Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Truth, women and…electronics

I’ve been a critic of qualitative research for years (check out ‘research vampires’ on Google and you’ll see what I mean), but sometimes it can be a wonderful thing – when it backs up what you already know intuitively! Saatchi & Saatchi has just had some work done in the UK looking at how women fare in the world of consumer electronics, and it’s tough stuff. We’re talking cause for retailers and manufacturers to get a major reality check.

Do retailers of consumer electronics have any idea how much women dislike doing business with them? One in two women walked out of stores and abandoned websites because she couldn’t find what she was looking for! That’s right, one in every two women, and we’re talking about women who were already shopping and keen to buy. So tell me, when was retail doing so well that it could afford that sort of fall-out? Not in my lifetime, that’s for sure. In the UK, women spend just under $US650 each on personal technology a year. Our report calculated that UK tech brands and retailers stand to lose over $US1 billion in 2007 alone because they fail to connect with women.

Do retailers know how tough it is for women to get the assistance they need? One third of the women surveyed said they didn’t feel confident enough to ask questions in-store. Is that their problem? Not when the consumer is boss it isn’t. Now put this lack of confidence together with the amazing fact that nearly one in two women go electronics shopping without a specific brand in mind, and you have what Jack Reacher calls ‘a situation’. The upside of situations is that they offer huge opportunities; opportunities for retailers and manufacturers who get their act together. The combination of great products that matter plus compelling in-store and online experiences can start to show women who is in control. Hopefully when they head out to buy electronics, they head out towards a brand they find irreplaceable, or even one they find irresistible. A Lovemark.

One final thought. Please, for the next five years at least, lose the pink. Pink has become a cliché: make it pink and bingo, that’s the woman thing taken care of. Our research put another nail in the pink coffin. Only nine percent of the women involved thought it was important that electronic gadgets look feminine – and there was serious resistance to the Pink Solution. The words ‘patronised’ and ‘offended’ were used. Women want beautiful, stylish, sleek, sensual objects. Not the same-old same-old washed in pink.


Susan Plunkett said...

Interesting article and report; both very useful in my mind although, like losing the pink, I would lose the "Lady Geek" as I find that equally as patronising (just as I find ads with men being made to look 'cute' in aprons etc the same).

I observe cultural differences though. I have mentioned being on a large craft forum (thousands of members) and the American women appear to love kitch in a way the Australian and English women do not. The American women croon over twee bows for their dogs and cats and us Aussies stand there blinking.

I'm a great supporter of qualitative research and more particularly when it is done well. The quant tells you "how many" and the qual tells you why/what etc.

I admit I rely, in the main, on my son giving me advice on what to buy if I have a tech need. What I have found problematic in going into a tech store is a sales person - and they can be female - adopting a somewhat smirking expression as I begin to try and sort out comparative details of products. And more often than not, the person swings into a volley of jargon terms and I have to stop them because they lost me at the door. If I continue I ask the basics e.g. warranty, and then take a sheet home, contact my son and ask for guidance.

I absolutely agree - and it's an excellent point - to comment and consider that women tend not to favour any particular brand.

Helping women know what to ask about should be one of the crafts of the sales person. For example, if I go in to buy say a digital camera the person should be knowledgeable enough to ask me what my primary need for the item is and then offer me say 3 cameras across brands and talk to each of them in simple terms - working up to more complex issues if required. I have said this before on KR, but I find that too many sales people really don't know their product that well.

Educating sales people to be, themselves, educators, is a missing link in the equation I believe. I also very much appreciate online sites that offer comparative tables - rather like the NRMA and other consumer/govt groups will where a list of brand products is given and the details all set out for you to consider with a glossary.

A tech store should be able to provide you with that and, knowing that women come in concerned and tense (and expecting failure) set about to relax you and lead you to feel assured.

Indeed, a lot of room here for a smart player in this field. But please, talk to educators about how to educate and don't presume tech people know this simply by way of updating sales technique with sales companies who don't consult.

In fact, one excellent technique for writing plain English brochures etc in the tech field is to ask people from outside that area to compose the material.

This works because the person is not inherently knowledgeable about that area and must unpack and debunk terms in order to write. Tech people often skip steps and explanations. The sound communicator from outside the field is less likely to do that.

Susan Plunkett said...

I had meant to compliment Belinda Parmar on the report. Let's hope manufacturers and sales points take note and take note of discussion emerging from the report and get with the program (to borrow a phrase).

missmimi said...

Close to a year ago, my group and I did some research on women and electronics. We randomly sampled 100 women between the ages of 20-55 at a nearby mall in Middlesex, UK. Here are some of the results of that sample:

1) women in the UK spend over an hour per day in their car
2) women in the UK spend roughly £150 a year on personal electronic devices, devices over this price point tend towards home appliances.
3) women seem to have a natural aversion to the retail environments of electronics stores.

Based on this survey + ethnographic research, our team came up with a few suggestions on how the electronics industry can make products more female friendly. The thing that we found interesting was that the same result set seemed to apply towards mature audiences as well. Physical design wise, the qualities which make an object pleasant and less "male" or "macho" also make the design more "universal".

Pink has its place in society to be sure, however, to create a holistic brand of electronics for women, all touch points should be considered. These touch points include but are not limited to the following:
- discovery of the brand
- product affordance + ease of use
- portability
- packaging
- pictorial setup or setup at purchase
- tone of sales force
- retail display
- post purchase support
- brand fit within consumer lifestyle

Electronics companies are typically started and run by people who are very good at delivering technology. However, as technology becomes ubiquitous, people care more about conveniences offered by the technology than the technology driving it.

Being good at technology does not necessarily make one good at user centric product design. It's a bit of a shock to see how few products are tested with, well, real people prior to their release. Coming from the product development side of things, I have personally seen this on multiple occasions and it's never failed to make me groan in pain. It's also shocking at how many engineers and product developers do NOT take usability into the equation and how design has frequently been treated as "adding lipstick on the pig".

Playing with the high tech details of gadgets is very similar to popping open the hood of a car (back when there were proper engines to mess with, vs. the fully sealed chassis of today's cars). Some people find comfort in doing that, even a sense of pride. However, if a great brand is to be developed, the crucial thing to remember is the emotions evoked between the consumer and the brand. This process seeps into the whole of the customer journey. When the consumer has a negative experience during this journey, it does not bode well for the future of the brand.


Susan Plunkett said...

mimi. I appreciate your mention of after-sale service. It is one of the most frequent comments I hear about retail stores across the board no matter the product they sell. After-sales and shop assistant attitude/demeanour/knowledge.

On an adjunct topic. I have bought two DVD's from a well known store at Broadway in the past week. I got the first one home and no disk inside it. Opened the second last night and wrong disks given. I am wondering at what point the manager will be gracious enough to offer me something free against my need to have traveled back twice to resolve their errors.

My son took me to Kingsley's restaurant recently and one of the fine points about their service is that if they make any mistake they graciously remove the cost of something from the bill.

We remember these things and they pull us back. I have said before, customers can forgive mistakes, however, the business needs to romance you towards that forgiveness.

missmimi said...

Susan - I so agree with you! However, so many brands go out of their way to avoid this post purchase courtship. Why? Some are afraid that their consumers will take advantage of them!

I worked for Kodak for a bunch of happy years. One of the things that the division did well was "fixing owiees". These guys had near perfect tone and demeanor in dealing with very emotional folks. Afterall, we're talking about people's special memories here. It doesn't get much more emotional or heartfelt than that.

One thing that is evidenced in my research, brand loyalty is highly proportional to how the brand reacts to issues. People are more likely to bitch about their issues with a brand, product, or service to their friends and family prior to bitching to the brand. Why? The brands rarely do anything to make people feel better.

One of the worst experiences with customer service is as follows:
the CSR: may I transfer you to line 2?
me: no, please don't, I've already been transferred 4 times during this call, and they keep transfering me between your department and theirs.
the CSR: may I transfer you to line 2 then?
me: did you not hear what I just said?
the CSR: yes, and I'm sorry but it really is the people at line 2!
me: can you and the people at line 2 get on the line at the same time?
the CSR: no, I'm afraid not, I'll just have to transfer you, may I do that?
me: do I have a choice? may I speak with your supervisor?
the CSR: no, I'm afraid not, I'll just have to transfer you, may I do that?

I frequently feel that I would have a more productive experience if only I could write my own automated bot to deal with my calls. These people obviously have no idea how to do their job or think independently. I know I'm not alone in this. I was in someone's office the other day where we managed to talk about the intricacies of getting an academic paper published, all whilst he was put on hold and transferred from one department to another for over an hour and a half. This is no exaggeration.


Susan Plunkett said...

The only occasion I have been required to spend a truly ridiculous amount of time - and then multiply by 4 - was with a telecommunications company and the only reason it was resolved in the end was because I finally said, please give me your name and that of your supervisor because I will ring billing and tell them that I expect no bill up until the time today that I have spoken to you (this was because they kept telling me I had no account and so could not fix a phone issue in my apartment because they said the phone not exist - even though I was ringing them on it).

A business should generally be ashamed when a client needs to threaten (and one who has been badly inconvenienced and who has been patient throughout - read: not abusive) in order to bring about resolve.

Sadly, I am seeing the need to threaten action becoming part of the natural scene these days. That concerns me greatly. We are still focusing on product like it is the item and not the relationship with the client as part and parcel of the item.

I'm also finding other basic issues a problem these days. For example ringing a firm and needing to tell the shop assistant on their 3rd return to you "Sorry Madam, could you tell me the title again?", to please grab a pencil and paper and to write the title down.

And please, no gum chewing on the phone!

A bah humbug set of moans! :)