Monday, January 28, 2013

RIM's Retail Adventure with BlackBerry 10

BlackBerry 10 is just around the corner and industry analysts, BlackBerry fans, and the media are all fawning over RIM's achievements.  The media has done a great job covering BB10 & its unique interface, RIM's success in attracting developers, and the company's overall turn-around in outreach.

One thing that hasn't been discussed is RIM's retail strategy for BB10. It's surprising since this is absolutely crucial for BlackBerry 10's mass market acceptance. As much as RIM executes on its PR strategy, its the actual salespeople interacting with consumers who will have the most effect on making the sale.

This is especially important for BlackBerry 10, not only because of the challenges of negative brand equity in North America but also due to BB10's unique gesture-based interface. It's not obvious and no amount of TV commercials or tech blog articles will educate Suzy in Idaho who wants to get a new smartphone when her cellphone contract is up for renewal. You need someone trained in BB10 to explain to the average person how to use the smartphone. It's the only way they'll make a sale.

Historically, RIM has avoided retail. For their smartphones, they have always depended upon the carriers & their sales staff to close the deal. This worked great until the iPhone came along and the slew of feature-rich Android's that followed. The sales staff (justifiably so) would recommend the iPhone or Android's, after all, its what they use themselves.

When the Playbook was launched, it was up to RIM to take control of the sales process - and they failed miserably. In retail stores like Best Buy or Staples, the Playbook display units were never staged correctly, from not being connected to the store's WiFi to not even powered on because the battery was drained and the tablet wasn't plugged in! It wasn't a case of store incompetence as other tablets were staged correctly. The sales staff were also not educated on the multi-tasking power of the Playbook or its desktop-capable browser.

With BlackBerry 10, this needs to change. The phones need to be staged correctly across all retail channels (carrier-branded stores, big box stores, etc...) and the sales staff need to be trained on every aspect of BB10. I'm not talking about watching slide decks either, they need to get some hands-on time with BB10 before they try to sell it to consumers. Ideally, in major markets, RIM would have its own staff in retail stores interacting with the consumers. Apart from selling the phones correctly, they would get invaluable customer feedback for BB 10.1.

At this point, the most ardent BlackBerry fans will point to Asia, where RIM has BlackBerry stores ran by 3rd party retailers. That's great and all, but RIM needs to convince North America on BB10.

Positive press helps and so does a Superbowl ad, but nothing helps more than a person telling you how awesome the BB10 is while its in your hand.