Bulbs.com aims to become the Zappos of online LED retailing.
The upstart shoe retailer Zappos.com, since purchased by Amazon, took the risk out of purchasing shoes online by offering to pay shipping both ways. If the shoes don't fit or are not to your liking, just return them for free. This customer service innovation enabled the high-touch business of selling shoes to operate profitably over the hands-off online medium. Many had considered this impossible -- can you think of another scenario where it is more important to see and touch the merchandise than it is when buying shoes?
This is essentially what Bulbs.com is trying to do with its Buy'n'Try program. For small businesses embarking on an LED retrofit project, Buy'n'Try combines education about lighting with the assurance that the LEDs they buy will work as desired in the application.
The business calls Bulbs.com's toll-free number and talks with a "certified Lighting Consultant." (The promotional video says that all sales and customer service reps are LS1 certified through the National Association of Independent Lighting Distributors.)
The consultant gathers information about the customer's application and may recommend products to fit. The consultant writes up an initial order for a sample quantity of LED lights, and Bulbs.com pays the shipping. The customer tries them out in the business for up to two weeks and then either places a full order or returns the sample bulbs -- with shipping again paid by the retailer. Bulbs.com also waives the restocking fee. In theory, the customer could try out multiple products in this way until its needs are met.
The program seems to be aimed at small and midsized businesses. A large-scale office, warehouse, or manufacturing plant that embarks on an LED retrofit project will almost certainly retain a lighting specifier, or perhaps the project manager contracting with it will do so. Small operations will not always have that luxury. If the facilities or operations person isn't conversant with lighting, the project could be doomed to disappointment before it even gets under way.
Buy'n'Try put me in mind of the consumer-focused program we wrote about a couple of weeks back, the LED Diet, which Bethesda Systems in Washington, DC, offers to local homeowners. It shares with the Bulbs.com program the element of education extended to an audience that may not have easy access to expert advice.
Buy'n'Try is the first program of its kind I have seen, and I would not be surprised to see other business-focused retailers follow suit.
Interestingly, Bulbs.com got its start the same year that Zappos did: 1999.
— Keith Dawson , Editor-in-Chief, All LED Lighting