Apple Gets It…. But Sony Does Not

sony1b.jpgIts been a while since I wrote critically of Sony, but a piece  by Randall Stross in this weekend’s NY Times reminded me of a similar exercise that I did a few months back with Samsung and Nokia.  In his article, Stross compares experiences at both Apple and Sony’s Style stores and points out some of the reasons why Apple is so wildly successful and Sony is not.  Here are Stross’s key points with my commentary:

People vs Product:  Everyone knows the Apple story.  Over half of the store’s staff is dedicated to post-sale service;  Free, one-on-one consultation, with “Geniuses”.  This recognizes that your engagement with a brand is only starting at point of sale.  The real engagement is made or lost as you use the product.  Apple makes sure that you are going to get the most out of it.  As a side note, they also get the concept of Marketing as Storytelling as demonstrated by “The Geniuses”.  Sony, on the other hand, is all about the thing itself.  They have a much broader product line of electronics, which could give them an advantage over Apple if they focused on the value those things can bring to your life, but instead, the engagement exercise is all focused on the pre-sale marketing of the stuff. 

Function vs Fashion:  According to Dennis Syracuse, senior vice president for Sony Retail, the Sony Style stores are intended to be a “fashion boutique for women and children” that incidentally happens to carry electronics instead of clothing.  Wow, that seems a bit shallow.  How successful are you going to be targeting women who only want that red notebook because it coordinates so well with their outfit?

Engaged vs Disengaged:  Stross describes the experience of walking past a number of Sony employees who were “so engaged in a private, and apparently amusing, discussion that <his> imploring presence failed to draw anyone’s attention.”  He speculates that they have become so used to inactivity in the store that had “become accustomed to busying themselves with their own entertainments.”  At a nearby Apple store, the employees were always alert and attentive, despite being very busy.  I’ve been in a lot of Apple stores and this just seems to be part of the culture.  For Apple, some of this has to be due to the enthusiasm of the owners to the products themselves.  Engagement can be a circular thing.  Engaged customers tend to make employees more engaged and visa-versa.  Regardless of the source, the engagement is real and is a huge differentiator.

Stross closes the article suggesting that perhaps a key differentiator IS having some amazing piece of hardware (running Windows) which will bring in the people.  Once they are in the store, they might see the other products in a different light.  This is where I think Stross misses the point.  Sure Apple has great products that people are passionate about, but it’s not because of their technical specifications, its the experience delivered by the product, the store and the employee.

What do you think?  If you are a retailer, do you get it?


8 comments so far

  1. astarwashere on

    I believe that Apple customers truly believe they are getting a better product, deal, service, etc. This is due in large part to the pizazz surrounding Apple’s sleek product lines. I’ve read a lot complaints about both their products and services from former customers. So I know the picture painted by this article isn’t full spectrum. Frankly IMO, all consumer product services/support suck. Terming their support statff ‘Geniuses’ is also rather laughable, IMO.

  2. recycledchristian on

    I couldn’t have said it better. At a local very upscale mall there is both an Apple Store and Sony Store. The Apple Store, which I frequent often, is always busy, full of customers. The Sony Store seldom is busy. The employees at Sony didn’t ignore me but then they didn’t have much to do customer wise anyway. Apple employees almost always see me and ask if I need help. On the customer support side, can’t comment on Sony but I have nothing but good things to say about Apple, from store service to phone to mailing a product back. Always efficient and professional, even when they don’t know the answer, which they will admit. And yes, I am typing on a Mac.

  3. madamemaracas on

    I’d describe a Sony Store as a museum. Quiet, private, serene observation space for works of art. The Apple shop, on the other hand is a weekly fruit market, bustling, colorful, community engaged and nourishing.

  4. irishsof on

    I am not typing on a Mac. And I’ve never been to a Sony Store. However, having visited the local Mac store many times, and being an iPod owner, I’d have to agree that Mac gets it right. They’ve convinced me that my next computer will be a Mac of some sort. While that decision is mainly about my exhaustion with PCs (even as a more advanced user), it’s also due in no small part to the comparison between staff at the Mac store and staff at your average PC retailer.

    The staff at the Mac store “get it”. I’ve never once been even remotely pressured to buy anything. Their folks are helpful, informative, and then they leave you alone. As compared to your average salesperson elsewhere, who knows less about PCs than I do but still tries to tell me what I “need”. The Mac store staff lets the product sell itself.

  5. Salil on

    Hey I second that. Most of these companies conveniently forget the customers once they “push” the product off their shelf. (This might not be the case with Apple)

    In any case, I had recently been to an Apple showroom (in India) and upon inquiry I was told that Apple laptops have a fan (which is apparently not the case!)..however upon contacting their toll free number my doubts were rested. This shows a poor handling of the dealer by Apple.

    Apart from that…much of Apple’s (IMO) image rests squarely on the founder (well the Woz influence or legacy I believe is slowly fading away) Steve Jobs….It must do something in order to position itself as a company independent of Jobs.

    Also some of its products are only available in a white colour scheme which is something odd. The trail laptop (white) in the showroom had grime and was noticebably dirty which made me ask if a black one with the same config was available (apparently apple does not have the same config in black), and I was advised by the dealer to look forward to another system (higher end, more money!) if I desired a black colour…..(strange!)

    Nevertheless its a company that has its eye to the future……no doubt about that….

  6. Doug Meacham on

    Wow, I haven’t had so many comments on a single post in a long time. Thanks to all of you for contributing to the conversation.


  7. hanyen on

    I just wanna thank you for making a good and balanced analysis of Apple vs Sony Store, which turned out to be in favor of Apple. Yes, I am typing this on a Mac.

  8. eggroll on

    The model used by Apple Store comes from retail-level religion. Come in and get your commodity fetish and it will magically confer “coolness” upon you. If it’s a matter of a small purchase, say $50 to $1500, the Apple Store does the job. If you want to buy, say, 10 Macs for your ad agency, deal with Apple directly on the phone. Also go online if it is any special part or accessory. As one Sony Shop guy confessed to me when I needed new Sony camera cable for my Sony camera, he had no idea how to get it, or why the part was not purchasable online anywhere in the world. He did suggest that if I bought another camera I could get the cable. “We sell shit in box here,” he confessed. Ah, the honesty of it all.

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