience the miracle: I bought a pair of $5 sunglasses in Paris 20 years ago. I still use them. I never buy price but I lost my $120 pair and desparately needed sunglasses.

    To your point, most of us buy both price and/or value, as do businesses. I would never buy a cheap computer, but sunglasses? Something such as sunglasses for which I see little instrinsic value (yes, I get UV) cheap works fine. I seldom need them, and for those times I do expensive sunglasses just don’t offer me enough additional value to compensate for their price.

    Reply
  6. Rohit,

    Experience the miracle: I bought a pair of $5 sunglasses in Paris 20 years ago. I still use them. I never buy price but I lost my $120 pair and desparately needed sunglasses.

    To your point, most of us buy both price and/or value, as do businesses. I would never buy a cheap computer, but sunglasses? Something such as sunglasses for which I see little instrinsic value (yes, I get UV) cheap works fine. I seldom need them, and for those times I do expensive sunglasses just don’t offer me enough additional value to compensate for their price.

    Reply
  7. It’s not really about targeting the right people. He set up on a sidewalk with a lot of traffic (ie Mass Media). But what he did was offer a product that eased a pain… I need sunglasses now, and I don’t really want to pay a lot. The odds were good that there were a lot of people with this pain in his medium, and he just communicated the right message.

    With the right pitch, he should offer knock-offs and name brand… then he can sell to both segments.

    Reply
  8. It’s not really about targeting the right people. He set up on a sidewalk with a lot of traffic (ie Mass Media). But what he did was offer a product that eased a pain… I need sunglasses now, and I don’t really want to pay a lot. The odds were good that there were a lot of people with this pain in his medium, and he just communicated the right message.

    With the right pitch, he should offer knock-offs and name brand… then he can sell to both segments.

    Reply
  9. Excellent post! And so many digital products markets fall into this category.

    It seems regardless of superb quality there are markets where the “prospects” either can’t afford to spend money or aren’t interested in products that “research” says they should want.

    This is something I think all marketers should spend some time considering, especially if they focus on digital products.

    Reply
  10. Excellent post! And so many digital products markets fall into this category.

    It seems regardless of superb quality there are markets where the “prospects” either can’t afford to spend money or aren’t interested in products that “research” says they should want.

    This is something I think all marketers should spend some time considering, especially if they focus on digital products.

    Reply
  11. Rohit, you are dead on. If you have a positioning statement for your business that delineates your market demographically, geographically and psychographically, you’ll know who to target. And it is probably not the same market as the street vendor.

    Reply
  12. Rohit, you are dead on. If you have a positioning statement for your business that delineates your market demographically, geographically and psychographically, you’ll know who to target. And it is probably not the same market as the street vendor.

    Reply
  13. Hi Rohit,
    Was this written tongue-in-cheek? Every marketing professional KNOWS that distinct segments exist in every market… and the core product has very little to do with the total product… so people that buy real, branded glasses at premium prices are not going to buy from street vendors at $5, or visa versa.
    If marketing executives grasped the marketing concept properly, this would NOT be a question worth posing.

    Reply
  14. Well for $5 if it looks good I would buy it too. After they fell apart a little it wouldn’t be hard to fix them, I would hope. Sunglasses are about all I would buy from a street vendor though.

    Reply
  15. Well for $5 if it looks good I would buy it too. After they fell apart a little it wouldn’t be hard to fix them, I would hope. Sunglasses are about all I would buy from a street vendor though.

    Reply

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A keynote speaker on trends, innovation, marketing, storytelling and diversity.

Rohit Bhargava is on a mission to inspire more non-obvious thinking in the world. He is the #1 Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author of eight books and is widely considered one of the most entertaining and original speakers on disruption, trends and marketing in the world.

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