John Singer Sargent

Self Portrait by John Singer Sargent

When your customer buys online, who benefits most, you or them? The question occurred to me after two contrasting experiences I had recently. One was with an arts organisation, the other was a commercial business.

First, the National Portrait Gallery. I read the reviews of the John Singer Sargent exhibition and thought I must see this. So, striking while the iron was hot, I bought tickets online. You might think that they NPG would be grateful to me for buying in advance. They have my money as opposed to leaving it open to the possibility that the excitement I was feeling might have dimmed by the time the day arrived. Do they thank me for this? No, they charge me an extra £1.65 booking fee.

I go into No1 Currency to buy some euros and am surprised to find the rate is lower than I’d seen online. The woman behind the counter explains that, to get the better rate, I need to use their online Click & Collect service. I can see why they do this. For the sacrifice of a few pennies profit, No1 Currency get all my personal details.

The short term thinking of the National Portrait Gallery- and sadly so many other arts institutions- means that they not only fail to secure ticket sales, they lose out on valuable customer data. Worse than that, by making their customers pay for the privilege of buying online, they actually damage their relationship with them. It seems as if they are still thinking that online purchasing is an optional extra that they are offering as a favour to their customers. Whereas customers believe online is a standard way to buy and that an electronic sale should if anything cost less than one over the counter.

Accountants may want to squeeze extra income from every transaction but Marketing and Sales people can’t afford to think this way. Short term gain must always be weighed against long term loss.

By the way, the John Singer Sargent exhibition lived up to the rave reviews. He had a rare ability to understand his sitters and his flawless technique enabled him to show the personality beneath their skin.

This blog was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the Winchester based marketing consultancy Seven Experience. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn