Retailing of major appliances is totally at odds with the way people shop, especially women. Even worse, with few exceptions, the way major appliances are sold at retail has not changed since the early 1960s when I accompanied my parents to buy a new refrigerator. I know it has not changed since the first time I shopped for a major appliance for myself in the 1980s. It's no wonder that Circuit City has gotten out of the major-appliance business and American Appliance has gone under completely. The retailing of major appliances is long overdue for an overhaul.
Recently, I was a customer for a major appliance. My dishwasher was leaking all over the kitchen floor and the repairman sent out from our local appliance store said it would cost just about as much to fix it as to buy a new one. With that suggestion, I went off to the store to buy a new dishwasher.
When you enter a major-appliance store, everything is so logically arranged. Along this wall, the refrigerators are all lined up. Over there is every variation of electric and gas stoves. Running up the middle are the washers, and on the back side of the aisle are the dryers. In one corner, stacked one on top of the other, are the dishwashers. Seemingly on every couple of items, a sale sign is prominently displayed—"$50 off" here and "Only $199" there. When I told the salesman that the repairman sent me in, he took me right over to the dishwasher display and proceeded to bore me with a recitation of each brand's features, which were all the same to me. How did I decide? I picked a quiet one, priced just under the most expensive model, that also happened to be available in black, like my last one. After we set up an appointment for delivery, I left the store knowing I had solved my dishwasher issue, and the salesman was happy to have made the sale.
The problem? This whole experience was totally wrong. I went into the store with a "need" (i.e., my dishwasher broke and I needed a new one). However, I had a significant "desire" that went undiscovered by the salesman, so the store did not profit, and I was ultimately dissatisfied. A little probing on the salesman's part would have uncovered the fact that my dishwasher was purchased, along with all my other kitchen appliances, about ten years ago when we built our house. In the life of a major appliance, ten years is a magic number. It is long enough so that the existing appliances feel "old." The homeowner can justify upgrading all the appliances in the name of energy savings, compelling new features, or getting a good deal on a whole set of new kitchen appliances. The summer before my dishwasher broke, my husband and I invested in new paint for the living room, dining room, and kitchen, and refinished the hardwood floors throughout the house. With all these upgrades, I had been thinking seriously about replacing the stove. A new side-by-side refrigerator would certainly be welcome, now that my two sons are hitting their teen years with the resulting appetites.
The simple fact: There was nothing about my major-appliance buying trip that excited me, or pulled me in to the fun of picking out a brand-new kitchen. With all the appliances lined up one after the other and arranged by type, not how I would use them in my kitchen, they all looked the same—big boxes with labels on them. In that barren setting, I could not envision what my kitchen would look like, or how I would feel cooking with brand-new appliances. While my stated need was satisfied, my desire definitely was not. It would have taken so little effort on the part of the appliance store salesman to turn my $400 purchase into a $2,500 investment. Figure 2.4 is my prescription for the major-appliance retailing industry.
Display appliances in room settings with matching appliances and cabinetry to encourage consumer fantasies
Feature fewer models with better presentation to "romance" the buyer
Offer multiple-product package pricing with financing
Encourage one-stop remodeling by offering appliances, cabinets, countertops, and installation
Men may like to shop with products lined up for comparison, but women want to dream and fantasize.
If I ran a major-appliance store, the first thing I would do is get rid of the row upon row of appliance boxes. I would carve out lovely little rooms to feature all the different types and styles of appliances. There would be a gourmet-style kitchen here with the latest stainless designs, and a starter kitchen there with simple cabinetry and basic appliances. There would be a top-of-the-line country kitchen with retro-appliances, and a to-die-for laundry room with a folding counter and shelves for all the soap powders and cleaning equipment. Men may like to shop with products lined up for comparison, but women want to dream and fantasize. They want to see what the appliances would be like in their own home. I would price the appliances by grouping with a nice discount on the purchase of two or three matching ones. To equip my store with these wonderful room settings, I would work out a strategic alliance with a home remodeling or cabinetry service. I would get into the business of selling not just appliance boxes, but fully-equipped, custom-designed kitchens and laundry rooms.
A store set up like this would have overcome the ineptitude of the salesman with whom I dealt. Rather than take me to the sterile dishwasher display, he would have escorted me into my "dream kitchen." It would not have taken me long to have him writing up my order for three major appliances and a new countertop to boot. I did not mention that a countertop is also on my "desire" list.
Sadly though, I do not have a wonderful new kitchen. It is entirely too much work for me today to go out and buy a new stove and refrigerator. Dealing with an appliance salesman once in a year is about as much as I can handle. I do not have a clue where I can get new countertops or what kind I want, because there are so many choices today. I do not know how difficult or easy it would be to have someone come in and install them. I am too busy to undertake this project right now. Although I'd like a new kitchen and I can afford a new kitchen, I can get by without it. After all, everything still works.
A consumer in motion stays in motion; a consumer at rest stays at rest.
This experience illustrates a fundamental law of consumer dynamics: A consumer in motion stays in motion; a consumer at rest stays at rest. That is, it is easier to persuade a consumer who is actively in the market to buy more, than to persuade one to buy who is not participating in the marketplace. The appliance retailer's best opportunity to sell more appliances is at that moment when the consumer has overcome inertia and wants to make a purchase. Unfortunately, my retailer missed this wonderful opportunity by selling me only what I needed rather than all that I wanted. My retailer did not understand how to turn wants into needs. And, that is what the rest of this book is about.