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It’s So Simple, I Don’t Know What To Buy!

by David Brock on April 30th, 2010

Disaster struck this morning, went to the office and the network was down.  Technical guy that I am, I went through my diagnostics, called my ISP and started yelling at customer service  (It always seems to be their fault).  Ooops, turns out my router was the problem, had to go get a new one.

As soon as their doors opened, I shot to the section of the store marked “Networking” and was confronted by a wide array of brands and choices.  The guy in the store came up and asked if I needed help, “Absolutely not, I’m cool with this stuff.”  There sitting in the center of the display were a bunch of cool Cisco Routers:  The Valet, and the ValetPlus.  I thought to myself, Cisco really has this stuff down cold, I’ll buy a Cisco router.  I looked at the packages trying to understand which router I should buy.  Imagine my surprise, they don’t have any description of what the specs are.  They just had a picture of a USB Data Key, “Installs By Itself!”

Hmm, other than a $30 difference in price, what’s the difference?  Which should I buy?  I turned the boxes over and over.  Surely there has to be something on the package that tells me the difference.  Couldn’t find a thing.  Looked around the display–maybe there’s a sign that describes the difference.  Nope, nothing around.

Sheepishly, I go to the sales guy, “I guess I do need some help, what’s the difference between these products?”  The guy was knowledgeable and very helpful, he gave me the secret decoder ring.  “Cisco came up with this packaging to make it very simple to buy!”

“That’s cool, I like simple and easy, but how do I know these products will meet my requirements?”  I respond.

“Cisco knows what your requirements are, they will meet your requirements?”  he replies, “They don’t want you to be confused with specs, just buy it and it will install itself.”

“But which one should I buy?  The normal one or the plus one?”  I ask.

“The plus one has more features and capabilities than the normal one,” he says.

“I kind of guessed that, but what are they, how do I know?”  I ask, “do each of these have ‘hubs?'”  (For those of you who are non-techies, it means you can connect actual wires–ethernet wires, in addition to using the wireless.)

“Well of course, see the picture,” the sales man says, very helpfully.

“Oh, that’s what that strange symbol meant, I didn’t know!”  I reply.  Then I ask the magic question–I have to reclaim my nerd pride, “Are they dual band?”

“Good question, most people don’t ask that, Cisco doesn’t want you to worry about it,” he replied.  Recognizing I was a techie to be reckoned with, he gave me the real decoder ring, “Here’s how you tell the difference in the capabilities, look at these Linksys boxes (another Cisco brand), This Linksys router is exactly the same as the Valet, and this Linksys router is exactly the same as the Valetplus.  The way you understand the capabilities of the Valet and Valet Plus is to read the Linksys boxes.”

“Cool, I get it.  But tell me, why are the Valet Products $30 more expensive  ($30 seems to be a magic number of Cisco) than the same product in a Linksys box?”  I ask.

“The Valet has this key, it’s easy to install,” he responds confidently.

“But the Linksys box, says it has an ‘easy to install CD,'” I ask, “What’s the difference, why should I pay $30 more?”  Turns out I stumped the guy.  He had been very helpful, but I had exhausted his knowledge.  Somehow I knew that Cisco must know best, but I didn’t know why?  Which product should I buy, I was so confused.  Should I buy the Linksys or the Valet?  Would the Valet be worth the price difference?  Should I buy the normal Linksys or the high function Linksys?  Or the Valet or the Valet Plus.  They were the same products, but big price differences– a swing of $60. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Belkin box calling out to me.  I picked it up, read it, it had all the stuff I wanted and it said “Easy as 1,2,3 to install.”  This is the one for me!

I bought it, brought it to the office, sure enough it was easy as 1-2-3 to install.  I’m connected, able to get to WordPress to write this blog.

I’m a B2B guy, so I feel that I’m on shaky ground talking about consumer products sales and merchandising—but I am a great consumer!  Packaging serves a very important function at the point of purchase.  It should attract my eye, it should inform, it must (for technology product) provide some minimal level of education—helping the consumer determine what they are buying and what they should buy to meet their needs.  Cisco in its attempt to be very simple in its Valet packaging has gone so far as making it uninformative.  It didn’t provide me the information I needed to make an informed decision.  It didn’t provide the store sales associate–who really wanted to be helpful, the information to help me buy.  It lost me as a customer for this transaction and made me a great advocate of Belkin—informative packaging, delivered on their promise of easy to install, simple purchase decision.

I’m all for simplicity, but as a buyer, I am looking for enough information to make an informed decision, whether it’s a $100 router, or a multimillion dollar Enterprise Software package.  Inform, educate, answer questions, let me understand what I’m buying and the value I get.

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  1. I had this exact experience with the Cisco router as well. I ended up just getting the cheap one to minimize the risk.

    Unlike your experience however, my sales guy was as confused as I was.

    Nice post

  2. Dave

    I too am often amazed by the design and marketing of consumer products. Sometimes you have to wonder what were they thinking? How did they arrive at this as the best way to get their money out of my pocket?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if design started with customer experience instead of engineering epiphanies?

    Don F Perkins

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