If you buy e-books through Amazon, you’re familiar with the option “send a free sample”. Rather than buying the book up front, Amazon sends the first 5% to your e-reader as a teaser. The sample cuts off abruptly (sometimes mid-sentence), but you get enough of a taste to decide whether you want to commit to the purchase or simply walk away.
Free samples are a genius sales tactics (think Costco), but I say free samples are saving graces for an often mediocre world.
Mediocre. It means you experienced something run-of-the-mill or commonplace. Think about the last food item you purchased. Would you say it was delicious? Like nothing you’ve ever tasted before? Would you rush back and buy another one? Probably not. Yet you ate the whole thing even though the first bite screamed “meh”. Why did you do that?
Here’s a better example. How often are you at the movies and twenty minutes into the film you start to wonder if it’s going to get any better. You become more interested in your surroundings than what’s up on the screen. For me, the first red flag is when I suddenly double-check my pockets for my wallet and car keys.
Sometimes you see people get up and leave in the middle of a movie – the bold ones. Do you leave? Chances are you don’t. You finish out the show, turn to the person you came with and say, “ah, it was just okay”. Again, why did you do that? You could’ve been gone almost two hours ago and salvaged the evening by doing something better!
I think we should apply Amazon’s “first 5%” to more of life’s experiences. At the movies, why don’t they flash a little question mark in the corner of the screen fifteen minutes in. If you’re not into the film you get up and leave at that moment, and the theater refunds you 20% of the ticket price. Sure they might have to charge a little more to offset the loss, but guess what? Movie producers would track the “leave” statistics and make better films.
The other night I saw the Harlem Globetrotters, an act I hadn’t seen since childhood. They’re not as entertaining as they used to be. The basketball is still impressive, but the slapstick comedy is dated, and the focus seems to be as much about their charity and the products they’re selling as it is about the show itself. Again, the “first 5%” rule says you decide within the first fifteen minutes whether to stay or go, and you get a 20% refund on your ticket. And, that ticket could be handed off to another line of patrons, who would then watch your remaining 80% for free (and probably buy enough concessions and products to offset the refund).
We’re in an election year. You may consider your choices for President mediocre. No problem. The “first 5%” rule says the winner has 75 days to make good on those “when I get in office” promises. If he/she comes up short, the Vice-President (or even more interesting, the runner-up) takes over and also gets a 75-days shot. Sure, I’m making the early months in office more demanding and the election process more complicated. But at least the VP would no longer be a figurehead. And you the voter would no longer feel like your “purchase” of the next four years demands a refund.