A familiar contemporary business cliché advises us to "think outside the box," But in retail you have to think about the box. Seeyle says packaging is so important in retail that the box—not the functionality or novelty of the product inside—is what will ultimately make or break its success. No amount of engineering wizardry or runtime sublimity will give you an edge in the store. In fact, Seeyle says retail buyers have zero interest in seeing the product actually work. "If you tried to pick up a computer and actually show it to them they would say 'get the hell out of my office.' They could not care less if it got five stars from whomever on the Web."
|Figure 1. The Goodbye Girls: Inside each set of boxes is identical software. The boxes on the left were ignored by consumers, while the redesigned boxes on the right flew off the shelves. Go figure.
"When you're working in retail it's very much like selling cereal," says Seeyle. "It's a packaged good business. It's important to have good packaging because you don't have the luxury that you have on the Internet where you can read the reviews and sit and do comparisons. You have two seconds when they're walking by the aisle to catch their eye and make them think this is an interesting product. You can't underestimate how much value is added in that piece of the business."
One of Avanquest's clients, Cyberlink, sells products for burning DVDs, mostly through OEM relationships with PC manufacturers. But when the Taiwan-based company wanted to take the product to retail in the U.S., they insisted on using their own artwork for the box.
We released it in their packaging, says Seeyle, and it bombed, selling what she called "negative units." "We released it in our packaging and it's now selling great. Same exact product." (See Figure 1 to see the difference in packaging before and after.)
Printing the boxes is a large part of the cost of going to retail. A publisher has to be able to print at least 10,000 boxes at once and they have to sell through that inventory within a few months to make it cost-effective. CDs, on the other hand, can be printed in smaller batches, which can sometimes make it easy to get small product updates and revs onto the store shelves—without changing the boxes.
The Endangered Box?
As we learned from the "dot-bomb" era, brick-and-mortar retail isn't going anywhere—ever. But there's a different debate currently being discussed in software marketing circles: Will retail stores always carry software?
"Some people believe shelfware is going to disappear and all software will be sold over the Internet," said Chapman. "[Continued adoption of] broadband will facilitate that. On the other hand, there's a tremendous impact and power in seeing collateral—an advertisement—which is what a box serves as."
Chapman says those who believe that retail will continue to carry software believe that it will transform into a "cardboard and kiosks" method. Shelves will still carry cardboard product descriptions that play the same role as the boxes of today, but the software itself will be burned on demand at a kiosk.
Whether the future is kiosks and cardboard or online only, Chapman says it will be a long time before the change is made. "Right now there are still plenty of people that don't have broadband and plenty of software sold through retail."