I’m an optimist and I absolutely love technology, and so do most of my friends. And no, this is not a recent iPod or iPhone driven phenomenon, it’s something that has been strong for the last 25 years, ever since I first saw a computer. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been more than a little obsessed with keeping up with the latest, sweetest happenings in technology. But sometime in the last five years, something seems to have changed completely. I’ve become a touch pessimistic and fairly disinterested with what’s new in the technology market.

This is strange because technology is more and more amazing (touch sensitivity is such a revolution), it’s getting a lot easier and a lot more fun to use. Both information and products are more accessible to us than ever before and prices are becoming more affordable and tempting (as customs duties go away) and I’ve got a lot more money to spend than I did when I was a dreaming teenager. It’s also seems easier to buy than ever before with real-world retailers like Croma and others online like theITDepot.com available to us. All of this leads to the logical conclusion that I should be buying more technology than in the past.

The problem is that despite all the things that have supposedly made it easier to buy, the reality is that buying technology has been becoming more painful and less enjoyable by the day. Somehow, inexplicably, this dynamic and future-vision driven industry is stuck in the past (in India).

Think that’s an unfair description? Try finding a product that you really want, that isn’t a mass/mainstream product. Try asking a retailer for a specific TV model instead of some generic HDTV that they stock. Try asking a retail outlet for information by email. Try asking them to ship you something, instead of you visiting the store. In my experience they end up lost, confused and disinterested in your business even if you’re not pressing for a discount. If you end up finding the product, it’s from some out of the way retailer and more by accident than by design and after a lot of effort on your part. What’s customer friendly about that, and as importantly, how can this make business sense?


Technology should be making us go ­čśÇ instead

And it’s not just ‘demanding and difficult’ enthusiasts and experts that are unhappy. We’re constantly approached by people wanting to buy some technology device, but completely frozen by the confusion created by retailers that can’t understand what they want or need. Each time they come to a decision, they are confused by the compulsion that the sales ‘consultant’ feels to upsell. Go the store for an LCD TV, and they try to upsell you an LED model. Go for the LED and they try to stick you with a 3D LED system. Somehow, magically without asking you a single relevant question, they will provide you with a confounding set of answers. It’s like a broadcast signal in what you expect to be an interactive world. The technology doesn’t intimidate buyers anymore, it’s the terrible experience associated with buying technology that puts them in a spin.

And once you do end up deciding to buy the situation usually ends up becoming even more adversarial and contentious. MRP’s aren’t listed clearly by manufacturers; retailers try to dilute discount schemes, delivery schedules (especially online) are vague and extended and there is all-round amnesia about warranties and any other problem solving or assistance that the customer needs.

The reason for this is that the technology industry (manufacturers and the retailers) are still firmly stuck in the past. While buyers have made great progress in their awareness and knowledge and willingness to buy, the manufacturers are still trying to follow an archaic top-down model where they push products on customers instead of attracting customers and responding to what they are asking for or dreaming of.

In India the customer isn’t king, and it’s mostly because he’s not demanding to be. We don’t demand enough from sellers (other than the best price). We’re willing to compromise on product quality, customer service and product support and warranties. We rarely penalise retailers and vendors for their attitude and deficiencies by voting wisely with our money. And we rarely fight or get vocal about our rights as consumers by making and pursuing a consumer complaint formally. We never seek or make connections with other consumers facing similar problems and are usually too busy (or too lazy) to work together to seek proper redressal.

Until we make this change, and as long as we are willing to be treated like clueless and docile buyers with no knowledge and awareness about our rights, both manufacturers and retailers will continue to exploit the situation and kill the joy of buying technology.

Karan Manral is a technology enthusiast who has edited CHIP and Digit magazines and been crazy about computing and technology for the last 25 years. He is now rediscovering retro, eco-friendly and natural technologies at his store Green Essentials.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,