Let Consumers Be Consumers

hd vs sd
So, I’ve decided I need an HDTV.

Ok, so I don’t need it.  But I want one.  After watching another year of blurry playoff football, squinting at text that’s too small to read, and being repeatedly frustrated by 12-year-old gamers repeatedly stabbing me in the back (laughing all the way) because my-TV’s-contrast-can’t-see-them-hiding-in-dark-bushes, I’ve finally come around to the realization that my 13-year-old Sanyo is simply not cutting it anymore.

The other day, I embarked on a fact finding mission to my local Best Buy. When it comes to TV’s, I am a firm believer in brick-and-mortar stores. There’s simply no replacement for seeing the thing in person and comparing apples to apples in the same environment.

Unfortunately, most differences between sets are not readily apparent.  As such, I like to guide my search by reading reviews from a range of sources online.  These reviews, usually written by experts, often point out helpful tips to remember when comparing sets.  “Pay attention to the contrast ratio on this set” or “This set performs well for head on viewing, but off axis performance is poor.”  Sometimes, the reviews point out things you simply can’t test in stores, like contrast in directly sunlight or a propensity for screen burn in.

For me, visiting a store necessitates hours of advance research.  But there’s only so much you can review from home.  Most models are released with a range of identifying serial  numbers and these are updated all the time.  Usually, these serial numbers consist of an obscure mix of letters and numbers and it’s rare that the store carries the exact model that was reviewed by the experts (though they are almost always comparable).

As I wandered the store, I found myself attempting to Google every TV set that fit my size and price requirements.  This quickly proved to be unsustainable.  Not only would it take quite a bit of time to accurately transcribe the 12-digit identification code, but if Google couldn’t find a review, I’d have to reverse engineer the code to find a similar model that had a review.  It took forever.

After about 20 minutes of this, I gave up and left the store.  And that’s a shame, because I haven’t gotten around to resuming my search.  What’s unfortunate is that this trip could have just as easily ended in a sale and I would have seen that fantastic Saints vs. Colts game in stunning HD.

Surviving An Era of Instant-Access

Forbes recently published a fantastic article on the need for marketers to adopt what they call a “double-click mentality. The Internet has dramatically altered consumer expectations and demands.  We expect information and value to be instantaneous and convenient.  We don’t want to waste time finding and clipping coupons, they should be automatically delivered to our cell phones.  Or better yet, automatically added to our order when we place it.  Forbes highlights several grocery chains and retailers that provide on the spot couponing when you swipe a loyalty card.

It’s not just discounts either; It’s information, too.  There are a number of iPhone apps that can identify a book or DVD by its cover or barcode and instantly deliver Amazon prices and reviews.  Google recently unveiled its Favorite Places program that provides restaurants and businesses with a QR-code that allows consumers to instantly bring up reviews and information about their business.  The experience here is fast and mobile optimized, bringing data from a range of review sites into an easy to digest mobile optimized page.

Come to think of it, this is a great model for Best Buy to emulate.

Make Consumer Behavior Easier

Digital has made it easier than ever for consumers to get informed about products (economists call this “perfect information”).  They’re going to do their research.  This is why it’s super important to be aware of, and manage your Brand’s presence in the social space — if you’re reading this blog, that probably isn’t news.

But if you’re a retailer, it’s also an opportunity to improve your experience by facilitating the consumer’s behavior.  Imagine if Best Buy had a QR-code next to each of their television models.  Every time a user scanned it, it would bring up consumer and professional reviews from around the web that explained the highs and lows of the product.  Maybe it includes a message from the manufacturer as well, with highlights, rebates or special offers.  What manufacturer wouldn’t jump for the chance to present their product directly to a consumer looking to purchase it?

Retailers who find ways to facilitate and encourage consumer’s natural behavior have a powerful opportunity to drive both satisfaction and sales.  Consumer’s haven’t become lazy, but they have a desire to become efficient.  Retailers that cater to this need are poised to earn greater loyalty and greater sales.

Had I felt comfortable enough to perform all my research in store, not only would I saved several hours of advance research, but I would have  felt informed enough to actually plunk down my cash.  Isn’t that the point?