Just Because Apple Did It, Doesn’t Mean It’ll Work for You

microsoftstore1-0413I’ve seen a plethora of articles recently about how consumer electronics manufacturers have figured out what their problem is. After years of declining sales, laying off tens of thousands of people, reorganizing their corporate structurea and, in most cases, fired the president of the company, a handful of giant, Asian TV manufacturers and one giantU.S. software company have had a realization: They now know why they aren’t selling as much as they used to!

So, what’s their epiphany?

They need to sell stuff more like Apple does. They need their own retail stores.

LG has, as they nearly always do, decided to copy Samsung’s recent expansion into Best Buy with their own “store-within-a-store” concept. And, this past week, the Wall Street Journal reported that they will also build more of their own stores around the world – stores that will exclusively sell LG gear. Sony’s online presence is obvious with their popular SonyStyle.com site, but now they’re getting into the retail spirit with more 3D demo centers and they are reported to be looking into expanding their mall-based branded stores. Microsoft’s stores not only decided to copy Apple’s strategy, but apparently used the same designer because their stores look like Apple clones.

Come on! Seriously! Look, just because Apple is successful in retail, doesn’t mean they will be too.

Sure, Apple’s stores have a clean, hip-like feel to them. You almost feel as though being a nerd is cool when you walk into one.

But, truth be told, it isn’t the store that’s selling gear. It’s the gear that’s selling the gear.

microsoftstore2-0413Microsoft, you blew it. You tablet is, well, like Windows on a touch screen. It’s not user-friendly; it’s like you are desperately trying to convince people that it’s ok to jury-rig an OS and force it to work via a touch-screen. It’s stupid. Your phone OS is cool, however. But, you’re late to the phone game, so you’ve got a long way to go. Go back to the drawing board with the Surface.

Sony, you’ve made it so dang hard to buy your stuff. When I go to Best Buy and ask about a Sony HandiCam, they quickly tell me why I shouldn’t buy one and try to either convince me I need to mount a GoPro to my head or take a look at the new line of JVC cameras. Check it out yourself. Go to a Best Buy this week and see. And, as for your TVs, they are being used to sell Samsung TVs. Bait and switch.

Sharp – what the heck happened to you? You had the best HDTVs on the market seven years ago, five years ago, three years ago and even two years ago. Now, not only does the image quality of nearly every Samsung TV look better, but they are way, way moreaesthetically pleasing. Your TVs look like they did five years ago – like a thin, black box. Heck, even VIZIO’s look better.

LG – you need to hope Samsung slips up. You’re always going to be a follower to them. You’re that other Korean company to most of us.

Where’s the innovation? Maybe I’m giving Samsung too much credit as, in reality, they need to be thanking Google – their adoption of the Android platform for their phones and tablets was timing at its best. Kudos for that. But, they do deserve props for their SmartTV branding as it was marketing genius. They hijacked a term that everyone uses to describe a connected (to the Internet) TV.

But, none of you need your own retail stores to be successful. You need innovation, creativity and you need to listen to what the customers are asking for – and give it to them.

microsoftstore3-0413Yes, Sony, you need to seriously fix the relationship with Best Buy. I’m not sure who you’ve apparently pissed-off over there in Minneapolis, but you need to get that hole plugged because they’re trying as hard as they can to not sell you.

But, short of that, you need to think outside the box. Here are some helpful facts that might help you catch up with, or maybe even leapfrog Apple:

1. People hate cable TV. Not watching TV — people love watching TV. But they hate having it delivered to them by a cable TV or satellite company (and hate being forced to buy a “package” of channels when they only watch 10 of them). If you ask a hundred people, 95 of them would likely tell you they want to pick and choose TV shows they want to watch and pay a-la-carte. You want to innovate, fix that problem. And, for those of you who are stuck in hardware mode and thinking that this issue is one for Hollywood to fix, think again. Remember, Apple’s iTunes Store sold all those iPods, not the iPod itself.

2. Mobile Entertainment. We want to watch stuff, seamlessly, anywhere. We want to be able to start watching a TV show in the living room, continue watching it on a tablet as we brush our teeth for bed and finish watching it in bed. The devices should communicate with each other so we don’t have to tell the show where to start and stop as we switch devices.

3. Simplicity. Apple doesn’t ship a user’s manual with anything they sell. They want you to figure out how to use it on your own – they designed the product this way – so that even a kid can use it. Most of you out there have gear that’s so complicated to use, you have to include a manual — in four languages. Figure out how to stop that. If it’s so complicated to use, redesign it not to be. Samsung, here’s where you need help. The user-interface design of the Smart TV is, well, horrible. It’s way, way too cluttered and the gesture control is pathetic.

4. Aesthetics. Well, this one’s aimed at Microsoft (and Sharp). With all that money, you can’t design something that doesn’t look cool? Your stuff is, well, UGLY. Both of you. Even Target hired a professional designer for their $15 kitchen utensils. Can’t you hire one for $1,000 TVs and $800 tablets? There are ways to make the shape of a rectangle look appealing (see: Apple).

I could go on and on. And, I suspect many of you out there reading this have all sorts of ideas too. Please feel free to post yours below. But, point is, opening your own store isn’t the one and only solution.

Oh, by the way, my mention of Target isn’t by accident. They are the coolest discount retailer in the world. Everyone — LG, Sony, Sharp and Samsung — all seem to be hung up on Best Buy. I’d take a serious look at Target as a partner. They don’t attract the Wal-Mart crowd (so it’s a higher-end clientele) and they have plenty of space for consumer electronics store-within-a-store concept. But, that’s only after you’ve fixed your gear.

Gary Kayye is the founder of rAVe [Publications]. Reach him at gary@ravepubs.com