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TinotopiaLog → Adventures As A Retail Consumer (30 Jun 2005)
Thursday 30 June 2005

Adventures As A Retail Consumer

So this morning, while drinking the tea and eating the croissants etc., I saw in the Wall Street Journal that the Slingbox is out, and that it’s apparently good.

If you’ve never heard of the thing, the Slingbox is a device that plugs in, on one end, to your TV signal, and on the other to the Internet. You can then watch TV — your TV, with your normal channels, your Tivo recordings, anything you normally have at home — from anywhere in the world where you have a decent network connection.

This morning’s review was written by Walt Mossberg, the Journal’s technology guy. What makes this important is that Mossberg is one of the very few technology reviewers who can be relied upon to write bad reviews when the products deserve it.

Anyway, Mossberg said the thing was great, so I went out to buy one. The review specifically said:

Starting today, it will be available at CompUSA and Best Buy stores, and at those companies’ Web sites.

Well, that’s easy enough. When I was passing Best Buy, I stopped in and was soon asked by one of their computer-department guys whether I was finding everything I needed. I said no, actually, that I was having a hard time finding this Slingbox thing.

This produced an immediate reaction. “What is that?” he said. “You’re the fifth person who’s asked me about that thing today.”

I handed him the copy of the Journal that I was carrying. He skimmed the column, and then told me he’d never heard anything about the device.

Another win for Best Buy! The Mossberg column very favorably reviews a product and says that it’s available starting today at Best Buy, and the Best Buy people have never heard of it! You just can’t buy advertising like that. Lovely, but not surprising.

I checked the CompUSA website, which said that they had the thing in stock in all of their Northern Virginia stores. I stopped by there in the afternoon, looked at all of the likely shelves, and came up empty.

I found a CompUSA guy and asked him whether they had this thing, and I got the same flash of recognition that I’d seen earlier at Best Buy. “Slingbox!” the guy said. “I think we probably have those.”

He led us over to a mirrored door and went in. He returned a few seconds later with a man with spectacularly bad hair; he looked like he was ready to attend a 1970s-themed party later tonight. I mean, it was bad.

The guy with the amazing coif was apparently the manager, because he had the keys to the Room Full Of Expensive Stuff, the same room that my laptop came out of a couple years ago.

He and the CompUSA foot-soldier disappeared into the Room, and stayed there for quite a while, considering the small size of the space.

Compusa Door

They were in there so long that I had time to get out my phone, screw around with switching it to camera mode, and take a picture of the door.

After a while they came back out and said that they indeed had one.

It was then up to us to tell them that we were not just asking out of curiosity, but that we were interested in buying the thing. The manager went back into the Room and produced a Slingbox, which we then bought.

I will have video of the device in action tomorrow, but for now let me just say that it is Teh Awesome. The only problem is that the client software requires the use of some bizarre operating system (“Windows XP”), and that the installation procedure is as bad and annoying as most installations on that painful OS.

For now, I’d just like to record the idiocy of these two companies, Best Buy and CompUSA. They had free publicity in the Wall Street Journal for a product that is, for the moment, available only from those two retailers. One of them had never even heard of the product, and the other had carefully hidden the things in the stockroom, lest someone buy them.

Is there no one at CompUSA and Best Buy headquarters who reads the Wall Street Journal? Wouldn’t it seem obvious that when your company is specifically mentioned as one of two exclusive sellers of a product that’s well-reviewed by one of America’s most-respected technology writers, in the newspaper with the country’s biggest circulation, that you might just send and e-mail to all the store managers, telling them to prepare to actually, you know, sell the thing?

I suppose not. Which is why I don’t work in retail management: clearly I don’t understand what the business is about, naively believing that it’s about selling products.

Tomorrow: video of the Slingbox in action!

Posted by tino at 23:16 30.06.05
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