Selling PCs – with Lessons from Home Depot

WSJ writes about how Microsoft and HP are “heading to retail outlets to overcome a big impediment to sales: ignorance.”

While Home Depot Inc. has been giving do-it-yourselfers classes in everything from lighting and tiling to home decorating for years, the computer giants decided to set up their own “experience centers” in selected retail chains nationwide, hoping to change the technology-retailing experience and boost sales of their complicated products.

“We actually looked at Home Depot and how they engage consumers in the process,” says Bill DeLacy, vice president of U.S. consumer sales at H-P. “With those types of classes on improvement, the key is giving customers confidence, and that’s now what we need to do with technology products.”

The marketing move came about, in part, because Microsoft and H-P could see that the strategy of relying on ever-lower prices to sell new technology was no longer effective. Industry growth was slowing in a mature market where most Americans already have personal computers in their homes.

The new marketing approach utilizes 15-by-15-foot hands-on displays containing products organized by different scenarios, such as digital imaging, digital music, home office and wireless networking.

“Create,” the photo exhibit, shows shoppers how to transform an HP Media Center PC into a digital-photography center with the help of Microsoft software. “Perform,” the home-office scenario, describes how to stay connected to work when not at the office using products including H-P’s Pavilion notebook PC and Microsoft software. “Connect” details how to set up a home wireless network, and “Play” demonstrates how to transform compact discs into digital music, both using products from the two companies.

The staff, which holds classes about every half hour, is trained in acting and public speaking, as well as technology, and is encouraged to connect with customers at an emotional level, showing them ways the products can help meet real needs in their lives.

“If you can show people how to use the products and make it easy enough so when they get home they can replicate what they saw in the store, they will want to purchase,” says Darrell West, director of business and retail strategy for Microsoft’s Home and Retail division.

“It’s part of a broader trend that has been going on for the past few years,” says Will Ander, a senior partner at the retail-consulting firm McMillan Doolittle in Chicago. “An increasing number of companies are exploring solving problems — we call it ‘solutions retailing.’ The transaction side is bigger because you can sell the package, you can sell the accessories — the things that add value to the consumer that they didn’t know they needed.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.