When was the last time you saw an actual mobile phone on display in a mobile phone store? If you've had the misfortune to wander into one of these places recently you will notice that the walls and shelves of these places are usually covered with "dummy" phones, empty shells in which the screen has been replaced by a sticker. Who could possibly think that a dead lump of plastic riveted to the wall gives an impression of the real thing? Carphone Warehouse is an unpleasant shop: It's the only technology vendor I know that borrows it's design aesthetic from the Job-Centre. At the Liverpool St. branch I asked the bored-looking man behind the minuscule desk if I could try out HTC's newish "Hero". I found his reply quite astonishing: He explained that he couldn't let me try one because they did not have a demo unit and that I ought to look on the company's website which had an "interactive demo". At the nearby Orange shop on Bishopsgate I asked to try out the new Motorola Dext. This time my assistant was able to locate a working handset but unfortunately he brought it to me without a SIM card - that meant that I could not try out the phone's killer feature: Social networking. So how was I supposed to experience this new product? He pointed me to a fuzzy screen near the entrance to the shop: Oh goody! Another interactive demo. The previous examples are typical rather than exceptional: Conventional wisdom is that shops have one big advantage over online vendors: They allow you to experience the product. But if shops cannot get this very basic trick right then what value are they adding? And why, according to Jupiter, over half of all women walking out of stores because they cant find what they want. We asked the Lady Geek panel about the kinds of retail experiences which they wanted: Virtually everybody said it was important to talk about, touch, smell, engage with a product before buying. Women are "reassurance addicts." Women feel at a relative disadvantage when shopping for technology. They are much less likely to have done research about the product before they buy compared to men. And they are much more likely to rely on the sales experience than men. Nearly half of all women have no idea what brand they are buying when they walk into a tech store. The retail experience is akin to a "vending machine." Not only that but as a woman, you feel like a bit of bait ready to be snapped up by a pushy sales guy. Our research indicates a clear prescription for selling more phones to women: * Find a way to put a few real products on display - and into customer's hands. * End the hard-sell tactics and let good products sell themselves. * Stock a smaller range of more interesting products. Vendors should be brave experts and trust their opinion about what customers should want. * Employ women to help attract more women and make the environment a place where women want to be. With Best Buy entering the UK market, tech retailers have no choice but to add real value or die.
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