Adding more technology does not mean that they will come or buy
By Chris H. Petersen
Along with 180,000 other humans who converged on Las Vegas last week, I attended CES (Consumer Electronics Show). Every tech gadget imaginable filled the millions of square feet of exhibition space. From drones, to self-driving vehicles, to rolling stores. AI and robotics were everywhere, including a robot designed to fold clothes that did not exactly accomplish the task, at least reliably. The pervasive theme of CES seems to be that more is better. More technology is better. More gadgets are better. Bigger and faster are better. The reality is that only a handful of the CES gadgets will ever become viable products in retail actually purchased by consumers. Spoiled by choice, today’s customers are more finicky than ever. The question is whether all those brands and manufacturers will understand that the “C” in CES determines when and how better is better.
The race for more gigs and bytes is a slippery slide into feature frenzy
The sheer number of gadgets and devices at CES quickly overwhelms you. They cannot begin to fit them all into the 3 million square feet of convention space. You literally cannot begin to see all the tech offerings even if you wander the Show for a couple of days. It also seems that each booth tries to “one up” the last with more. Yes, some of it is just cool. We learned that you can now play an “air guitar” and actually make some music.
CES has always been about technology products. As a result, the emphasis is on the “new stuff” inside that makes it “better” than last year’s device, and the competitors’ offerings. A 4K television is no longer the best, now you need an 8K. This year’s smart light bulbs have more colors, or can even play sound. And, they now connect to Alexa or Google Home or both. CES is in many ways symptomatic of today’s retail:
- Preoccupation with product features, not the consumers who use them
- Focus on the technology inside, not how they connect with consumers lives
- Preoccupation with features, not the benefits or value for the consumer
More does not ensure “better” in today’s ecommerce marketplaces
As a behavioral psychologist, I am always fascinated in talking with people in the product booths at CES. You usually do not have to say much. They jump out at you promoting the products like the promoters at the carnivals of old. Like those “barkers”, they fixate on all their features, and how more makes them better.
However, when you ask the promoters about how they are going to market, and how they will reach end users … the silence is deafening. The silence is typically followed by cryptic plans on how they will sell through Amazon, Alibaba or Walmart market places. The reality is that Amazon now carries 5 million products.
More and better does not easily stand out online if features are the main copy. Amazon currently lists over 208,000 smart home products, and 84,000+ products under “smart home lights”. The bottom line is that is increasingly difficult to break through based on features alone, even if you add more “stuff”. Today’s consumers literally face overwhelming choices in almost every category.
“More is not better. Only better is better”.
I found this quote as I was reading one of my favorite sources, Morning News Beat. The full quote is from HBO Chief Executive Richard Plepler: “We are not trying to do the most. More is not better. Only better is better.” Plepler made that comment in reference to how HBO must compete with the upstarts like Netflix and Amazon in the areas of new content and original programming.
Plepler is literally saying that there reaches a point of overload, where adding more shows is not better, it can in fact be a distraction. HBO is currently twice as profitable as Netflix because their approach is based upon curating quality talent and content (e.g. Game of Thrones), not increasing quantity of offerings.
Better is now defined through the eyes of customers
Kevin Coupe from Morning News Beat makes the astute observation how HBO’s approach is directly applicable to retail. I would add that it is directly applicable to brands and manufacturers as well. Retailers aren’t powerful. The balance of power has tipped to consumers, and they know how to wield it.
The power of brands and manufacturers increasingly diminishes in a world of almost unlimited consumer choices. The bottom line is that more features and functions are not inherently better. More products are not necessarily better, or lead to more sales. Better is now defined by customers in terms their perceptions of “value” and “quality” for their life.
Better is when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts
Do features and technology need to be highlighted? Absolutely! Customers need accurate information about products. However, content online has essentially been a catalog with a photo and bullet points focused on highlighting prominent. Fact tags in store are exactly that – lists of what is inside, with emphasis on more and bigger is better. But today, that is only part of the equation.
Cutting to the chase and the punchline, we only achieve “better” when the focus is on customers and answering their questions about products. Customers want to know:
- Why do I need this product?
- What will it do that I cannot do today?
- How will this make my life better, easier, more productive?
Said another way, “rich content” is more than a concept. It is the “whole” that incorporates how the features create value by answering the what, why and how questions for customers. More only becomes better when we can assist customers in making purchases to buy what is right for their lifestyle.