Alan Brawn on the Risks of Online Ordering

Published: June 28, 2024
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Editor’s Note: This “AV Brains & Brawn” column from Alan Brawn focuses on what he believes are the risks that online ordering entails.

As a diehard member of the integration community for more than 40 years, I have had a couple of topics simmering in my mind for some time. Both of these “burrs in my saddle” revolve around virtual/digital communications versus in-person interactions. In a previous article, we discussed the dangers of virtual/digital communication when it is to the exclusion (or reduction) of face-to-face interaction. 

The purpose of this article is to explain the risks and potential downsides of primarily purchasing technology online. There’s no doubt about it: Digital/virtual/online in all forms (communication and purchasing) is here to stay and will grow exponentially. But there are risks associated with this, and they should be understood and built into an integrator and end-user decision evaluation. 

Please hear me out. 

Carefully Designed and Seamless 

From the outset, keep in mind that the integration community is built around system design — basically, taking disparate technologies and blending them together in carefully designed and seamless systems. The key phrases here are “disparate technologies” and “carefully designed and seamless systems.” Those who design systems intuitively “get” the necessity of understanding the entire project —each piece of hardware and software, and how they will interact as part of the system. 

In years gone by, we relied on the manufacturer’s salespeople to visit our dealerships and explain in detail how things worked, and which brands they worked with. Today, for the most part, we rely on the internet for information and purchasing. Research shows that more than 94% of buyers research online, and more than 76% of buyers prefer to order online than to have a salesperson involved. 

The benefits appear obvious. We can research and order anytime, anywhere, on any device. There is also the benefit of time savings and increased productivity. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, not so fast…. Appearances can be misleading. 

Some studies show that more than 40% of those who primarily order online have “buyer’s regret” of one form or another. The same research shows that a combination of online ordering and the involvement of salespeople can reduce that buyer’s remorse by more than half. The data shows that the combined buying approach provides nearly all the benefits and reduces the downsides. 

This invites the question of what the downsides of primarily ordering online are. This applies to end users and to the integration community. 

Related: Writing the Next Chapter of Being a Salesperson

The List of Risks of Online Ordering 

At the top of the list of risks is the failure of most — especially end users — to conduct proper research and due diligence upfront. In this day of parity, commoditization and plug-and-play devices, we tend to think we know all there is to know about a product. Accordingly, we can be tempted to short-circuit critical research. 

One example is a 55-inch 4K LCD flatpanel. It appears like any other item of the same type, so just order the least expensive one, right? Wrong! Dig a little deeper (as, hopefully, integrators do), and we see things like consumer versus commercial, brightness level, duty cycle, built-in videowall processors, system-on-a-chip, and the all-important warranty and service response. This is but one example of the “dig deeper” approach; however, it applies to nearly all the items that go into a properly designed AV system. 

Under the umbrella of research, we have the information itself. Again, we tend to believe what we read, and we’re reluctant to read between the lines. I don’t want to paint with too broad of a brush, but I will do so just to make a few points. 

Points to Remember about Online Ordering

  • First, the information we see online is often insufficient or incomplete. It lacks context and doesn’t tell the entire story that might be necessary to make a proper decision. In our design community, we can dig deeper; however, end users tend only to look on the surface, meaning they frequently only get part of the story. 
  • Second, information can be misleading or even outright inaccurate. There is no reliable fact-check available online. 
  • Third, we can’t rely on “reviews.” Many of those are simply made up or paid for. 
  • Fourth, online does not take systems design and integration into consideration at the level we would need it to. It might speak of compatibility at some level, but it does not go further. 

The risks of online purchasing are real, and we must tell this story to the end users we serve. Integrators need the involvement of manufacturer salespeople, and end users need the involvement of integration companies. Online is great if you use it as it was intended to be used — namely, as a support tool. 

The internet should not be the final decision maker when a system purchase is being made. 

Alan C. Brawn CTS, DSCE, DSDE, DSNE, DCME, DSSP, ISF-C, is principal of Brawn Consulting. 

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