Monday, May 04, 2009

When Brick and Mortar Sells Bricks

When B&M Goes Wrong

Brick and mortar (B&M) retail stores have a distinct advantage over online stores of instant gratification. Amazon.com and other sites can offer guaranteed 2 day and even 1 day shipping, but that's usually a decent premium (unless you're on Amazon Prime, in which case it costs nothing extra at the time of purchase). Nowadays, people seem to be getting used to the idea of waiting more and more for most items. When's the last time you went down to a store to buy a CD or DVD because you just had to have it?

Ok, so what else do B&M stores have on online sites? It's definitely not selection and usually not price, either. Well, they tend to pride themselves on excellent service, right? Having a salesperson there who's knowledgeable enough to help you (though Amazon offers this over the phone) and immediate exchanges and returns. So stuff like this has to hurt them bad. Someone paid a lot of money for a MacBook Pro and got a large brick. Seriously. Best Buy claims that Apple put the brick in the box and decided to point fingers instead of handle the situation. This is a terrible customer experience. The fact that the Consumerist has a piece about how to avoid this situation means that it's actually something to be concerned about. That guy will probably never go to a Best Buy again. Do you want someone who's willing to buy an overpriced laptop from you to never come back to your store again? It's stupid in so many ways, and it shows that there are stores like Best Buy out there that are still living in the past. They think that their antiquated policies are going to continue to work in their favor. If the same situation happened to an Amazon.com customer, they definitely wouldn't get the run-around.

Amazon certainly isn't the only company that's been raising the bar for the retail customer experience, but Best Buy definitely isn't. Neither was Circuit City, whose decision to replace intelligent, commissioned salespeople with high school kids cost them dearly. The newcomers to an industry, especially in retail, may have an uphill battle, but have you noticed that the new guys always work the hardest? Think about how many times in life that's true. A guy who wants to prove himself on a football team is going to work twice as hard as the veterans to earn respect. A company that wants to enter a market with high barriers to entry is going to innovate as much as it can to gain customer respect and trust. Online retail isn't flourishing because of low prices, it's doing well because there are B&M stores just throwing customers away with stupid stuff like this. In the long run, you really want to just replace the brick with a laptop. Sites like the Consumerist have totally changed the game. That can be very dangerous and lead to mob justice, but it can also encourage companies to treat all customers equally and with respect. It's really a lesser of two evils situation, and I pick the public exposure of injustice to get to real solutions - not to get blood.

Windows 7 RC1

Microsoft shipped Release Candidate 1 of Windows 7 last week to MSDN and TechNet subscribers and it will likely be release to the public this week. For the uninitiated: the meaning of a release candidate varies from company to company, but it generally means that the software is potentially shippable barring any further fatal bugs and it's feature complete. So if Microsoft is aiming for a winter release, this would definitely indicate that they're right on track. The word on RC1 for Windows 7 is still very positive. It seems to be more polished, more stable, and unlocks some features that were previously internal only. Even though they're little things, sometimes the sum of a lot of little things can make the difference. Like streaming your home media PC content to another PC right out of the box is pretty awesome, especially for your giant mp3 library (or if you use your computer as a DVR and want to watch your TV shows while you're on a business trip).

What's really interesting is how they've changed their marketing a bit for Netbooks. They'll sell with a stripped down version of the OS with options for online upgrades for a price, which is actually a pretty smart way to try to stay relevant in the netbook market. I don't know if it'll add up to more sales for them, but with the amount of money they're going to make off of enterprise users (and education), I'm sure they're not going to be hurting for sales.

Oh, and there are a lot of new wallpapers (some of which may or may not be laced with LSD) with Windows 7 (30 with RC1), including this awesome Seattle shot:



It's a reflection of the Space Needle in the Experience Music Project. I don't know what about the Space Needle makes it so photogenic - it's certainly not extraordinary in height, but it is very cool.

Microsoft Vine

Also new out of Redmond this week was Vine: Microsoft's crack at a social networking site. And get this: it's not free. How's that for a different business model? They're part of the school of thought that there hasn't been a good advertising model ironed out for social networking because none exists. They're going for a subscription based model where the basics are actually free. It's targeted at public offices to help spread information during emergencies and such (like, you know, a possible pandemic). It aims to be available by as many means as possible to make it a reliable way to send and receive information during these situations. You could also send alerts to friends and family: like that you're going to be late for dinner because of traffic.

It's actually not a terrible idea, to be honest. I would use this service because I never know when stuff is happening in the city that's going to totally screw with traffic. My GPS usually knows, smaller street closures sometimes aren't covered, and there's no way to know information like that, or when a freeway ramp is closed for the part of the day you need it for, or something like that.

More on the Pirate Bay

The verdict is now in English, so we have all the dirt on what happened in the sentencing of 4 Swedish guys who started possibly the biggest haven for illegal torrents in the world. The documents revealed the confiscation of all their equipment, the confiscation of illegal narcotics (who it belogns to is debatable), the fact that 3 of the guys' lawyers were hired by the government for a substantial amount of money, the court's argument against the Google defense (that the Pirate Bay made it easy to find specifically illegal content whereas it was just a side effect on Google), and that Sweden provided no safe harbor from prosecution from foreign governments because the site admins flagrantly denied the rights of foreign copyright holders. Still, the Pirate Bay's appeal is in progress and they've already changed the ownership of the site's IP addresses to the prosecuting lawyers to prove that the RIPE whois database is not the ultimate source of information on website ownership.

Palm EOS

There are pretty strong rumors now of a new Palm phone running WebOS coming to AT&T called EOS that may be to the Pre what the Centro is to the Treo: a more stripped down version for more average users. It looks pretty nice and its specs include 4GB of storage, a 2MP camera (with flash and video capture), a capacitive display, and more. It looks very slick to me, but, much like the Palm Pre's release date, we're still awaiting an official announcement. The wait for the Pre is killing me, by the way. If it sucks I'm going to buy a Blackberry, if not then I'll get it. Either way, I'm going to do something terrible to my stupid Treo before July once I replace it.

Quickies

There are a few pieces of news that just speak for themselves:

Coldplay is going to be releasing a live album for free in a couple of weeks. Concertgoers will get a copy in hand, but everyone else will just download it. I just think that rocks.

Gmail Labs now has Google search from right within Gmail. I wonder if they're going for one new labs thing a week?

Maximum PC has a pretty sweet guide on decoding Blue Screen of Death problems in Windows. It's a must-bookmark for PC users. By the way, Mac users have BSoD also, it's just a screen cap instead of a blue screen.

Here is everything you could ever want to know about BitTorrent.

Tech Radar has some pretty cool tips on breathing life into an old website

Have a great week, everyone! Or at least as great as it can be while waiting for the glorious release of Star Trek. I'm going to be playing with my new toy, and I'm very excited about it.

2 comments:

Russ/rfduck said...

The only time I ever had to use Amazon customer service, I had a very good experience. I was impressed that a big company like Amazon would take the time to actually have some personal contact with a customer.

Elton said...

Glad to hear it :) It's not always perfect, but the common issues are typically handled in a very standard, sensible way, and the oddball cases may not always be handled the best the first time, but repeat incidents are usually handled much better. And the fact that employees are often avid fans of buying stuff on Amazon, they make an even bigger effort to push for better customer service if they have bad experiences. The people that work at Best Buy always tend to have an "I could care less" attitude.