The personal computer has evolved into four distinct types, each with their own capabilities and advantages. The impact on durable goods sales is just beginning to surface, but will grow rapidly over the coming months and years.
For durable goods, shoppers do not convert they transition. That is to say, they do not convert into online sales; they transition to a human representing the store and make the purchase within the store. There are exceptions, but very few. Transitions can take place by walking into the store, phoning, emailing, chatting, or using video chat. Overall, the mix of transitions will be changed by the mobility of online computing power, the size of the screen, and the way shoppers interact with the device.
The four types of computing devices and their characteristics relative to online shopping and transitioning are as follows:
Desk top PC – Provides the largest screen and a full keyboard, but offers no mobility. These are the best devices for text inputs. When shoppers first began using the internet, most activity was on desktop PCs, and filling out email lead forms was common. However, most shoppers never filled out an email lead form even in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The most common transition from the desktop was and is walking into the store.
Laptop PC – Although it has a more limited screen and keyboard than a desktop PC, the laptop has mobility. For those who have a wireless internet service connected to their laptop, they have almost limitless mobility, in theory. In practice, few shoppers ever bring their laptop into the store with them. Like the desktop PC, the transition is typically from 100% online with no human interaction to no online connection in the store with 100% human interaction.
Mobile – Smart phones are dramatically changing the way people shop for durable goods. They may start on their internet enable phone or transition to it from a desktop or laptop PC. Either way, millions of shoppers are taking their smart phone into the store with them. They can compare what they see in the store to what is online, either from that store or a competing store. The screen is smaller and text is laborious, but the phone is enabled with a single click. This makes it possible to transition from talking to a human in store A to talking to a human at store B while still at store A. Sharing a screen this small is very difficult and unnatural.
Tablet – The iPad is not the only tablet PC, but it dominates the category. Sales success of the iPad was twice as fast as even the iPhone. Each month more than one-million people join the legions of iPad owners, and they tend to be much more active and affluent than the national average. The combination of a relatively large screen and complete mobility is a huge part of the attraction. However, the new iPad launched on Friday has both front and rear cameras to enable fantastic video chat. Communicating in text on a tablet is not as fast or easy as it is with a traditional keyboard, but video chat is far and away the highest form of distance communication. Most importantly, the tablet enhances transparency and in-store communications by being big enough for both the buyer and seller to view it in the store at the same time.
The new iPad is but three days old, but tablet computers may become the dominant method for durable goods shopping within five years. Sales teams that begin using the iPad within the store today will have an experience advantage as more and more shoppers bring their tablet computers into the store with them. Learning how to sell in an environment comprised of simultaneous human and technological touchpoints will be mandatory.