Parks Associates Blog

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Add comparison shopping to the list of Digital Home Services

It’s interesting to see how our Managing the Digital Home: Installation and Support Services and Digital Home Services: Carriers, Retailers, and the Consumer continue to have legs and lead us into new and potentially interesting areas. Since we released the Digital Home Services report, I've been contacted by some new companies of which I was previously unaware that are involved in the comparison shopping side of the business. Specifically, I've spoken to reprsentatives from companies like Acceller, GetConnected, and retrevo.

These companies represent and area of “digital home services” that I hadn't previously considered – comparison shopping for services and products. However, it's clear why these type of services are important. Purchasing digital convergence products has become a complex task with many confusing options and emerging technologies. Gone are the days when a customer could research and buy a product based on basic parameters such as screen size, form factor, and color. Convergence (digital camera to home computer; audio receiver to high-definition set-top box, etc.) now requires the customer to feel comfortable about such topics as connections, digital interfaces, and interoperability. Therefore, it is not enough for consumers to simply know that a product exists; they also will be required to have a good degree of comfort in understanding how the product works. Reaching this level of understanding will require additional research on their part and speaks to the enormous impact that “influencers” will bring to the purchase process. Moving beyond the “friends-and-family” knowledge connections that we all have, consumers are likely to be drawn to reliable resources for product reviews, comparisons, and buyer’s guides that help walk them through the initial phases of the buying process.
It’s pretty interesting how these online comparison shopping services are working with service providers and using some psychographic profiling of online users to determine how best to market services such as high-speed access, high-definition television, phone, and high definition. I think we’ll hear more from these companies as the service provider space gets more crowded.

There’s also a growing product presence through these sites. The companies are talking about posting peer reviews and advice and assistance with new products. The services are also talking about ways to link to professional services such as Geek Squad, firedog, and OnForce. So, it looks to be quote holistic in not only selling products and services, but also enhancing the experience with hand-holding and other support.

So, add this comparison shopping service to the ever-evolving concept of the customer support lifecyle (see the as the image above illustrates). As you'll notice, buying assistance is an opportunity at not only the time of the initial purchase, but we also feel that it'll be an opportunity for service providers, retailers, and consumer electronics manufacturers even after that first purchase.
A key realization for solutions providers in this space is that carriers and equipment vendors as well as other third-party players (remote IT support organizations, for example) need to understand the basic parameters of the digital home. At present, these entities are largely flying blind when it comes to knowing which devices are connected on a home network and how they are being used. With remote diagnostics capabilities and two-way reporting to a “knowledge database,” carriers can benefit from more timely information about the configuration and use of digital home products and provide more proactive service if their customers have problems with equipment or services. Furthermore, the value of the knowledge database can be extended as consumers seek to add more devices to their home networks.
In addition to recommending fixes, the database can be used to generate recommendations for compatible software, hardware, or equipment. For example, the carrier may build internal case studies that would indicate that Wireless Bridge X works particularly well with Game Console Y, and could recommend such a product when the customer is ready to link his or her game console to the broadband connection for online gaming. We certainly envision a near- to longer-term future in which diagnostics and troubleshooting clients are actually used to provide consumers with much more in the way of holistic digital home support, including advice and suggestions for new product and accessory purchases.

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