'Indies are better suited to selling the connected home than the likes of John Lewis'

Our Counter Insurgent believes indies can offer a better service than big retailers
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This month, our Counter Insurgent discusses what they took away from this year’s PCR Boot Camp and why large retailers may not be the best place to buy IoT and connect home products from.

PCR Boot Camp 2016 was very interesting and insightful, and what stood out for me this year were the many discussions around ‘trust’. If big businesses are open to the sharing economy, then this could mean big changes for us indies and the way we position ourselves in the market.

‘Trust’ was the keyword of the day. For a moment let’s forget about the other issues that we are facing, which as individuals we are always going to have. Trust is something we can sort out much quickly. Cleaning up the sector should be our upmost priority.

I was saddened and horrified to see that consumers trust telco firms and larger retailers more than Indies to install smart home products.

Indies were told: “Get local trust” Well, I think we do have it.

Ultimately, if we provide a horrible experience, doubled with a shoddy image, then its obvious customers will go where they “think” they will get a better experience and that is with the bigger retailer. But, even that’s not exactly true; the bigger retailers have also been slated for their un-statesmanlike conduct towards customers from pushy sales to lack of tech knowhow and shoddy services/repairs. But why do they still get customers? Is it because they shout the loudest? If so, surely it’s time we did the same.

My next grip is with us – the indies. I noticed the same questions being asked during the disite panel session as last time. Playing the same record over and over again is wearing a bit thin and I don’t think they really care. So, let’s all stop complaining and let’s get even, as mentioned by one indie. He created a shopping cart with an online trader, held out, and waited for them to call. If retailers want to do business, where they cut their noses to spite their face, then who are we to stop them?

Grip number three is with disties. Please find a new angle and stop harassing us in a way what I can only imagine is from the Trotters Independent Traders’ handbook of sales.

One distie tried to tell me how I can make a healthy three figure mark-up, but would not tell what the per cent margin would be and when prodded, became very uncomfortable. Remember tech products are a commodity and commodities are only sold on price. So, why are we giving them the satisfaction, where they clearly don’t care about our issues?

Let’s buy smart and buy relevant, but most importantly, buy from whoever is cheaper, because vendors and customers don’t care.

As suggested by Jonathan Wagstaff during his conference talk, I took a trip to the John Lewis Oxford Street store, which has the Smart Home showroom.

It was a little on the underwhelming side. We have nothing to fear, as all they have done is put a bunch of smart appliances together in a tiny area.

Worryingly, a member of staff told me that they have had no specific training or had been given any further knowledge of inter-connectivity with other smart products that are not being sold by John Lewis.

Hey big chains, in today’s technological age there is no excuse for failing to provide your staff with information and knowledge that will ultimately help you to sell.

Even though the member of staff was helpful and pleasant, the lack of knowledge shows that retail staff are only trained in reading off their sales ticket – but I must admit, John Lewis do it with a smile.

How can big chains be trusted to install and sell smart home devices over us, if they have taken no effort to train their staff? This is not the same as selling a PC or a DVD player – this is selling an eco-system.

I also asked John Lewis that if I buy a connected home from them, who will install it? I was told that a plumber and gas fitter will come and connect it. But when I asked about the networking, security and training aspect of the system, to my horror I was told: “We don’t do that.”

So, after I have bought their system, which is an arrangement of products that vendors have stuck tablets on (£4500 fridge and £1500 washing machine), a few sound bars, lighting, smart TV, a thermostat and a cuddly toy – I still won’t know till I get home, that it will all connect, safely and securely or even at all? It seems Christmas has truly come early this year, if they believe that will work.

This is not IoT, it’s in fact what I have coined “WOT/WOE” (waste of time/waste of everything). If these retailers have no strategy, they will monumentally screw it up for us all.

Vendors must go on merit when finding tech experts and partners, and for me it is the indie scene they should be looking towards. We are just so much more geared up to do this then any big retailer.

Sadly, vendors are to blame too, as they undervalue us, but also are blinkered with the big chains and telcos out there.

I hate the fact that this is true, but we do know our customers inside and out, we know what they want, we know that the connected home is not yet on their radar nor do they have a need for it and if they did, they would come to us and not a big retailer as they would want a personal and tailored service.

Big retailers will never be able to replicate our magic and that is a fact, so venders please take note – big retailers are not fit for selling and installing smart homes.

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