I Almost Paid for Google's Laptop Pricing Mistake

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Last week was terrible - my laptop died. Far from old age, my trusty companion had nevertheless been rendered unusable. I had to purchase a replacement. Any salesman worth his salt knows that the easiest sale sale to make is a person who has a pressing need. Desperate folks are usually too overwhelmed to think clearly and don't have the time to shop around.

Before doing anything, I tried to figure out the characteristics that I was looking for.

Additionally, I wanted to physically hold the laptop's model in my hands before ordering it. Many will find this requirement a bit odd in the internet age, but having previously ordered laptops online, only to watch them fall apart due to poor build quality, I was adamant on this point.

Off to the stores I went. I visited several that sold computers and was absolutely appalled by what I saw. Many of the devices looked like they wouldn't last a month of actual use. Some of them felt like they would crack in half if I held them wrong and I even saw one computer with fraying cables sticking out at the hinges. This was not a good sign!

Fortunately, not all of the units were awful. I quickly ruled out two brands that have disappointed me in the past. Of those that remained, most were instantly ruled out for reasons of personal preference. Either they were exceedingly large or they had made too many trade-offs in order to include features that I simply didn't care about (such as the ability to convert into a tablet).

Disappointed, I went to the Apple store. The Apple Air was close to what I wanted. Sure, the screen wasn't merely average, but the build quality looked decent and it was very light! At around $1,000, the price wasn't too far outside of the normal price for a laptop. Of course, for just a bit more, I could get a machine with the screen I wanted and even more power! Just $1,300 (plus tax) separated me from my future MacBook Pro Retina. The screen was great. The build quality was there. It had quite a bit more heft than the Air, but it was so much more powerful that it made up for the difference, right?

Given the emergency situation, I was confident that I had made the right decision. However, as a firm believer in checklists, I decided to look at my requirements again:

Here I was, ready to purchase a top-of-the-line laptop at a top-of-the-line price and it didn't even meet all three of my criteria. Something had clearly gone wrong in the buying process.

So I cleared my head and went back to the original big box stores. The same shoddy laptops were still there, but on the other side of the store was something else - a table of devices that I hadn't seen before. On a large wooden table sat a handful of Chromebooks. Like many buyers, I hadn't even considered buying a Chromebook for my needs. After all, I was looking for a laptop - not a Chromebook (and the two devices had been positioned very differently by marketers).

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 has a beautiful screen (better than the Air, but not quite as good as the MacBook Pro Retina). It was incredibly light with a battery that lasts unimaginably long. Though I was worried that the system would prevent me from installing my programming tools, a quick search assured me that such activities were not only possible, but quite straightforward to accomplish. I had found the system I wanted for just over $300 - less than a quarter of the price of the MacBook Pro that I had been prepared to buy.

Having used the system for a few days, I can safely say that this is the best laptop that I've ever owned. The battery life is better than advertised, the unit is compact, the screen is incredible - and the dollar savings? Let's just say that it is greatly appreciated.

Chromebooks are excellent products, but their failure in the marketplace should serve as a warning to business owners. Because they have been classified as being within a different category than laptops, few actively consider purchasing them (we looked at something similar when comparing James Bond and Captain America). It doesn't matter how compelling your product and how wonderful your price, if your product isn't positioned in the proper category by consumers.

Hey, product managers at Google! You should pick up a copy of my book on pricing software products. You could learn a lot of valuable lessons to help improve your strategy for selling Chromebooks to consumers. Or you could, you know, hire me for a pricing consultation.