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Ep. 102: Holiday tech buying updateWe're in the middle of the holiday buying season right now, so it's a good time to talk about how the world has changed for gadget buyers--and sellers. Join us for a discussion with the New York Times' Claire Cain Miller and Decide.com CEO Mike Fridgen.
I've brought up to reporters' roundtable -- -- needle in San Francisco and -- we are in the middle. Of the holiday buying season right now. In the lol I think between the old great deals -- Friday Cyber Monday and the upcoming period of oh crap I have to start buying gifts before its too late. Kind of in that little between these two periods right now. And it this is December it is the most important month for the consumer technology economy for the gadget economy. But this December this 2011 December will be different I think from all the ones that came before. Why. Well you're stacking -- a bunch of different effects mobile devices online shopping social networking improved analytics changing tax laws. And to of course changing the hot behaviors. Not just of buyers but -- sellers. And that's what we're going to talk about today on this edition of reporters' roundtable. My -- today are both in the studio first Claire Cain Miller. Who is a writer the New York Times and has been covering these topics. And is also returning -- the rampant thanks for coming back clear things we didn't scare you off the last time. Also joining us is Mike free agent who is a CEO of one of my favorite tech startups is called decided dot com and this is company runs a service that will tell you when you're looking at the price or product. If that price is good. Or about to go up or about to go down. Previously -- -- -- who did the same thing for airfares and was acquired by Microsoft. About Mike thanks for permanent position he is of course an expert in how tech pricing and buying its changing. So let's get started by talking about what we just what the tech industry just went through we just kicked off. The big month with actually it was in November with Cyber Monday. And Black Friday at the right yes. How did the gadget industry do player. It did really well you -- different Black Friday and Cyber Monday both had. Really spectacular sales better than expected both offline and especially online. -- so they did over really well overall but -- consumer electronics. According to the Consumer Electronics Association -- the number two category number -- Maneuvering -- there's number three category so. Even though there aren't a lot of super hot gadgets this -- people -- -- as many TVs we can talk about all that it seemed to be -- It do you just go slightly off track here at the beginning of the show do you think that though the technology economy as doing well -- kind of being masked by the overall economy and poorly. -- -- -- -- And economies in the -- yes. But you know here in San Francisco and Silicon Valley doesn't feel that way and with tech and with people buying gadgets -- also doesn't appear that way. That's that's true that there is this living in this bubble not -- -- -- you typically hear it here but this bubble where unemployment is really low in fact there's. A lot of competition for hiring engineers and all these companies so it is different here. On that really needs it -- the commerce sales e-commerce and offline over last weekend. I am were strong overall and a lot of people say that might be because the economy so bad people are. Grasping for deals in aren't going to pull that up over the course of -- and wealthy you know. That it looks like last weekend was people are buying across -- And -- what -- -- -- your job is to track pricing. Is pricing being affected by consumers. Not having money or vice personally we're using. Right received the same thing it was a record. Weekend in terms of you know the highest dollar volume sales on black on Friday of of all time and in Cyber Monday at a record. And they both beat forecasts though. This is a -- As you said query and I think you know one of things are looking -- it is you're -- high overall volumes but the price points are lower in certain categories right so -- low price points on TVs. Computers and laptops to some great values for consumers out there in the market. -- on but overall for the companies a positive sign itself it's so both. Black Friday which was physical retail Cyber Monday which was online to better than expected which -- That are better what online certainly online was was. Beyond retail from for a may -- in -- expectations. And the growth year over year. And offline is where most retail stood still -- still fewer dollars and many many many. Him. Western -- expertise. Why are people still buying stuff in stores. While I think that there's some obvious response to that that. For most people these products are very complex. And what's a 3-D TV what's that experience going to be about. The horrible it felt like 382 ready to way to go -- published writer illustration of all these new models the new tablets. Confusing for the everyday customers to use them now so there is this piece of -- -- in store with touch feel. You know and in experience these -- before pulling the trigger infamous I think that's still a big reason that consumers go in store and buy electronics. And -- -- interesting stats that I -- out of last weekend was that. While more people shopped in stores shops meaning -- in look at staff -- the storm research. While -- more people were actually shop being in offline stores. They were more likely to buy online which leads you to believe that they're going to best buy however testing things out and then going home and logging on and picking whatever they liked best and. Thank you -- because that brings one of my -- the central questions for the show. Up for me which is. Has physical retail become just to show -- -- -- go into a hum a target or Wal-Mart or a best buy in particular. Are people now just going through the store so they can see what -- -- than -- -- online is that what's happening. Certainly seems that if our best I had a little worried that that was what was happening to you mean best -- is doing something pretty interesting it says. They don't bar codes on any of their products in the store. And the reason they do that is to that you can't go in with one of those mobile apps and scan the bar code and binary signed by its her. Like that's -- like kids to -- and -- -- dot com so we actually in the course we've actually taken this to work with them opting for -- product database so with are you going scanned those products. And get real time online pricing nearby pricing and predictions about where -- going in the future assessed as not -- and you know what else Amazon also Amazon -- nine flow. You just pointed that it's like red laser times and you just pointed at a product and whether to bar code or product box -- try to recognize its vertical -- kind of idea absolutely so it's -- it's an arms race between consumers and physical retails what it feels like. I think -- The you know revolution is happening and mobile commerce is going to significantly change the in store experience having passed to com on my prices are so dynamic and you know they can you. People only can move that the speed of light relative to offline I think -- -- talk a little bit before reef about you can imagine any offline experience and what mimicking in terms of dynamic pricing. Real time deals and new things coming into the in store experience to make it a little bit more similar -- experience online. Yet we were talking about that a bit about the idea of dynamic pricing are consumers ready for market based pricing on -- you know Kindle fire tablet or. The Nintendo Wii or or or whatever where. They go online and and they look at price of the time they don't get that have come back an hour and do in the -- -- an -- the price is different. Where they go into or a retail store and it's got a electronic price tankan. The price checked changes in front of their IT do you think consumers will -- continent. I think that's the real likeness the world we live and I mean if you go we see prices changing -- 20% of the time. A price change on a given point in -- day and it's going up and fit for some -- Mexicans and so worst that happens now online you know you'll be shopping for a product. And you'll be looking at one of the aggregators of price rate comparison shopping engine -- another similar engine Google being product search. And one day then -- TV three -- -- TV will be due fifteen the next phase 225. We see it all the time we see in the data. So that is the experience online. Does. Dynamic pricing -- that -- that will that cause consumers to become paralyzed. Or will it. Increased impulse buying or. Which which more than the other do you guys think. We already it's already deleted airfare -- -- you go online and UH you go on for hours later there -- different and you'd sort of expect -- don't think you necessarily expect that was hard goods though exactly although no Amazon I've noticed everytime I go on it's telling me that things I've looked at before things that I put my -- not -- Have gone down two dollars and -- -- Or whatever and it happens every time so I think that they're sort of starting to teach consumers that it does happen with real -- not as with the airfare. Absolutely yeah -- and as we say how can an offline player that compete. Women. Especially you know it it's so difficult today at the way that -- built the infrastructure. And to. Two -- dot nimble and so I think to -- much into right. -- -- see you obviously follow this clear. -- as well. Offline prices physical retail prices are for the most part although not entirely higher. But now it's obvious that when you're running a physical store with real employees who actually have to be polite in a high rent neighborhood. That you have to support the store in the prices have to reflect that but in some cases the prices seem extraordinarily high. Let me ask it this way. What is wrong with these people how to they think that it was gonna buy -- stuff -- -- SS mission to you don't go as we took us last weekends starting with Black Friday Cyber Monday and looked -- -- all the search activity was happening. The lowest online prices -- nearby prices across the country and to no surprise 94% of the time the lowest price was available on line. In the average difference was 16%. So -- 16% less expensive to have bought online are you taking into account. Shipping intact as well art radar to the Internet should be intact and actually gets to tax question and that difference maker for leveling the playing field for offline retailers and I don't think so you know we -- -- -- topic. But it's -- only and so it has an all or some categories or different consoles we see you more per more -- and -- -- there's certain categories to behave differently it's. It's not a across the board they come in and in terms of for all for all products but I'm in the aggregate you know it's it's very much as it gets back to your question -- Company gonna compete and that's -- things to change. -- -- have you talked to the physical retailers on and how they're trying to combat or partner with of the online world. There are -- few different ways something that you mentioned is bringing these mobile phones and devices into stores allot more are are installing ipads in their stores to. You know get more information do -- do research this stuff that consumers are ready doing their own phones but the physical retailers and -- -- they're trying to take that over themselves. I am also I don't know if you saw revenues came out yesterday about Google that it's an interest in step in this direction Google is. For awhile and its products -- -- it showed you where to buy things nearby. So it shows you where to buy things on Amazon etc. and how those prices compare but also whether it's in stock at your local store them. And you know there's a convenience factor that you can get at the same day. I'm yesterday news leaked out that they're starting a delivery service are trying to -- -- delivery service where you can actually. Do -- research on your phone mean even in a physical or find it at another physicals are far less money. And Google will deliver it to your door within a day so the details are not worked out but. That is that is really you know. Now I know where they're building self driving cars -- I asked my colleague -- built and we weren't working on this story and it said it will hire drivers and tracks and -- -- contacting UPS or something -- -- Notes can be robots until -- car or they'll buy cougar or something like that and -- automatic dispatched exactly does that mean the one advantage that are off line continues to have. Over online as they can get at the same day that changes a little bit with Amazon prime and all of that the inconvenience is yet to drive to the store and outside of it adding means that -- -- So we're beginning to see -- merge finally between the online in the -- experience you know one of the things interesting at -- nation conference at G boot Thomas who. Yes he he is in charge of Wal-Mart online and he is an entrepreneur or from silicon -- one of us. He he said in a Wal-Mart dot com Wal-Mart has a heartland company. Wal-Mart dot com. Based here. Why is that what is won't Wal-Mart is one of the most interest -- business -- on the planet for a variety of reasons what does Wal-Mart to into kind of meld these worlds. Right I mean it's clear why -- in Silicon Valley talent. I mean they've bought voodoo that bought one right it can't fix it -- -- -- And but there there are clearly really investing in on line and they're doing it in the heart of the heart of technology where it's all happening makes makes a ton of sense Vietnam so. Yeah and they have all kinds of -- do things in in the works and we're seeing that and how the market holiday seasons in the house and home. Now it's became innovations -- -- most -- things I saw recently some that Apple is doing physical retail. Where if you are -- sign up for in store pickup of a product and you walk into one of their stores. They're they're blue shirts you know their their employees will will have an -- that'll show you. Where in the store you are -- geo locates you it. -- I want and I want to talk about that but home more broadly about. How Apple makes physical retail -- and in a way that no other electronics retailer hasn't Sony's tried Microsoft is -- What is -- about the Apple Store. That makes physical work. Started just -- like everything Apple does that -- -- and you want to be there and you want to go in and not. Overwhelmed mean with you know huge. Shelves stacked with stuff it's just a lot simpler and then. They've really perfected this idea customer service and awaited doesn't inconvenience you you know how you can check out and walk around -- -- -- to wait in line at the cash register them and that new app which and other my colleagues write about on the bits blog. I am I think part of the point is that instead of the customer service people hounding you -- do you need any help T need any help is anything I can find for you today. You Macon knows that you want health and then they come and find -- you don't have to deal with -- annoying people instead. You just have them come out when you need them -- I don't even understand something about. How people watch -- them it's very human focus. -- what it would initiative so I -- blocks from all accounts in Microsoft store they just went and now Apple -- -- at least you live and movements the relevancy -- right it's right down the street -- university village of all three and Apple. And Microsoft are directly across regions damaged artery but that's the thing about the I had to go to a photo of of that that's not really haven't seen that and and and you know Microsoft -- Xbox games is that it's happening -- -- But I'm what's interesting about the -- it's a friction with experience on the check and I think they're even going further with this app shows that commitment to. Making it just easy to transact in in move through it. But you -- Utah and there's one it was in the Steve Jobs book about the passion for making that in store experience amazing hand and clean. You know it's a whole. Closed system because they control every element. They're able to you know it's a -- said excuse it's not you know fifteen versions of them up -- three versions of its. You know nicely cleanly displayed they've got the genius bar high in customer service and ruin someone else for -- They really own the entire experience and and and it shows in in what you would you and a can anybody else do that or do you need the vertical ecosystem -- mean. Nintendo could do that but I don't see Nintendo stores. Are there missing something. In it it's it's the same -- to I think we sent it and just about the passion for consumers. -- I -- wanna give back to the topic of sales tax now one of the one of the the though the seminal. Economic weirdness is that -- Amazon work. Is a fact that -- California and I buy something from Amazon I don't have to pay sales tax and -- -- and kept the San Francisco I don't. Is nine a quarter percent -- kinky to I spent so little on physical retail here because -- that I don't even know my sales taxes but it's high. Now that is going to change if not soon then eventually and -- -- the Internet will lose its tax exempt. Interstate. Status. What impact is that going to happen help people buy technology in this whole online offline and economy. So definitely bridges the gap down price right -- you're talking Stephanie I think it's 70% or something like bank of -- other states what -- sound and I'm so it is gonna bridge the gap on pricing but again we document what we've seen just qualities and 16% difference so it's still. Less expensive. And we talked about Amazon they've done such a great job. On with Amazon prime -- they've tested all kinds of the outline of lockers -- 7-Eleven stores they have the -- it continually innovate. To try to bridge the problem in terms of instant gratification. So I I think. Amazon's done enough that that won't have a significant impact for my. Really think I think the price are still -- online and the experience is so good with the top and retailers like Amazon I don't think -- significant. So Amazon as you say -- really been leveraging in their position with file not just with low price when it got affiliated stores. Lockers in some places you know -- supposed to be rolled out more lightly nothing that's that's the ten year old idea but it's the -- slow it. And then have that Amazon fresh and excellent very groceries and then you can add Amazon products under pressure and Seattle areas and I have yet it's -- concerns. So the question. It's -- -- a smaller. Online retailer just the same from you have with. I'm physical retail where you've got at best buy Costco target Wal-Mart. Taking over from Mino Matthews top -- -- -- Daly City stereos or -- to work for example. You know big box taken over for the local retailers -- the same thing that happens -- -- a small online retailer. The they have a chance. I think it's really comparable -- this online retailers of course have a chance just like they do offline that is not harder for them. I talked to the small independent e-commerce and it's a lot and today to say that they cannot compete with the likes of Amazon it's like. But if you look at Amazon.com for bucks. Vs Powell's dot com for books -- Powell's as a bookstore in Portland with a big online business but -- just cannot offer free -- -- On orders lower I think their limit is fifty dollars. Well and their prices on the books are higher and ask them why because when you go and look at Amazon vs -- such comments just really. -- the difference in price is so -- -- like 25 dollars on an order of two books. And they say they just simply can't afford it and a lot of the smaller retailers online -- -- -- Lot of trouble with all these discounts say it's in the -- coupon sites and consumers have come to expect this tiny 5% off all weekend. -- -- -- these kinds of things -- they they can't afford. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- And com. I didn't really planning on a full locker or just animal he need -- issues. So I was like all right I'll look title coming mobile to see if I had a coupon and I was looking on different bunch of different apps act couldn't -- -- found a bunch -- online coupons -- fiscal -- coupons. And that the clerk you know behind the counter meant some minimum wage -- just look at me like. Analysts I was expecting site. Dude I'm here with my check I want to buy this stuff can you give me a coupon I know you've got a bunch of -- -- there anything now right now it's just like. Did you make the fact I did the kidneys and a pair shoes on -- let things are to hold -- and dignity he had he -- -- but he didn't -- one or the other. After Sam Q can it was an unsatisfactory experience and -- -- next next pair she uses Apple's name. An article locker you can look. The other day I was on target.com and they wouldn't give me free shipping even though my order was over fifty dollars -- because one of the items in qualify. I called them and said look I'm over fifty dollars. Can you give me free shipping and they said no until I close the second cabin went to a different site and ordered and that's what people do now so it's -- it's -- -- we brought. -- signatures and literally do the same thing -- They can offer with fifteen -- if you spend fifty dollars -- give you free shipping it was 4999. Literally only items awesome for for the U and a think so anyways what's moral development to this -- Jersey he's a bubble of what action over the interface -- Utah. Means which brings up one of the one -- related issues which is the impact and the effect of both the coupon sites and does anybody pay retail site and suckers like me a footlocker. And this social communication the social network communication which I talked last week with -- insults about this. The social network communication goes on between shoppers either in preparation in research or in real time acted to help drive down prices or find deals are. Stuff like that and how important is that and how are retailers. -- going to leverage these. Kind of external pricing in the information. Resources that they have no control. The coupon sites are maybe a little more -- social networking. I don't then I never make an online purchase without opening -- new tab. Searching for a discount code usually explained everything on me not that -- -- million sites that offer them. And if they don't -- a discount that I ten complete filming the purchase so think a lot of shoppers -- -- On social networks people share. Coupon codes and -- sharing there's a lot of buzz -- Black Friday and Cyber Monday about where to shop and and all of that and retailers are certainly leveraging that with Twitter ads you know those promoted tweets that went up at the top of the streaming you search for Black Friday sale. Or you know and FaceBook often. If you become a FaceBook fan of the -- then you have exclusive access to some of their discount codes. That I don't know if people you know certainly people are sharing that kind of stuff online that I don't know if they rely and that is -- what you think. Yet because it different dimensions to the social peace monitors. If you look at -- sales and daily deals they've leverage social from the viral distribution -- and then -- When we talk about social in terms of -- Just haven't seen evidence that's breaking through -- might not that it won't but I just not seen certainly. Lot of VC funding is going into it means we'll see if something emerges but it. Then you know -- -- having I think in terms of -- brands interact with FaceBook and codes. Final distribution. Of deals and offers but not necessarily -- that social collaboration to purchase them. -- -- the advice section of the show -- Mike. You for sending your best -- aside from decide dot com what. Either sites or apps should that's a savvy shopper. Be paying attention to where do you think -- you think they can get the best deals -- an expert -- sure on. -- -- you gotta be empowered with. Site via apps and sites that provide more information even beyond. You're shopping for electronics I mean it's whether it's is a little out for real estate war. It's about being trouble for him the answer is a really nice now to never for -- -- search in this -- Microsoft. Bought his last company completely it's a beautiful out if -- really -- it if -- great job I get credit for. And excitement so those so -- outside but if you look at them and Amazon has done a good -- we've talked about how -- innovated to bridge the -- in on the world but it doesn't really nice job and mobile can be just -- -- if you saw this on an iPad app for for kids for it was. Building wishlists for Santa and also know -- you see this no it's very cool. Can -- Leo if you're listening to this close your ears. And I -- -- fictional boy yeah just like he starts its hunting for -- holiday gifts like in June and so. This opportunity so cool he's he's gonna he's all over this thing but they're doing a really good job -- -- of the window shoppers to check that now. By those with -- I would say. Decide dot com retrieve -- shopping bot all of these startups that are -- mean you know stuff in -- in tracking prices and also product life cycle time. Those are useful for -- -- I don't buy as many electronics online -- a lot of the sites are still focused on that. But for me like -- -- retail on the knot is sort of my go to for coupons that I think Google is the best. I'm not necessarily Google product search -- just searching on Google for you know that -- say you're about to buy from and then discount code and you'll find one. -- and then I agree all the apps. Mean I look at -- they'll tap almost every single day those things on our main unit and you have to look at the app wherever you RS is the sale starts and I am and a lot of the apps have have exclusive sales that way. Lilies and -- here and we'll check that out that's great act that's for a moms and kids have colds -- It's that it's just focused on that segment and they do these -- at great fat cats that Blue Nile. I am I I'd like I won't won't -- my AM BD version of guilt against. The onsite tech I just bought via a gift and I'm not telling like it when it is on a -- -- is a good deal it was actually only a dollar less than the same price on Amazon. But I like who right so Amazon owns Amazon and that -- that's right -- -- -- sit. There's nothing there but it that that -- just finishing just Black Friday flash deals Amazon and Sony and it'll tide in the have been -- -- -- -- of course -- -- -- -- -- They're everywhere and diapers dot com and chop up it's like every time I and I go to go to site I realize dollars are going -- -- So I I would add by the way to conditions stuff beside dot com -- -- former colleague of mine is over retreat though of course CNET -- vice. Had a nine flow from Amazon is really cool and there's a there's a plug in for browsers not a mobile app I don't think it's called invisible hand. And now it's in and it mostly invisible plug -- except when you're looking up when you're on a page that has a product with price on it. It'll pop -- -- a little notification if it finds the price somewhere else online for -- -- and an excellent app yet so now there are some security issues with this because -- watching everything you do. And I found that -- -- -- a wild I don't -- -- him updated but it's really cool news cycle that's a cool little product of some bizarre little sites like you can hear from let's. -- -- What else -- we miss anything. Mike any final words of advice for a for people out there for are either Omnia the -- side or on the -- -- -- trying to do to win some business yet. Well for holiday shoppers say you know for for those either bomb -- a door buster deal over -- Black Friday or Cyber Monday. We've done an extensive analysis to say the best deals for the hottest products happen the first two weeks in December so. Don't don't worry if you missed missed out on the -- over this past weekend -- on a deal still to be had. Leading up to Christmas are -- gonna be time limited deals or just. Prices will be good overall there's there -- a time limitation to in the prices come down for a time there and then inventory -- prices compact. So -- you really need to watched ran and can settlers lot of sites help -- -- Chrysler's -- -- them as well but use it for those products were you know. And in his spend thousand dollars on any flat screen TV. -- TC 80200. Dollars but tract map product -- really -- this substantial money. -- -- -- -- just add that you Don have to pay full price online ever including especially going up to the holidays so. If you wanna buy some -- and it's a price is way because it'll go down there'll be. A 25% Apple's -- sale for a single day at some point for the holidays if you just keep and I and your in box. You'll you'll gonna look at. So it's cyber December -- Cyber Monday he meant it. Claire Cain Miller is a writer the New York Times -- can find herself on NY times dot com thank you for coming in thinks that -- again. I might pretend to CEO of decide dot com -- very cool company they have both made -- website and mobile app which I highly recommend if you're doing any real any form of gadget buying. Thanks again for coming in -- Steve thanks are producing as always thanks everyone for watching reporters' roundtable you've comments on this and and -- rate at cnet.com or things you like seeing a future show. You can also find -- -- my Twitter feed that's -- FE. Anything else I need to a -- -- you guys Twitter handles Google+ handles -- and Twitter addict decide and FaceBook -- friends. -- at -- the end and analysts say that we just meet at nine at that blogs you mention of that and my hands on -- that. Awesome journalism over there almost as -- as -- Action agree obviously are everywhere and thanks again thank you thank -- thanks -- room for watching was sealed next week picker.