Daniel Bollers has been working in various sales functions for consumer electronics companies for 20 years now and can almost call himself a veteran in this rapidly changing market. He has had the great fortune to work for some of the most exciting companies in the industry such as Sony, Nokia and Microsoft. In addition to the giants from CE, he was also able to accompany some start-up jobs, such as the expansion of SONOS in Germany or the re-launch of Toshiba TV in the German-speaking market. Currently, Daniel is Director Sales for Hisense CE, and he’s working with a lot of enthusiasm and fun to establish the brand among the top 5 in the industry mid- to long-term. He is a technology enthusiast who loves retail in all its facets, even if there are always things to optimize, and a perfect POS execution remains a big challenge due to retailers who are more interested in maximizing productivity rather than the ideal customer journey.
You have been in sales for some time. And you have seen many trends come and go. From the beginning of your career to today: What has changed most positively in retail, what needs to happen in the next years for retail to be able to thrive?
The most striking change is the shift to e-commerce, very much reinforced by the current pandemic. The concept of convenience is certainly the most positive aspect of this. Almost everything is conveniently available with just a few clicks, literally from your own couch. On the other hand, the in-person shopping experience itself is lost as a result. I think brick-and-mortar retail only has a chance of surviving if it plays to its strengths, such as truly competent advice or special on-site services which are not easily replicable online. Only if it creates added-value and puts the customer experience first, it can positively distinguish itself from the primarily price-driven online business.
Let’s talk about brand ambassadors: In the past, retail salespeople often haven’t been the best experts, that is why many leading players have been relying on brand ambassadors in the stores. Now, with – and even after – Covid 19, what is the future of brand ambassadors from your point of view?
I’m in fact rather critical of that. Brand ambassadors are naturally not very neutral. Customers have understood this by now. A customer with a firm intention to buy is certainly more likely to be guided or advised if he/she has the feeling that the salesperson is a “trusted advisor” who responds to his/her needs and knows the differences between the various offers. I therefore believe that there is a future for “shared ambassadors” who may even work for several brands within a product category and use their broad category expertise to advise the customer on the most suitable product at the touchpoint.
Modern technology would allow to really have an omnichannel experience. For example, looking at products in AR at home, video-calling a sales consultant, and to get the product delivered within a very short timeframe from a store next door. What are your thoughts on these options?
I think these options are absolutely right for this time. The merging of the offline and online worlds has many advantages for the customer. AI, AR, and big data can usefully complement the customer journey and contribute to decision-making. A practical example would be to use an AR app on the smartphone at home to be able to picture how the new big-screen TV fits into the home environment.
Will physical retail turn from best price into best experience? Will stores change to brand experience centers? And how would you foresee such a change / evolution of retail?
Retail has to change drastically, that’s for sure. The demise of downtown stores began even before Corona, and this trend is now accelerating. Only those who create attractive shopping experiences and can come up with exclusive offers and services which are not available on the internet will have a chance of success in the long term. Retailers will either specialize in product categories that require intensive consultation and selection or in exclusive product ranges that are not available en masse. The large spaces in turn, will push brand stores and shop-in-shop spaces to transfer some of the high space costs onto the brands. It could just be that there will be a temporary return to brick-and-mortar retail after the pandemic, due to a certain online fatigue and offline shopping compulsion.
How are social media and social selling affecting offline retail in your opinion?
I do believe that it will play a major role and various studies also show that this is already the case. Ultimately, it’s about customer loyalty. Local retailers have the opportunity to expand their target group beyond their normal area of reach. This certainly requires that they stand out from the crowd with relevant and interesting content and that they tell a credible story that is carried virally.
Do you think video salespeople would be a solution during or even after Covid 19, or virtual chatbots where consumers speak to, for example, a robot/animated character?
I think the sales consultant via video will be more successful. Chatbots and animations are probably suspect to the customer, they lack authenticity. If they have the choice of communicating with a real person, they will always prefer that. Humans are social creatures, so I believe that this technology is more likely to reach its limits in practice due to the lack of acceptance in the shopping experience.
Service and installs are becoming more and more important. For example, when buying a complex smart home setup, consumers do not just need an install service to mount a TV to the wall, but also a complete setup service until the products are connected, programmed, and 100% functional, why does nobody offer these kinds of services? What is your take on this? Should retail stores offer that or the manufacturers? Would consumers pay extra for that or should that be part of an excellent service?
I would like to see customers overcome any reservations they may have about selling and installing networked smart home solutions by offering them a comprehensive range of services. Media@Home, for example, has a similar approach. Tink, with whom we worked well during my time at Google, is also a good touchpoint for online smart home solution sales. The retailer who understands how to orchestrate the network-theme-worlds holistically and offers solution sales including installation from a single source certainly has the best chances of higher added-value, because the customer is certainly prepared to pay the extra price for the all-round service.
Bonus question: Which project / topic in your job were you particularly proud of?
In the course of my 20 years within the consumer electronics industry, I have had the opportunity to implement or accompany many exciting projects. As a tech enthusiast and a driver for new ideas and concepts, I’m particularly interested in the go-to-market of trendsetting products. The following two examples, which were completely new types of products at the time and therefore also new in terms of market access, also represent inflection points for today’s user behaviour with CE products.
The first was the market launch of the groundbreaking Nokia N95 smartphone, which I was responsible for in my role as Business Manager Nseries in Germany. The N95 was successfully launched in early 2007 and, at the time, was equipped with the advanced Symbian OS 9.2 and extensive features such as 8GB memory, 5 MP, GPS, and HSDPA. The convergence device was thus the forerunner for modern smartphones as we know them today. Less than six months later, however, the first Apple iPhone ushered in a new era of touchscreen smartphones and also sealed the beginning of the end for the former industry leader Nokia.
Another project I am proud of was the establishment of SONOS in Germany. As Senior Manager Sales, I played a leading role in bringing SONOS wireless loudspeaker systems out of their niche existence and into the mass market. The consistent brand management, as well as the selective sales strategy have significantly contributed to establishing SONOS as today’s Hi-Fi market leader. Music streaming from various music service providers on multi-room speakers is absolutely taken for granted these days. Eight years ago, it was still pioneering work and you had to do a lot of convincing in retail. The disruptive nature of our industry is what fascinates me about consumer electronics! By merging hardware, software, AI, and cloud services – with the right idea a nobody can completely redefine a set market within six months. In this respect, even after all these years, it never gets boring in CE!
Treasures and Insights
from leaders in tech and gaming around the globe