Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sony really, truly does NOT understand consumers

Sony — a huge, huge company with some really interesting products. Take for example, the AIBO. Nifty idea. A robotic dog that you can program to do some things similar to a canine friend and a bunch of things no canine could manage.

You promote these, you sell them. You know that at least a few universities have fleets of these little guys doing things like playing RoboCup — getting a good deal of press. Then WHAM! you stop making them. But, you don’t just stop making new robotic dogs, no, you stop making ALL supporting accessories as well.

So, let’s see, you’ve made the people who forked over a few thousand dollars for each dog use proprietary memory sticks in the first place. No, these dogs couldn’t possibly use a common commodity memory stick that you produce by the millions. Oh, and you stop producing that specialized memory for them... and the batteries... and the battery chargers... ?!?

Please, did Sony expect all of the AIBO’s in existence to instantly drop dead when they decided they would make no more of them?

Trying to find a few 16MB proprietary memory sticks isn’t the first fun thing I’ve run into while attempting to support a lab that uses the AIBO’s for their research. Try finding that battery or battery charger. Don’t try to buy one from a SonyStyle store that you can’t physically walk into.

In this day and age you’d think that if Sony sells it, and it’s in stock in a store in the US, you should be able to give them a credit card and have them ship it to you, but NO WAY. They can’t possibly trust that someone is a legitimate customer if they want a battery (or two), a memory stick and are willing to pay for the shipping — whatever they want to charge for shipping! Go ahead, charge me more to ship than the product costs, I wanted the darned stuff that badly!

Every time you try to get a hold of a human to speak to at Sony a recording tells you, very pleasantly, to look for their products on their website. When you do get a hold of a human being they inevitably end up giving you a phone number to a different portion of Sony to try to track down what you are asking for. Education, call 1-800-nnn-nnnn, ah you need XYZ dept, please call 1-888-nnn-nnnn... nearly ad infinitum!

The stores do seem to routinely have a few of something that have been discontinued, at least for a little while before it’s sent to molder in a corner somewhere. These items can’t be had online because of the wonderous supply chain management that is in place in these modern days of retailing — it disappears from the Sony web (SonyStyle, direct parts, etc.) amazingly quick when Sony says “make this no more!”.

For those battery chargers I actually got shunted 3 times and then spoke with a regional sales representative at a warehouse facility somewhere in central Pennsylvania or maybe it was western New York! It was crazy. He could see the product. He knew that someone had them in stock but I COULDN’T BUY THEM because they wouldn’t ship them to me. I had to physically walk into a SonyStyle store to make the purchase.

An enterprising soul in their San Francisco store — who shall remain safely nameless — actually spoke with the manager of that store and they agreed, after I faxed massive amounts of information over to them (it’s a corporate credit card — we’ll deal with it) they actually could ship me a few of these chargers. But, even though I’d managed to get that far, the stores can’t send stock to each other.

We tried in vain to get a NY and Colorado store to send the San Francisco store some of the stuff they had on hand so I could buy it and get it all shipped together. Nothing doing. They don’t work that way. OMG, give me a break!! What do we have computers for? Can’t we use inventory tracking to our benefit and actually SELL the product to a customer who is willing to pay for it? Full price? No discounts? Come on!

Each time I get into this “search for a product Sony says is toast” scenario I think to myself “Does Sony actually want to sell anything to the consumer?” It’s such a huge corporation that they primarily deal with "channels" — sell a pallet or crate of something to [insert favorite consumer electronics retailer here], who then has to carry all the accessories... maybe. The consumer be damned if Sony discontinues something that still has end value and may still be in use — and that was just selling last week in stores, no less.

The problem is, Sony doesn’t allow anyone to pick up the slack either. With lots of other products where models get discontinued, folks have filled in the gaps for parts and accessories. Sure, it’s not OEM but if it works just as well, why not?

Heck, there was a guy who increased the functionality of the AIBO but Sony jumped all over him about mucking with their precious proprietary AIBO. He was actually helping them sell memory sticks and the original software program needed to run what he’d created and they slammed him for it. They actually sued him, cease and desist! Their stuff was necessary for the functionality he designed to even work for the AIBO! He told people Sony's stuff was necessary and he proved that caused people to go out to BUY SONY's STUFF! Really, smart Sony. d-:

If I didn’t have to deal with this as part of a job I love 99% of the time, I’d definitely make sure I had no Sony products around me at all... ever!!

[addendum: I needed to buy a memory stick for a university class that has 6 AIBO's — 1 stick went bad — the last one I managed to get from Sony at retail was around $29.00 I think. Lucky folks who bought extras and never opened them are now getting between $150 and $300 on places like eBay. Thanks Sony!]