Showdown of the Holiday Gadget Wish List: Man vs. Marketer

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and it’s make-or-break time for the hottest category this time of year — consumer electronics. As always, there will be no shortage of choices. Store aisles will be jam-packed with bright, shiny contenders, all competing for a place in your shopping cart.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and it’s make-or-break time for the hottest category this time of year — consumer electronics. As always, there will be no shortage of choices. Store aisles will be jam-packed with bright, shiny contenders, all competing for a place in your shopping cart.

I decided to field a survey to find out which gadgets will earn a much-coveted spot in all those stockings hung by the chimney with care. To put a twist on things, I wanted to compare the responses of average consumers versus marketing professionals. Survey respondents included 100 consumers randomly selected from a survey panel and 100 traditional and digital marketing peers.

Most coveted gadgets: the winners
Want to know what to get your favorite marketer this year? The iPad was the hands-down winner among marketers, chosen by one in five respondents. But the iPad isn’t getting the same amount of consumer love — it ranked seventh in a list of 10 items we asked about, with only 8 percent of consumers including it on their wish lists.

What’s on top of consumers’ lists? Flat-screen TVs rule. Maybe those savvy consumers smell a deal? Last year wasn’t a banner year for TV sales, and the inventory glut is leading to heavy price reductions. According to CNN, the average price for a 32-inch LCD TV is just $374. Quite the bargain when compared inch-for-inch against the 9.7-inch iPad screen.

Life beyond Android and iPhone: the surprises
With all the talk about convergence devices that do it all, I didn’t expect to see a decidedly old-school, not-so-one-stop-shop entry in the top three of both the consumer and marketer list — digital cameras. It’s a reminder that there’s still a lot of demand for specialized, single-use devices.

When it comes to mobile, the iPhone was the most mentioned smartphone for both marketers and consumers, fueled by its heavily anticipated arrival at Verizon. Android phones were rock bottom on the list among nonmarketers, with a mere 2 percent hoping for one this holiday. Smartphones (non-Android or iPhone) made a surprisingly strong showing among consumers, tying for third place with the iPhone. In the iPhone- and Android-obsessed world of marketers, it’s easy to forget that there’s a lot of other options out there.

We’re not our target customers: the not so surprising
Over 90 percent of the marketers surveyed labeled one or more of the items they were asked about as a must-have for their holiday wish lists. One in 10 even included additional candidates, including GoogleTV, Xbox with Kinect, Roku and the latest iPod. But the average consumer is definitely less smitten by gizmos and gadgets — over 50 percent said none of the items we asked about will make it onto their holiday wish lists.

The reluctance among consumers to indulge in pricey electronic goodies is consistent with the grim predictions of 2010 holiday spending, such as the recent finding from the NPD Group that “consumers who were considering just cutting back on [consumer electronics] purchases are now not planning to buy anything at all.”

Holiday 2010: the takeaways
While 2011 is shaping up to be the year the iPhone hits mass adoption, there are a lot of other smartphone choices out there. This doesn’t make things any easier for app-slinging marketers, who will have to prioritize the platforms they want to serve.

iPad envy aside, there’s a lot in common between marketers and consumers. For now, most of us are favoring the familiar over the newer-to-market indulgences. Emerging technologies such as 3-D TVs, tablets and e-readers may dominate headlines, but it’s the established devices such as digital cameras and flat-screen TVs that will continue to capture wallet share this holiday season.

As for my list, I’m hoping to get something (or someone) to help carry around all the gadgets I already own. What’s on your wish list?

What Do We Really Know About Consumers?

Turns out American’s didn’t splurge on trivial junk during this recession, and that means many experts don’t know today’s consumer as well as they thought they did.

Turns out Americans didn’t splurge on trivial junk during this recession, and that means many experts don’t know today’s consumer as well as they thought they did. At least that’s the takeaway from this article by Mina Kimes of CNN Money.

The prevailing assumptions about recessionary spending were based on studies of consumer spending during past recessions that showed Americans spending more on cheap indulgences during hard times. But as Kimes points out, that hasn’t held true during this recession. iPhone sales spiked while lipstick, liquor and candy dropped.

Some of those trends saw ups and downs (a previous report by Kimes indicated general cosmetics doing well last year), but overall, 2009’s cash-strapped consumers seemed to make purchase decisions more thoughtfully than in recessions past. Instead of cutting expensive items and indulging on the cheap, they made more complex calculations. They often saved money to buy expensive items, for example, sometimes by cutting out the very indulgences consumers might have wallowed in during “simpler” times. It appears that many took control of their finances instead of living hand-to-mouth, with some surprising retail results.

I wonder how much of that reflects a psychological shift in consumers, and how much reflects shifts in the retail market. Many goods are available at relatively low prices these days thanks to several decades of the biggest retailers competing on price (i.e. Wal-Mart). I’m not sure indulgent lipstick’s that much less expensive than a pair of bargain shoes. On the other hand, consumer electronics is not simply an entertainment purchase. People spend their careers using their personal laptops and smartphones as tools; so spending more can mean more money or better opportunities. Consumers are well versed in the investment calculation of these items: If you have to buy a phone and phone service anyway, why not choose the one you can carry with you and load with apps that make you more productive, or at least more entertained?

Consumers have changed, but the retail landscape may have changed even more. What can you assume about a nation of potential customers who constantly consider that?

That’s probably not surprising to those of you who read Target Marketing or All About ROI, which often talk about the importance of testing and verifying assumptions about your audience. At heart, direct marketing is a numbers game, and those successful at it know what my football line coach used to sum up: to “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

But even extensive testing doesn’t really take assumptions out of the equation. Who spends resources testing something they don’t expect to work? When you try something new, where did the idea come from? Usually an assumption. So even with testing, there’s a bias to test toward what we believe to be true. Adaptability is learning to recognize and react quickly when things we thought we knew turn out to be wrong.

So have consumers changed during this recession? Has that been the case for your customers? Are they acting against type, buying or not buying in ways that defied your expectations?

Just When You Thought You Were Safe…

Ever hear of malvertisements? Reshipper fraud?

I didn’t either, until these two fraudulent practices were discussed during the opening session of the Authentication and Online Trust Alliance Summit 2008, which took place June 4 to 5 in Seattle.

Ever hear of malvertisements? Reshipper fraud?

I didn’t either, until these two fraudulent practices were discussed during the opening session of the Authentication and Online Trust Alliance Summit 2008, which took place June 4 to 5 in Seattle.

In his opening keynote. Craig Spiezle, chairman AOTA and director, Internet security & privacy, Microsoft Corp., explained that while more and more e-mail is authenticated today and online ad revenue and online holiday spending are increasing, “trust continues to be an issue,” he said.

For example, he said malvertisements continues to be a goring trend. Basically, malvertisements are a new breed of Flash ads appearing on Web sites that can infect a PC with viruses or spyware when the user simply views the page they’re loaded into. No clicking required.

“With malvertisements, mail servers or Web servers are being compromised, where consumers see a legitimate ad for something like an auto manufacturer, they click on that ad, and are actually now taken to a deceptive site, and malware is out on the machine,” said Spiezel. “It is unknown to the consumer, site owner and the brand owner of that advertisement…That is a real problem that we are seeing more and more of.”

Reshipping, or postal forwarding, scams was discussed in a session by Tom Donlea, executive director of the Merchant Risk Council, a trade association for supporting merchants in preventing online fraud and promoting secure e-commerce in global online payments.

Donlea explained that these scams involve fraudsters asking individuals through the Internet to repackage stolen goods — frequently consumer electronics — and forward them, often outside the United States. Scammers ask victims to shell out their own shipping charges, and pay reimbursement and compensation with a fake check.

In addition to seeing their own paychecks bounce, those who fall for reshipping scams may be liable for shipping charges and even the cost of goods purchased online with stolen credit cards.

Donlea said the scams usually originate from Vietnam, Nigeria, or Eastern Europe, and they usually target romance sites/chat rooms.

“Interestingly enough, Christian single sites are on patrol for mules as victims,” he said.
In addition, he said that sometimes the scams are presented as at-home job advertisements.

Donlea said the MRC is working with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to talk to individuals who are doing the re-shipping and explaining that their activity is illegal.

“They have claimed several thousand packages, and we are working with the merchant community to return those goods and to establish coordination with the public about how to avoid these scams,” Donlea said.

To create online trust, these issues must be dealt with, and the industry is doing everything it can to make sure these practcies are curbed.