A Picture-Imperfect Shopping Experience


By Samuel Greengard

There was a time when it was possible to walk into a store or call a manufacturer and their salespeople knew about the products they were selling. Those days are gone.

Recently, while perusing the camera aisle at Costco, a Nikon Coolpix P520 caught my eye. I have an older Nikon camera that works well but, it doesn't geotag photos, and it can't shoot high-definition video or connect to other devices via WiFi. So I decided it was time for an upgrade.

I flagged down a salesperson and asked him several questions. He provided a seemingly authoritative overview. After returning home, I visited Nikon's Website to get more information. A key question for me was: Will the GPS data import into iPhoto on a Mac? The site, as well as various online forums, didn't provide a definitive answer.

Strike one.

The next day, I stopped by my local Best Buy store. After I asked the salesperson a few questions, it became apparent that he was completely flummoxed. I knew more about the camera's features and technical specs than he did. His suggestion? He told me to visit the same Nikon Website that had already failed me.

Strike two.

That prompted me to contact Nikon's call center. There, an agent promptly informed me that he didn't know whether GPS data would import into iPhoto. After putting me on hold for a few minutes, he came back on the line and told me he would email a JPEG photo containing EXIF metadata so I could see if the import process would work. Unfortunately, a photo never arrived.

Strike three.

There were so many glitches and breakdowns in the buying process that it's tough to keep track.

The Best Buy salesperson was pleasant but unequipped to answer questions, and I discovered later that the Costco salesperson gave me inaccurate information.

Nikon didn't know whether GPS data would load into Apple's (Apple!) photo software? It took two store visits, a couple of online browsing sessions and a phone call to Nikon, and I still couldn't get the basic information I was seeking? Seriously?

I guess I'll keep my existing camera a bit longer.

Manufacturers and retailers need to get their act together and make shopping easier and better. It's not about adding more technology; it's about better integration of IT systems.

Build intuitive Websites with easy-to-access information—including different ways to group and compare products. Provide kiosks in stores or find ways for customers to connect to information via a smartphone. Understand who is using your product and how they use it in the real world. And, finally, train salespeople and reps so they're not completely clueless.

The current situation is completely out of focus.