Holiday lessons for anyone trying to get their tech to market

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By Leo Valiquette

I trust everyone has had a happy holiday season, even — dare I say it — a merry Christmas. It’s now back to work with depleted bank accounts, expanded waistlines and perhaps a few stories to share from another mad shopping season.

We all do it in some fashion – hunt for the bargains that begin popping up ere the break of dawn on Black Friday south of the border. Midnight Madness and the Pre-Boxing Day Blowout now rival the traditional Boxing Day bonanza, while post-holiday sales continue to creep further and further into January as retailers attempt to keep the tills ringing.

When confronted by packed parking lots and long lineups, it is often easy to focus on the price of the prize in hand and forget that the root of any successful customer experience begins with service. Granted, working retail is no cake walk during the holidays and many customers can be faulted for a lack of common courtesy or holiday cheer. But as is the case with the sale of any product or service, it is the responsibility of the vendor or retailer to give the customer what they want and, if circumstances warrant, take the time to learn about their needs and respond to them.

Know what it is that you are selling

One of the most egregious shortcomings for any vendor is lack of knowledge about their own inventory. This is a regular irritant for me in what I admit is a pretty niche area – fishkeeping. I regularly visit my LFS (that’s hobby lingo for local fish store) to see what’s new in aquatic plants … that would be live plants, as opposed to the unreasonable facsimiles made of plastic and silk.

Despite the fact that this retailer orders its stock by name from its various suppliers, seldom can I point to a bunch of the green stuff that the staffer on hand can identify by name. Many species are similar; many species look different depending on water chemistry and available light. All species have specific lighting requirements that may mean they are not appropriate for my setup. As a customer, I need to rely on the product knowledge of store staff to point me in the right direction since my online research can only take me so far. More than once I’ve wasted money on a purchase that didn’t pan out.

Remember what it is the customer came for

The big purchase on my list this year was an iPad. Now, there isn’t a whole lot of flexibility when it comes to this item. All the usual suspects stock it and no one at any time offers a sale that isn’t also being offered by the competitors. It is one of those products that speaks for itself. The best thing a retailer can do to bring you to their door is to be on top of their game when it comes to knowledge about the product and its various optional peripherals.

I ended up buying mine from Staples. I started at Best Buy, but the clerk there turned me off when he tried to upsell me on the extended warranty about a minute into our conversation. The extended warranty is often maligned as a money grab, but that wasn’t the point. I had come to purchase an iPad, not a warranty. Did he first ask me about its intended use, if my needs were better served by a 32GB versus a 16, or if I needed cellular connectivity? Nope.

What’s the moral of the story? Don’t try to upsell your customer on something they haven’t asked for, before you’ve even taken the time to understand their needs.

Don’t price yourself out of the market

As we have espoused before, the key to marketing is to have a product or service that meets a clear need, with the features and functionality customers want, at a price point they are willing to pay.

Great customer service is crucial, but no measure of warm and fuzzy attention can overcome a price gap if it is sufficiently large. In fact, trying to justify an exorbitant price with great service can backfire, as customers come to you for insight and advice and then use that knowledge to make their purchase from another vendor who offers a comparable item for less.

Case in point: I needed a new light fixture for my fish tank. My LFS a 10-minute drive away had the one I wanted on sale for $149.99. Its online price was the same, though that route would have meant additional shipping costs. A rival online retailer, on the other hand, had the same item on sale for a mere $89.99. Even with shipping included, there was no contest. And there was nothing I needed to know about that fixture, or aquarium lighting in general, that would incent me to pay the extra coin at the local store where I could consult with the staff.

It doesn’t much matter what you are bringing to market, the same basic principles apply. And while astute attention must be paid to the technical details of your app or gadget to ensure it works as advertised, there is merit in taking a stroll in the shoes of the customer you hope to attract and thinking about what it is that pleases or frustrates you when attempting to make a purchase.

Image: Baker Communications

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