- By Debbie Carlson Chicago Tribune
The great thing about shopping online is you don’t have to worry about a pushy salesperson trying to upsell you on something.
The downside of shopping online for electronic items is you might need someone to help you figure out how to use your gadget and have it sync up with your other Wi-Fi-connected products. Companies are realizing there’s a need for home tech support as electronic devices become more sophisticated and consumers are willing to pay for the help.
In late May, Best Buy launched Best Buy Total Tech Support Powered by Geek Squad, offering unlimited technical support in-person, over-the-phone or online, for an annual fee of $199. Purchasers also receive discounts on other items. Best Buy has offered technical support of individual items purchased at the company, but plan purchasers will get help on all their devices no matter where or when they purchase them.
Personalized tech support is a growing trend. Amazon Home Services offers setup of individual technology products, like wireless home network setup or home audio setup. Puls.com offers in-home support for iPhone repair, TV and smart-home setup. HelloTech offers monthly service plans, from $9.99 for remote online service of your computer, to $19.99 a month for remote online service of your computer and three in-home services.
Ben Arnold, senior director of innovation and trends at the Consumer Technology Association, said new consumer technology takes a little more training for the user. While it might be easy enough to connect a smart-home security system to your Wi-Fi, learning how to use advanced features, like searching the archives footage or protecting yourself against security or privacy threats, may take some training.
Arnold said offering home-tech services is another way for retailers to build relationships with consumers that might be missing with simple online shopping.
“It’s more about starting this longer relationship in which the store hopes that I come back for additional purchases. The service element is a way to keep me engaged with the retailer,” he said.
Trish Walker, president of Best Buy Services, said Total Tech Support takes a holistic view of all of a home’s electronic products.
“As technology has evolved over time, all of these products are all connected. When you have an issue or you want to learn something new, many times it’s not just an individual product (people need help with). It is actually the ecosystem that is supporting your life,” Walker said.
Patrice Samuels, senior analyst at Parks Associates, a market research company specializing in emerging consumer technology products and services, said demand for traditional technology support, like fixing bugs in computers or tablets, is falling as those devices are becoming more reliable.
Consumer questions now are about wireless connectivity and other network connectivity questions, whether those are traditional devices or smart home and/or other emerging technology, she said.
Walker concurred that customers often have connectivity questions as they acquire more devices and it becomes more complicated to get these devices to interact correctly.
While individual manufacturer websites may offer extensive information online for the do-it-yourself person, that person may hit a knowledge wall or just might want to have someone else do the setup for them. Samuels said consumers who have issues with their newly purchased devices, whether purchased online or in a store, often contact the manufacturer first for help, especially when it comes to smart devices.
The manufacturer may offer buyers support resources to get the product running. “Some companies are willing to provide that at no cost to the consumer because the bottom line is (they) need adoption to grow (and they) need more people to be aware of their product,” she said.
In other cases, manufacturers partner with recommended providers to give that support, such as the partnership video doorbell manufacturer Ring has with HelloTech, offering discounted installation services to get the doorbell working, she said.
Arnold said he wouldn’t be surprised to see these personalized technology support services grow.
“It’s an acknowledgement that we buy different brands with different technologies. But if the products that I bring into my home don’t work with each other, I don’t think anybody wins. You may end up having an unfavorable view of this retailer or a brand if I can’t get those things to work. To me it seems like a way to help consumers, and in the end, it helps the retailers and manufacturers,” he said.