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Why 3D at Retail Sucks, and How to Fix it!

Neil Schneider does some secret 3D HDTV shopping at retail stores to see what customers are going through, and brings back some valuable lessons.

Neil Schneider, Blogger

September 7, 2010

5 Min Read

While I own most of the 3D hardware types already, I still enjoy secret shopping at the top retail outlets whenever I get the chance.  Having done so again recently, I'm really getting a firm grasp of what our industry's leading sales challenges are - and they are serious.

Sony Bravia 3D HDTV

Sony Bravia 3D HDTV

Sony Bravia 3D HDTV Shot in 3D!

NOTE: All of the article pictures are doubled because they were taken with a stereoscopic 3D camera.  These pictures are from another Best Buy retail shopping trip in Wilmington, Delaware.

Our journey begins at the local Sony Experience store.  They had a Bravia 3D HDTV on display showing sports programming.  There was a huddle of people around it - no sales staff, just patrons.  The huddle left, and there were just two people remaining.  As I walked up to the stand, I heard the woman on the left telling her husband "I don't get it", and her husband said "I wouldn't spend my money on this!"...and they walked off in a huff.

Meanwhile, the person on the right was enjoying his 3D experience.  After picking up the deserted glasses, I immediately understood what happened.  THE GLASSES WEREN'T ON!  The patron didn't know about the tiny activation button on the side of the glasses.  When I brought it up with the sales person at the counter, he explained that this happens all the time.

This problem is minor.  John Merritt, Board of Directors member of The S-3D Gaming Alliance, told me he did some secret shopping of his own.  When he asked to check out the Samsung and Panasonic 3D HDTV demos at multiple electronics stores, he was denied because he was told that someone had broken the 3D glasses.  Broken glasses!

Samsung 3D HDTV at Best Buy, Wilmington, DE

Samsung 3D HDTV at Best Buy, Wilmington, DE

Samsung 3D HDTV at Best Buy, Wilmington, DE

This past weekend, we also went to the local Best Buy.  Samsung had a great display idea where the TV is only in 2D, and can be easily switched to 3D just by pressing a button on the display's counter.  Most of the content looked good...and then something happened.  Portions of the video had reversed polarity between the left and right views!  Problems at other retail stores had different brands of TVs showing images in side by side mode MINUS the 3D (like the pictures in this article).

The biggest problem of all, and I can't stress this enough, is there is way too much sports content being shown, and not nearly enough video game content.  While sports are important, consumers rank this third after 3D video games and 3D Blu-Ray movies.  There needs to be a dramatic paradigm shift around content priorities and display licensing agreements because this is a serious disconnect from what customers are asking for.

Years ago, I worked in retail for a technology store, and my responsibilities included making sure the displays always looked nice, that customers were taken care of, and most importantly, that patrons understood the features of the products and how they can benefit from them.  While I appreciate that there are only a small number of available sales people at any given time, there are ways to circumvent these challenges.

The first step is to make sure consumers recognize a problem when they see one.  I kid you not that customers don't know what 3D is supposed to look like until they see it for themselves.  There should be a fat sign next to every 3D HDTV that says "Are you not seeing this in 3D?  Does this look strange somehow?  Please ask a representative to assist you."

Panasonic 3D HDTV With Glasses

Panasonic 3D HDTV With Glasses

Panasonic 3D HDTV With Glasses

I don't know how or why the glasses are so scarce.  These things are usually built to last.  Instead of just leaving them out for people to roughly grab and grope, I think patrons should ask for them.  Imagine the positive customer experience of hearing the sales representative talking about the television, while simultaneously spraying the glasses clean for a personalized tour.

Premium products need to be sold with premium customer attention, and I just haven't seen enough of this.  Not one sales person offered to give me a tour of a 3D HDTV.  I'm not talking about the occasional rep who asks "do you need help?", I'm talking about the one who says "have you tried that TV out in 3D?  I can get you glasses if you need them".  It would have been nice had someone asked me what I think while I was trying the glasses out on my own.  This is very basic stuff.

So the next time you read an article about how challenging it is to come up with the best 3D experience and that it's holding back sales, or someone is selling a report about how people hate 3D glasses, or that there isn't enough content to sell 3D televisions...please take it with a grain of salt.  The biggest problems right now are very rudimentary and are all happening at the retail level in droves.

I think it would be great if readers could share their positive and negative 3D retail experiences below.  Is what I'm sharing unique?  Did I just walk in to these stores on an off day?  Good and bad, I want to hear your stories.

Last but not least, GDC Online's 3D Summit is coming up, and I am looking forward to revealing the preliminary results from the 2010 U-Decide Initiative as part of my presentation.  If you haven't completed a survey yet, do so now because polls close on October 1st, and over fifty prizes will be drawn once the study is finished.  You might even win a Panasonic 3D HDTV like the one pictured above!

Good luck, and thanks for reading.

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