When a brand sets a standard for a category

August 9, 2013

A new Fairway Market store opened very close to our office in Chelsea. I've enjoyed Fairway Market stores in the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, but have never had one close to work or my apartment. Needless to say, after months of eager anticipation I was a little excited about the store opening.

Yet, when I walked through the store I was struck by prices that were inconsistent with what I had seen at the other Fairway stores in Manhattan. The store ultimately failed my ‘shrimp test’: The shrimp was close to $10 per pound at the Upper East Side store, but in Chelsea it was $15.99 per pound (disclaimer: I consider a high cost for shrimp to be a pretty effective indicator for high pricing overall).

So, I walked into Fairway with certain expectations and was ultimately let down. Why did I think that the prices for goods at two stores of the same brand in the same city (less than 4 miles away from each other) would maintain the same pricing for the same good? Well, I was influenced by another grocer brand: Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's maintains consistent pricing between its stores in the city and I believe within the state overall. I understand that this practice may be unusual among some food sellers in the city, but for me it's become a standard and anything less feels a bit dishonest.

Consider the brands that may have raised your expectations for their respective category. After using Zipcar did you feel taken advantage of when forced to pay for gas by another rental car company, did Bolt Bus made you expect free Wi-Fi on your next bus ride, or have you walked onto a plane and felt disappointed at the absence of inflight TV monitors after taking a few flights with Jetblue? Maybe you were an impatient bank customer wondering when you too would be able to benefit from a feature like Chase Bank's remote check deposit. Or as a regular at Zappos, and an avid fan of their 365-day return policy, maybe your expectations were a bit high when you tried to return that holiday sweater this summer. Perhaps, after sharing in the Red Bull Stratos experience, any energy-drink sponsorship that doesn't take someone to the edge of space feels disappointing. Maybe I’m getting a little carried away, but in truth, these brands have actively raised the bar in an entire category.

And when a brand changes the game, its competitors put themselves at risk by not joining in. I think my next food shopping trip will be to Trader Joe’s.

Are there other brands that have raised the bar in their respective category? Share your examples in the comments section below.

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