Best Buy’s shopping experience is the worst

Just yesterday I was reminded — once again — that Best Buy is one of the most flawed stores in the retail market. Not to mention, one of my least favorite.

Which is a terrible shame because I am about the biggest tech geek around and, if the shopping experience wasn’t so annoying, I would frequent it much more. As it is, Best Buy just doesn’t understand what its customers want — to explore and not to be constantly “sold to.”

Best Buy
Best Buy is one annoying store.

It would be nice if, for once, I could visit the only electronic store in my hometown and not be haggled to join the Rewards Program or to get insurance on an item that cost $20. Really, is that too much to ask?

In fact, you can’t even check out from the registers without being ensnared in some type of Best Buy hoopla.

Best Buy tricks you.

On my way home from work yesterday, I stopped by Best Buy for a new phone case. I found one I liked and, what’s more, I managed to avoid three or four floor workers wanting to help me. One of my few wins at the store.

But that all tanked when I went to pay for my case. The gent in front of me took about five minutes to check out. What’s more, he complained to the cashier about needing to fill out his e-mail address and that he just wanted to get his “batteries”and go.

Next was my turn to pay. Immediately I understood why the guy in front of me was annoyed. There was screen after screen displayed on the credit card reader. Options were pre-selected for me, which I rushed through because there was a line of people behind me. I left with my case, which should have made me happy, but I was dissatisfied with my shopping experience and felt duped by the system.

I am not alone in thinking that Best Buy has very annoying practices. So annoying that it has turned me off as a customer.

The process has overtaken the experience at Best Buy. Until that gets fixed, it’s lost this gear hound for good.

AAPL Apple sales shrink

What is wrong with Apple (AAPL)?

AAPL-stock-chart
AAPL dropped 7%

It still turned a huge profit (one that most brands would tout as a great quarter) but most investors are worried that the Apple magic is gone as AAPL was down 7% in after-hour trading. iPhone sales did not grow for the first time ever and Apple’s sales declined for the first time since 2003.

Pundits talk about Apple’s lack of innovation in its product portfolio. Nothing has REALLY been new since the Apple Watch if you discount brand extensions of different sized iPhones and iPads.

Even music sales have moved beyond Apple’s iTunes store as more and more music consumers subscribe to streaming services and no longer buy music. What was at one time a disruptive technology, iTunes now seems like yesterday’s news.

But the REAL problem is an emotional issue. It is a brand problem.

Apple. The world’s most powerful brand (Ticker symbol AAPL) does not look so indomitable as it once did. It looks, well, vulnerable.

What is missing? Magic masqueraded as vision. Steve Jobs is missing.

I own AAPL and virtually every Apple product

 As an Apple guy since I bought my first Mac in 1984, I have never owned a PC. My first smartphone was an iPhone and my first tablet was an iPad. I have upgraded all of my purchases along the way and own an iPad Air, iPad Pro, iPhone 6, MacBook Air, Apple TV (new generation) and AirPort routers. Even our office server is a Mac.

AAPL and CEO Tim Cook
Tim Cook

AAPL Apple LogoIf you look at my stock portfolio, I own a nice chunk of AAPL. I bought most of my AAPL stock before the iPhone launch and have enjoyed both growth and more recently dividends from the company. But my personal identification has suffered. I don’t have the personal connection with the Apple brand I once knew. I even occasionally miss the Keynote announcements that were once marked in my weekly planner.

I used to think
of Apple in personal terms. I thought of Apple in terms of Steve, the mad genius behind the curtain. I waited with baited breath for the next insanely great product that all came in rapid succession since the introduction of the first iMacs.

AAPL and designer Ive
Jonathan Ive

I like Tim Cook. I think he is an amazingly competent CEO. I admire Jonathan Ive, who is more than just a gifted designer. I still love the products. But it is harder to have that deep of an emotional connection to the company.

Like most of you, I felt I had a relationship with Steve. I recognize that it was a complete fabrication of intimacy, but those of us who buy emotionally into brand loyalty rarely self examine the core reasons why we care so deeply. We care and that is enough in itself.

Apple could come out with a reinvention of the automobile. It could reinvent the television. It could reinvent the Steve Jobs and the iPhone grew AAPLkitchen for that matter and it would not replace the loss of connection I felt with the brand itself.

Apple will continue to be a powerful brand and will continue to innovate and make money. AAPL will rebound from its current drop and take its place in the world of Blue Chip stocks. But, make no mistake, the BRAND (as an emotional religion) is in decline.

I may appreciate BMW and IBM but I do not LOVE them. That died with Steve Jobs. I held onto the scraps of that affection for a long time. But I no longer think it blasphemy to buy a competitor’s product. Suddenly, I am looking at product benefits and attributes and the blind affection that arose from the elevation of the brand to mythical proportions is sadly gone.

Electrolux as a modern idea

The Electrolux Logo showed its age

Electrolux appliances
The Electrolux Logo showed its age

Electrolux is back in the news because Keith McLoughlin, CEO has resigned after the GE deal collapsed.

Electrolux updated logo
Electrolux Updated

Electrolux was in the throes of purchasing the appliance division of GE when the US Justice Department blocked the deal. Do you have any idea what has been going on with Electrolux recently?

The Electrolux canister vacuum
The iconic Electrolux

If you are like me, your memories of the Electrolux brand is limited to the old tubular canister vacuum cleaner that my grandmother favored. It was relatively small and was pulled around behind the vacummer on the floor on sled-like runners. What was once viewed as modern quickly looked dated as the old logo absolutely showed its age. If you asked me what else the company made beyond vacuum cleaners, I would be hard pressed to provide much of an answer.

Electrolux competition
It is a crowded field

However, the Swedish company has been on a rampage of new innovations in appliances— moving into the high-end markets dominated by Wolf, Viking, JENNAIR and BOSCH.

Electrolux Innovated

Electrolux scrapped its old logo, updated its graphics and decided to concentrate on the more lucrative kitchen appliance market. It is a crowded category to be sure but Electrolux pushed the envelope in design, features and ergonomics. However, if you asked consumers to name the top brands in kitchen appliances I fear the Electrolux would rarely been in the considered set (we always conduct research when working on brands and rebranding). They might buy the products when actively shopping for upgrades but it is a learned preference. One that comes only from hands-on comparisons. The brand itself is easily overlooked.

Electrolux kitchen appliances
Current Electrolux products are surprising

The reason for this consumer omission is in the name itself. While the logo and graphics have been updated the name is eponymous. As a result, it has a meaning that sounds like the 1940s. Electric Luxury. It piques the idea that electric is modern. The whole idea seems OLD. Only a few of us can remember mechanized carpet sweepers or hand powered hand mixers. Electricity is just a given and provides no space between Electrolux and the competitive set.

Electrolux expressionist collection
Clean and elegant design in today’s Electrolux

The ultimate success of this otherwise innovative company will be in trying to get us to forget the name’s meaning and accepting it as a whole. Electrolux needs us to leave emotional attachments behind and to forget what we already think we know.

The Electrolux brand took such major leaps in the stable of products and offerings that it carried forward very little in established brand equity. Had we been asked to rebrand the company during this monumental transition, I think we would have suggested a name change. Brand repair is a more difficult task then developing brand meaning.

Opportunity for Electrolux beyond acquisition

Its not too late. Rebranding the products would make the purchase of the GEs of the world a mute point. This forward-thinking brand could take that market share in its own right. No need to purchase the market. The brand itself could generate powerful preference on its own.

Below are more articles and blogs that you might find of interest.

Small Kitchen Appliances (Coffee makers)

Single Cup Coffee Makers

How to use your brand to increase preference

The danger of Hoverboards may not matter

The hottest item for this holiday season may just blow up underneath your feet. Self-balancing scooters, marketed as hoverboards, are being criticized by airlines and consumer advocates because their lithium batteries can overheat and catch fire.

Hoverboards
Even superstar athletes like Usain Bolt ride hoverboards.

Many airlines, including the big three (United, Delta and American), are refusing to load the hoverboards on their planes, even as checked baggage. There are have been several reported instances of the hoverboards catching fire and tests by the airlines have shown that they pose a danger.

The issue right now is that most of the batteries are simply shoddy, made in China while companies buy up patents to latch onto the craze.

Will people still buy hoverboards?

The issue for me is whether it’ll make a difference to consumers. I can imagine that parents will be hesitate to buy them for their children, but I can also see the consumers who want them still buying them.

Amazon has pulled all but two hoverboards from its website, keeping Jetson and Razor, the latter of which is owned by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, because their batteries have passed tests.

The larger reasons that those who are willing to pay for the hoverboards will not hesitate is because technology has moved so fast in the last decade that there is a belief that technology will fix the problem. Additionally, the target audience for the hoverboards just might not care that they are dangerous. It might even make them more attractive.

It wasn’t that long ago that Apple consumers were concerned that the MacBook laptops would burn their laps if they were sitting there too long. Of course, they didn’t catch fire. But the point is that we have entered an age where we believe so soundly that technology will enrich our lives that this feels like a hiccup for those target audiences purchasing one of these hoverboards.

Beliefs are powerful things, because they are rarely changed. Even by rational arguments. Think about politics. No matter what rational, reasonable arguments you may fire, the answer from the other side is often: “Yes, but I believe.”

Whether hoverboards are fads is another subject. They could certainly go the way of the Pet Rock, but right now they seem cool to a select audience. Especially when we see athletes riding them and Ellen DeGeneres giving Justin Bieber one for his birthday.

The simple truth is that the target audience for hoverboards simply doesn’t care whether they blow up or not. They will take the risk.

The SONY Brands. It is like watching an accident happen.

The SONY Brands. What happened?

What happened to the SONY Brands?
SONY was the gold standard

By Tom Dougherty

SONY was once the most powerful brand name in consumer electronics. The free-fall from grace, by this venerable brand has lessons for us all. It is a tale of importance and arrogance. Innovation and market ignorance. Retail excellence and benign neglect. Just a short time ago, the SONY replaced its CFO because of an unexpected $1.1billion dollar loss (yes…that’s BILLION with a capital B).

Think for a moment about the SONY brands and the SONY sub-brands under its corporate umbrella. Trinitron. Walkman. Watchman, PlayStation. Betamax. Blu-ray. Vaio. Handicam, 3.5”Floppy disks, memory sticks, Xperia, Bravia, SONY Music Entertainment and on and on. Most of us, at some point of time have owned something made by SONY. Few of their products disappointed the market and yet the power that a brand like SONY is expected to bring to its sub-brands has almost vanished.

The SONY brands took its eyes off of the goal
SONY is lost

SONY recently divested itself from the PC market and the end of the Vaio is within eyesight. Even the SONY brand entertainment group has taken a hit and has fallen into a two way tie with Paramount as Warner Brothers surges past. The Xperia has had disappointing sales and a backlog of sourcing issues. In short, SONY is losing ground everywhere.

There was a time, when the SONY Brands dominated the high-end tube television market with its Trinitron brand that consumers routinely left the little sticker on the bottom left of the screen remain on after the purchase. It quietly proclaimed “It’s a SONY.” Today, the brand is a struggling afterthought as a crowded consumer electronic market has sucked the wind out of SONY sales. There are more than a few marketing pundits around who lump SONY brands in with an unenviable mix of brands that will disappear in 2014. I don’t believe that or predict that. But one thing for sure, SONY will slip even farther from the top in every category excepting game consoles. A category, by the way, that SONY leads by selling the PlayStation 4 for less than the cost of production.

Part of the problem with today’s SONY brands can be found in their portfolio itself. It is simply too large, too diverse in its categories and too focused on the sub-brand names. Divestiture and consolidation must be in SONY’s future. The plethora of electronics and diffused focus meant that SONY has asked customers to choose a sub-brand rather than choose the parent company. Apple, for instance, has sub-brands but the consumer buys APPLE. It’s the Apple iPhone, Apple iPad, Apple Macintosh, Apple iTunes, Apple iPod. I think when you look at the history of SONY, the failures of marketing can be tightly traced to its view of itself as an electronics company rather than a marketing/communications company (every company that markets consumer products should look at itself as a communication company with a manufacturing proof point).

As a manufacturer of electronics, SONY always lacked the style and polish of an Apple, for example. SONY lived by the sword of innovation and a a result has died upon that same blade. They underestimated the market in many instances. BetaMax is a perfect example. SONY marketed a better technology (Beta vs VHS) and yet they were squeezed out of the market by others that did a better job of understanding the consumer. In the BetaMax vs VHS dual, SONY believed an improved picture quality was more important than the ability to record three times the programing on a single tape.

They created the personal music player market with Walkman— they even owned the content of their own record company but failed to fully understand the consumer. In the Book Steve Jobs, Jobs spoke to this major failing of SONY. he said, they owned the market, they owned the content and yet they clung hopelessly to idea that they had to still sell albums rather than individual songs. Steve said SONY was afraid that by selling individual songs digitally they would cannibalize their own record sales. “That ship had already sailed“,quipped Jobs.

Innovation won’t save you

When a company innovates, they need to see that innovation as a support point for their brand promise not as the brand promise itself. SONY believed (and still believes) that they are a manufacturer— and innovator and creator of consumer electronics. Supporting that promise, because it is so meaningless, just means you make stuff.

The SONY brands had many equity markers
This used to mean something

Again, every company that competes in the consumer goods category is in effect a communications company. Their primary business is in brand building and everything they bring to market should be pegged to that one overarching brand promise. What is SONY’s brands positioning today? It is a question that no one can answer clearly because SONY has not answered it with any clarity. If your only focus is innovation then you live and die on that principle.

Worse still, in the businesses that SONY competes, even an innovator has precious little time to claim exclusivity. Everyone copies everyone else and it is near to impossible to have exclusivity. Create a thin screen TV and in a month you have dozens of copy-cats.

According to SONY the Ultra-HD sales will increase 10 fold in 2014 and they project that they can capture 10% of the LCD TV market. A modest share for such an industry giant. And yet what stands in the way of these less than lofty goals? How about competitors offering Ultra-HD TVs too and curved screen versions on the newest technology which was all the rage at consumer electronic shows.

 

What the SONY brand has not done is given anyone a real reason to prefer the brand because of the brand. Rather than being all about the customer SONY’s brands messages are all about SONY. This IS the problem and I see no signs of SONY addressing it. A brand’s value (a combination of preference and increased margins) comes from the consumer’s willingness to inconvenience themselves to buy the brand and their willingness to pay more for it. Great brands therefore, tell the customer who the CUSTOMER is that buys the brand. Emotional values like smart, forward thinking, in the know, stylish, pampered, gifted, or privileged are all example of brand attributes that reflect on the customer. Only with careful strategic planning and great research can a company identify the highest emotional intensity in the category and them claim it as a description of the prospect.

What is the answer for the SONY Brands?

What must SONY do if it figures out that they must understand their customer better? They have books of data on the buying habits and psychographics but it is obvious that they have no clue as to the beliefs of the target market that drive those psychographics and demographics. Marketing defines the needs and wants but brand must be defined by beliefs and precepts— not by a category of goods that they make. Electronics is simply too broad a category to have REAL meaning. For most marketers, this focus on consumer beliefs is not even in their tool box. For the  SONY brands, it is not found anywhere in the company.

When the market was less crowded and less competitive, saying It’s a SONY implied a more discerning customer (someone who could grasp what was best and felt entitled to own it). However the SONY brands were really not about SONY it was all about the buyer. It said something about the consumer that was far above and beyond the purchased TV or receiver. It said you knew what you were doing and that you were discerning. A cut above. What the SONY brands mean today is much less than that. The SONY brands have confused expensive with best and price point. It is a retail marketing story and not an emotional brand story. It is all about product features and not about BRAND.

The SONY brands have a lot of issues
Can SONY fix the problem?

 

It’s a SONY now means it is available on the shelf for purchase. It does not peak to preference or position. The SONY brands cannot regain its prominence as a preferred brand by way of its PlayStation platform. Gamers are a different breed of consumer and the luster of the newest game system does not shed much of a glow on the parent brand in this instance. They are fickle and flock to the newest and latest.

Being out of date with your game system happens long before the average consumer needs a slightly larger TV screen or an improved sound system. That’s because of the way the consumer looks at the PlayStation brand. They bought PlayStation 4 as a singular THING and SONY was only a support brand. There is no emotional branding to suggest that the SONY brands are the hero. It’s not the hero. It’s just the manufacturer. The same PlayStation owners do not necessarily own other SONY products. They see PlayStation as separate.

Apple has tried to makes its brand an integrated solution. iPhone and iPad sales have helped the Macintosh sales. The Macintosh platform supported and was supported by the iPod and iTunes… and Apple got all the credit. As a result, the Apple owners are many times as fanatical over their Apple products as the Mac users were over their Macintosh computers. This did not happen by accident. It was planned. Jobs always knew Apple was more than a product. It was a lifestyle. SONY was as well. It is too bad that they just walked away from it. In many ways, they walked away from us. SONY needs to pare down its offerings and concentrate efforts on defining the parent brand.

What can the SONY brands own?

If Apple owns simplicity and design, the SONY brands could offer individualized. They could speak to the uniqueness of the SONY user and pay that claim off with individualized specialization. This position is defensible because it positions itself against the competition, highlights the underdog status that the SONY brands finds themselves facing, and fans the flame of personal control and personal choice. At the end of the day the SONY brands need to sell the brand for a while and use marketing to support the brand claim as proof of truth.

Will SONY do it? I am not sure. If they still see themselves as merely an electronics company they will stay the course, spin off products and divisions, continue the downward spiral. If they make the BRAND transition to a becoming a communications company the SONY brands will change, grow and win. No one doubts that they have always made great products but that has never been enough.

Look at our Market Study on the TV (including SONY) Manufacturing Industry

Read more on SONY

The hack of SONY

SONY TV Sales

The SONY Experience. Its a start.