Earlier this week I was slumped in front of my TV in the evening, browsing the EPG, and found myself watching an episode of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. As usual, the firey Scots chef was dealing with a hapless sap whose restaurant was losing more money in a week than most of us make in a year. And, as usual, one of the first things Gordon advised was to streamline the menu, knocking it down from its four-page anthology of culinary blandness to a simple selection of tasty goodies. A smart solution, I thought, knowing how annoying it can be to choose between meat and fish, let alone thirty variations of the two. And it's an idea that I humbly suggest could be employed by the AV industry.
The current trend amongst TV and AVR manufacturers (and, to a lesser extent, those who punt BD decks and speakers, too) seems to be to offer a massive range, packing various levels of features, and let the consumer try and work out what they want. Having dealt with frustrated friends demanding I tell them exactly which flatscreen they should buy – narrowing it from a dizzying choice of 30 to a single reassuring option – I know this doesn't always work.
There will be some buyers who are immune. Those with unfettered budgets can simply purchase the product at the top of the line and know they're getting everything possibly available. And there will be those who know exactly what they want of, say, an AV receiver, and will ignore anything that doesn't fit the bill. But for many it will be a tortuous journey, involving online research, calls to customer services and the pestering of any mates they have who happen to edit AV mags.
Does it have to be like this? Does Onkyo have to offer nine AV receivers all for under a grand? Does LG's UK website need to feature 78 different TVs to buy? I assume the business analysts at these companies would say 'Yes, idiot' and point me in the direction of market research and accounts figures, and start waffling on about profit margins.
However, take a company like Apple. The Silicon Valley king has amassed enough cash to keep all the world's restaurants ticking over via a product strategy that favours the less-is-more approach. Want an iPad? You can choose from two sizes. This cuts out customer stress straight away – when was the last time you met an unhappy Apple fan?
Unfortunately, I can't see the flatscreen manufacturers adopting Gordon Ramsay's philosophy and stripping their TV stables to only five models. But perhaps the AV industry could borrow some ideas from the world of automobiles, and offer basic products with the option to add on additional specifications. Let us choose whether we want twin tuners, or four HDMI inputs, or USB HDD recording, without having to also pay for the privilege of a 3D panel and Quad Core processing. Go a step further and they could sell us self-assembly flatpacked screens, complete with a glass-cutter to get the preferred screen size from a basic 60in sheet...
I doubt any of that will happen – especially the last part, obviously. We'll carry on reporting on obese product ranges, and consumers will carry on muddying through the selection process and moaning about it. People want a choice, after all. But if the level of choice stops someone from making a purchase at all – well, that's a problem, isn't it?
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