The best designed products, which are typically the result of tens of thousands of hours of painstaking engineering and design, are no match for a few minutes with the average retail sales representative.
A friend of mine shared on Facebook the following mind-blowing experience he had in a Sony store yesterday:
We walked into a Sony Store today to test out the Bloggie, but found that no display models were charged. We then asked a salesman if they had any Bloggies we could turn on and he said, “hold on let me check.”
Another saleswoman eventually came back with a demo unit. We asked her a few basic questions on storage size and audio quality, but she couldn’t answer anything. Once again all we got was, “hold on let me check.”
When she came back from the back-of-house she said THE MOST UNBELIEVABLE THING I’VE EVER HEARD.
“Yeah the audio quality will be pretty poor if you’re at a concert or outside in the wind at all. And there are other non-Sony cameras that probably provide more storage.”
Wow. Thank you. Have a good day!
Well, that ought to help Sony bounce back from its record losses last quarter! Now realize, this is in Sony’s own store. Where they have the absolute most control over the message. And where there are no competing products available. (As an aside, the Bloggie is a pocked-sized HD camcorder, which I had never heard of before today, but Sony’s failure in that department is beside the point of this post.)
Now this is a single incident, in a single store. Sony has probably some fantastic salespeople who are passionate and knowledgeable about its products. But anyone who has ever stepped foot into a Best Buy knows that type of thing happens more often than consumer electronics brands would like to admit and is seriously affecting the bottom line of many of the largest.
Most consumers are far less tech savvy than the readers of PandoDaily. This means that they often don’t go into a store having done research on all the latest models of phone, camera, or notebook. They walk in, look at the visual display and wait for a trusty salesperson to steer them in the right direction. This is when things begin to fall apart.
Earlier in the day, before I heard the Sony store debacle, I came across an article on CNET with the subtitle, “AT&T is spending a bundle to promote the Nokia Lumia 900, but its own retail sales associates may be the weak link in promoting its flagship Windows Phone.” As a reminder, AT&T has committed to spending wheelbarrows of money, more than on any previous smartphone launch, to market this sexy device which is exclusive to its network.
The article involved reporters walking into several AT&T stores across Manhattan and posing as first-time smartphone shoppers. When asking about the Lumia, they got versions of the following response:
“Windows Phone is alright,” said an associate in a store on the Upper West Side. “But it’s no iPhone.”
“For your first smartphone, you should get an iPhone,” an assistant manager at an AT&T store told me. “When you get bored with that, you should try an Android phone.”
When I asked him about the Lumia 900 and the Windows Phone OS for someone such as myself who had never had a smartphone, he told me he thought it was too complicated. He admitted he hadn’t used the Lumia 900 much. He had only gotten the device a couple of days before the launch on Sunday.
Like Sony, Nokia could really use a good quarter or two. At the same time, Microsoft has more or less tied the 2012 success of its Windows Phone platform to the Lumia line. It doesn’t have any more time for false starts. AT&T meanwhile is looking to diversify from the iPhone, which it recently lost exclusivity over, and Android.
That’s three fairly large budgets behind this launch. It’s not like no one knew it was coming, by the way. We’ve been waiting patiently for the Lumia since CES in January. There’s no question the ball was dropped. Whether it be better recruiting, more training, or juicier sales incentives, there were dozens of things that could have been done in the three months since to prevent this outcome.
What does this remind me of? Oh, yes, the disastrous Palm Pre launch. Also highly anticipated after CES, it was foiled partially by representatives in Sprint stores who didn’t know how to market or sell the phone. Or, in some cases, even have the phones on hand. By the time Palm fixed the problems, Android was the iPhone alternative and it was too late.
This is not a short term issue, either. The success of this product launch, or lack thereof, will have lingering impacts on all three companies. I’m really at a loss about where to point the finger of blame. Maybe it was a problem of too many cooks in the kitchen. Regardless, I’m pretty sure that the three CEOs should get together, along with their heads of product marketing/launch/sales/whatever, and submit to a public tar and feathering by their shareholders.
Could you imagine any of this happening in an Apple Store? Not to jump on the bandwagon, but ever since telling the naysayers to shove it, when announcing its plan to enter retail ten years ago, Apple has been redefining the consumer electronics shopping experience. Its employees are loyal, well informed, and unnaturally friendly.
It’s certainly no easy task to duplicate this experience. Especially in a store that sells multiple brands of devices. But for any of these companies to remain relevant and financially solvent, let alone challenge the shiny, unibody fruit at the top of the heap, things have to improve dramatically.
There’s nothing magical about your own retail store. Do it right or it’s just an albatross on the balance sheet.