After vomiting the last room of neglected toys, shrunken clothing, and low-mileage tricycles across my front yard, I inhaled a sip of coffee while a stocky plumber hopped out of his truck and walked purposefully towards my suburban sprawl.
“You have any guns, knives, bows, arrows or other firearms?”
I glanced at the Red Flyer scooter parked next to a bin of baby clothing, and then down towards a massive collection of kindergarten puzzles my neighbor was trying to unload.
John turned out to be an alright guy. He told stories about riding his motorcycle down our street before it was developed in the ’80s. He wandered from table to table chatting with my neighbors, wishing us all the best of luck, and quietly organizing our junk into neat little piles. I don’t remember if he purchased anything, but he had a good time heckling a few local yard sale regulars.
Ten minutes before the sale began, a suburban mom pulled up in a minivan and identified the best quality items with surgical precision. She didn’t try to haggle, and presumably she already knew that we had priced the larger items to move. She politely asked if I could help her load up her van, paid the tab from a fresh fold of $20 bills, and walked over to another table.
An older fellow edged his crumbling Buick into the curb, and took his time leaving the driver seat. He shuffled along the road, Parkinson’s weighting down every step like a sack of sand. Bill, the name stitched in cursive on his mechanic’s jacket, spoke with softened commands. “I’ll take that…you want $10? How about $5?” He purchased a few items I was happy to discount, asked me to place them on hold, and drove away. He came back a few hours later in a shiny new pickup, made a few more purchases at discount, and adamantly refused my help loading up the truck.
A mother expecting her second child arrived with husband and kid #1 in tow. She talked with my wife while purchasing clothing for the baby and a toy kitchen with tea set for the soon-to-be big sister. The husband was in a good mood, and he rifled through a box of classic video-games while the little girl hung on his leg.
Various older women sifted through our boxes of used books longer than most. One took a stack from the free pile to share with her charity. We accumulated a small library over the years, with sufficient quantity and quality to interest almost anyone looking for a good read. Our visitors lingered over the titles, talking about the authors, asking my wife for her opinions, and sharing recommendations of their own. I think we only sold one book for a dollar to a woman who actually smelled the pages while her husband pretended not to be bored.
By the numbers, the suburban mom who arrived early spent the most money in the least amount of time. The older fellow who liked to haggle came in second. Yard sale professionals…or what I would call Loyal Customers in the online space.
All of our neighbors had a rich assortment of merchandise. And since we live next to each other, from the customer’s perspective the assortment seemed especially deep. However my yard had the largest selection of books (and video games). Visitors spent time rummaging from box to box, talking about books, organizing the stacks, and occasionally taking one out for a closer look. While we didn’t sell many books, these Visitors (or their spouses) purchased more on average. In the online space we would call them Highly Engaged based on their browse behavior.
At the end of the day we made a few hundred dollars. About half of our sales came from a few Loyal Yard Sale Customers. The rest trickled in from Browsers; grandparents, expectant mothers, and charitable buyers looking to support a church or preschool in need.
At its worst, Personalization quantifies a cardboard cutout of your customer and leaves you throwing beanbag offers at its head. In any mass commerce, on your lawn or on the Web, fertilize your assortment with explorable content and document how customers self-organize into segments. You will quickly learn when it makes sense to hurl that horseshoe of an offer, run back to the house for some new junk, or simply sit back and enjoy the small community growing in your yard.