I have a new addiction. Before you ask, it's not alcohol, gambling or drugs. No, my addiction is actually rather benign. It even has a cute little name—iTunes.
In case you haven’t heard of iTunes, it's the on-line digital music distribution service offered by Apple. Using iTunes, people can download music to their computer, where it can be played using a free, downloadable iTunes Jukebox or to a walkman-like gadget called an iPod. Each download costs just 99 cents.
Unveiled in April 2003 as a legal alternative to music piracy (remember Napster?), iTunes was initially greeted by critics with a great deal of skepticism. But that skepticism has since dissipated. As of last month, more than 140 million songs have been purchased and downloaded. One hundred forty million songs. Roughly a buck a pop. Do the math.
A testament to the popularity of the iTunes service is the fact that everyone from Microsoft to Virgin Radio is launching their own download services in an effort to take a bite of the pie. So far, nobody has come close.
iTunes has been a success for a number of reasons. Backed by a respected name (Apple), it offers a massive, ever-expanding library of songs at appealing prices. The sound quality is top-notch and users need not worry about security or legal issues. But the biggest reason that iTunes succeeds is that it makes shopping enjoyable and ridiculously easy.
iTunes offers a variety of ways to shop for music. You can search by artist or song name, browse various music genres and even look at music lists (called iMixes) compiled by people with tastes similar to your own.
The real hook, however, lies in the “ease of purchase” factor. With iTunes, you need to provide your personal and credit card information just one time. That means that when you find a song you want to download, all you have to do is click a “buy now” button. Almost instantly, the song is purchased and downloaded to your computer's music library. There are no ongoing hassles involving passwords, credit card information or the name of your mother’s first childhood pet. Like I said… ridiculously easy.
I don’t even consider myself a big music aficionado, yet—in six months time—I’ve downloaded 80 songs to my music library. That’s $79.20 in Apple’s pocket. Do you know the last time I spent $80 on music in a six month span? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t in the last decade.
The success of the iTunes model illustrates a fundamental principal of the service industry: make it easy for people to buy your product or service, and they will. Though our industry isn’t focused on peddling digital music, the concept still applies to us. While it probably wouldn't be viable or even advisable to offer “one click finishing,” there are a slew of things you can do to make life easier for your customers.
The next time you chat with one of your customers, ask them what you can do to make their “shopping experience” easier or more efficient for them. Maybe it has something to do with the way you manage your invoicing, or how you handle the logistics of shipping and receiving. You may not be able to accommodate every request, but they’ll appreciate the fact that you asked.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Kenny G songs to download.