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When Surveys Attack

I report on surveys and polls quite frequently on this blog, and as improbable as some of the results might be I usually don’t question their validity (unless one poll contradicts another). But today I found an exception.

Yesterday Forbes posted an article on Barnes & Noble’s loss last quarter and (ostensibly) an earlier survey on which companies in the ereader market best met consumer expectations. Needless to say, I don’t trust Forbes' data, and if you look at their ranking you’ll see why:

  1. Amazon
  2. B&N
  3. Apple
  4. Pandigital
  5. Sony
  6. Kobo

I have no problem with the names on the list (aside from the fact that neither Apple nor Pandigital makes ereaders), but I do question the relative positions. Barnes & Noble, in particular, shouldn’t rank that high. I’ve heard far too many complaints about them for that to be valid.

What’s more, B&N’s own press release earlier this week should knock them off this list. The Nook division of B&N saw a serious drop in profit last quarter, largely due to a significant number of returned ereaders. Why? Because the Nook wasn’t actually doing what they wanted.

See, this is why I don’t really trust surveys asking whether people are happy with something. You can ask about what they’ve done and you’ll get a reasonably accurate answer.  Or you can ask about what a consumer has bought and you can get the truth.

But if you ask about how they feel about something, well, that’s a more nebulous concept. I’m not saying that people don’t know if they like something, just that emotional measurements like satisfaction change over time. This is also something that is harder to express in words – even for me, an experienced blogger. Also, I could easily see consumers who liked their Nook ereader when they answered this poll deciding to return it a couple weeks. And that’s not a logical contradiction or a criticism of the consumer; opinions can shift like that.

Forbes uses the satisfaction survey to discuss the relative market success of the companies on it. As you can see from B&N’s bad quarter, a survey on how someone feels about a company doesn’t exactly translate into money in their pocket.

TBH, I’m not sure what this survey is good for. Any ideas?

image by Martin Bamford

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Mike Cane June 22, 2012 um 9:58 am

Sony was fifth, Kobo sixth. You messed up.

Nate Hoffelder June 22, 2012 um 10:27 am

What are you talking about?

fjtorres June 22, 2012 um 12:11 pm

The survey asked about companies meeting expectations.
Nowhere did the survey ask how *high* the expectations were.
Some companies you deal with, knowing not to expect much–and getting that. 🙂

Logan Kennelly June 22, 2012 um 2:34 pm

I have been extremely satisfied with all the Nook products, and I did not have low expectations. They’ve been successfully driving Amazon to improve their products for years.

Amazon doesn’t appear to be making any money selling devices. Why should B&N be expected to do better? Because they had a good run for a while?

And can you confirm that Amazon isn’t getting returned Kindles? Could it be that those that want a reader already have one, and the sales were being driving by gift purchases?

You are, at the end of the day, talking about the recreational book-reading. There was going to be a ceiling on adoption. I just don’t understand your dislike of B&N as a company…

Nate Hoffelder June 22, 2012 um 2:59 pm

Um, B&N ran 2 BOGO sales these past few months and then announced that they’d gotten a lot of returns. How is that not a sign that many people weren’t satisfied with the Nook?

Fbone June 22, 2012 um 4:12 pm

I thought the returns were unsold inventory from 3rd party retailers.

Nate Hoffelder June 22, 2012 um 4:28 pm

It doesn’t say unsold inventory. It just says returns.

Unsold inventory being returned might actually be a worse sign. Instead of customers being dissatisfied it would mean retailers don’t think they need to keep as many units in their warehouses in order to have enough to sell to customers.

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