[Update 19-May: Ricavision responds.]
At CES 2007 (nearly a year-and-a-half ago) my Windows Vista Inside Out co-author Carl Siechert and I visited (separately) with Ricavision, which was pitching their Windows SideShow-enabled Media Center remote control. The idea is awesome. You can, in theory, browse your entire music collection on the device display and control music playback without having to turn on a TV or monitor. You can also browse your collection of digital photos. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to offer a demo. The demo unit had been damaged in shipping or something. But I was allowed to hold the (non-functioning) device.
A few months later, I contacted the company’s PR person asking about the status of the product and got a terse reply informing me his company no longer had the account and that the product had been delayed.
In the year since then, the company has made some truly bizarre decisions, which I outline in the extended text of this post. The story offers a case study in how not to treat customers.
Fast-forward to CES 2008. This time Ricavision has a large demo room in the high-end audio section of CES. I show up for a demo, and this time the prototype seems to work. The people are pleasant, and the company seems professional. I tell them I’m looking forward to reviewing the unit when it’s ready for shipping to customers. It should be ready in March, I’m told.
Fast-forward to April 14, when I receive an e-mail from Ricavision with the subject line "Ricavision needs Beta Testers for the VAVE100." It reads, in part:
Be the first to Test the VAVE100 SideShow Universal Remote Control, We are accepting Candidates for our Volunteer Beta Testing Program!!
Have a unit shipped directly to you before anyone else in the world, put the device through rigorous testing or simply watch performance in everyday situations. Provide Ricavision with your documented findings and keep the VAVE100.
Hurry, we have units for each global region but space is limited.
"Provide Ricavision with your documented findings and keep the VAVE100." Sounds like they’re offering to compensate testers who provide valuable feedback by letting them keep the test unit, doesn’t it? I clicked the link, filled in my contact details (which they already had from my business cards at CES 2007 and 2008), and sent the application off.
Nine days later, I received this e-mail from Ricavision:
Congratulations! You have been pre-qualified to participate in Ricavision’s exclusive VAVE100 Beta Testing program. We here at Ricavision share in your excitement for the 2008 Summer release of the highly anticipated VAVE100 Universal Remote Control and are thrilled to have the high volume of early adopters eager to assist with our Beta Testing Program in order to deliver the highest quality product to the market.
Woo-hoo! Lucky me!
Attached to your acceptance email there are two forms that we ask you fill out …
The first form is the VAVE100 Beta Testing Order Form and the second form is a Credit Card Authorization form, both are required to complete the order request. Please be sure that both documents are filled out correctly and in their entirety as any incomplete forms will be rejected.
Credit card authorization? For a beta test?
The purchase price is $349.00 per unit plus shipping cost, delivery times will vary upon destination.
Seems a little steep, doesn’t it? And don’t even ask about the shipping costs, which start at $15.85 for the U.S., jump to $33.25 for Canada, and are $47+ (USD) for the rest of the world. And to top it all off, you have to fill in the credit card authorization form and submit it, but only 50 people will be selected from the pool of respondents.
In fine print at the bottom of the letter:
Return Policy: All returns must be received within 45 days from purchase date. Returns will be accepted under the premise that the device has moderate issues concerning functionality. Upon receipt of beta unit, a mass production unit will be shipped out to you.
So, Ricavision solicits people to help with its testing, implying that those who provide useful feedback will get to keep the product. Instead, it charges testers full retail price plus high shipping costs for the product, and offers not even a hint of any compensation or even a goodwill gesture for those who participate actively.
If I were assembling a checklist of ways to screw up a beta test and piss off potential customers, I would basically just use this package as the template.
I didn’t send a credit card authorization form. I did, however, send an e-mail to my contacts at Ricavision requesting comment and received no reply.
Did you apply for the beta program as well? If so, how’s it going? Leave a comment below.