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Beating The Big Boxes

In the November 2002 issue of DigitalTV-Television Broadcast, I shared my woeful experience of trying to get solid information on HDTV from retailers when buying a set. One year later, the brain dead are at it again. That's good news for your small mom-and-pop advertising clients trying to compete against the big-box retailers of the world.

My latest saga began with a simple desire: I wanted to buy a new digital camera. I shopped for pricing info on eBay, visited www.epinions.com for product reviews from real people, and perused the Sunday newspaper inserts. I feel better buying complex mechanical devices from local stores as compared to buying online; when my toys break, it gives me a real body to complain to!

I should also note that I live in Rochester, NY, the home of Eastman Kodak Company. Kodak employs more than 20,000 people here, making the community more attuned to the photographic industry than most...or so I thought.

On to my shopping: This is where the adventure began. The same three guilty parties from my HDTV adventure in 2002 came back to haunt me. First stop: Let's call it "Circus City."

At the Circus, a red-shirted clown quickly approached me as I wandered through the store in search of the Sony DSC-V1 5.0 megapixel digital camera. I found it before he did. I picked it up and held it. I figured it made sense to actually try out the product being considered for purchase.

Oh, but there was a problem; the high-security anti-theft cable is only 15-inches long. Therefore, my in-store product demo consisted of snapping off a few shots while crouching into a squat position near the floor in order to get the viewfinder close to my eyes.

My next problem was that there was no memory stick in the demo camera; my test shots were not recorded. This I understood; those items are small and expensive and could easily be pocketed by dishonest customers. However, one might think that The Big Box could empower its sales clowns to make one accessible to real live "I'm-here-to-buy" customers, right? Wrong.

Second stop: Worst Buy. Here, the blue-and-yellow clown was a bit more helpful than his red counterpart across the street. He raised my hopes of saving some money by referring to a $75 Sony rebate. Unfortunately, it had expired two weeks earlier. The same ultra-short anti-theft cables had also been installed here.

Third stop: Sears. Hell, why hide the name? They were the worst. I can't identify a shirt color for their salespeople because I couldn't find one. Fifteen digital cameras were displayed, including the one I was leaning toward buying. The dearth of customers and sales associates made it easy for me to once again assume the crouch position to try to snap off a few more pics. Then, the final straw was broken.

No power to the cameras, no memory cards, and just one set of dead AA batteries could be found among all the display models.

Last stop: mom-and-pop store. Actually, their name is Rowe Photo and Audio. I'm sure your market has a Rowe of its own, too. Here, I was served by the antithesis of the Parade of Clowns. I chatted with friendly, knowledgeable salespeople. I know that sounds like a throwaway line from an average TV commercial, but it was true.

Want to hold the camera? Here you go. Want to walk around? Knock yourself out. Need a memory stick so we can look at your test pictures on a big monitor? Here you go. Guess who I bought the camera from? I found it all in a Rowe (yes, that's their jingle).

I'm sharing my experience with you for a reason. We all have advertising clients who are threatened by The Big Boxes. The local carpet guy is wary of Lowe's and Home Depot, Mr. Mattress is outgunned by the Mega-Furniture and Bedding Chain.

Customers want good, solid information before they part with their hard-earned dollars. Your mom-and-pop retail client is ideally suited to be this source. If you play a role in creating their commercials, it's your responsibility to emphasize this point.

The next time your client hesitates to invest in television advertising, feel free to share this column with them. It's an instant reminder that a well-trained and customer-focused sales force can beat the Big Box Retailers, and get the sale!