Its 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?