The consequences of Moore’s Law are enormous. A member of the original walkman generation, I was pleased to be able to carry a clunky cassette-playing Sony box while on the move. Maybe that explains why every time I look at my 32gb MP3 player, it is with a sense of childlike awe. All my music – in my pocket. That has to be one of the most useful and pleasurable applications of consumer electronic technology.
But while the processing power of the mobile phone or sat-nav moves on apace, there is one constant – the processing power of the human brain.
You only have to walk down the high street to see a growing mismatch. Pedestrian + ear to phone = more likely to step off the pavement into a bus. Indeed, the elfin safety crowd at Tower Hamlets have played a blinder – padding the lamp posts on Brick Lane to protect yacking consumers from self-harm. So the interface between humans and technology is looking rough around the edges.
Why do purveyors of technology struggle to produce adequate returns? Firstly, the relationship between manufacturers and retailers in electricals is different from most other retail sectors.
We do not hear about DSGi telling Samsung they will pay their bills after 120 days instead of 90. Manufacturers are more powerful than in, say, food or clothing. Furthermore, retailers’ attempts to eat away at this strength have been limp. The museum of failed 1960s brands that retailers use as quasi own-labels will excite mainly the most price-oriented of consumers.
But a lot of the blame must be attributable to the manufacturers. They are guilty of pushing products, not solutions. Ally this to sheds where TV displays reach to the sunset. The gap between manufacturers’ technology and consumers’ ability to grasp it appears to be widening.
Perhaps it’s an age thing, but with an aging population surely the industry should recognise that spending power is shifting away from the spotty nerds who get it?
This puts greater emphasis on the need for good salesfloor staff who must be interpreters. In my experience, that can be sadly wanting. Be it the length of the service queue in a shed at the weekend, or the technical ignorance at a much less pressured airport shop (a case of the blind leading the blind).
Every time shoppers buy an item that does not deliver what they hope it will deliver, it will make them less susceptible to the blandishments of the next price product ads in the press.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go back to the guidebook to find out why that DVD recorder is not quite doing what it said on the tin…
Paul Smiddy, head of retail research, HSBC