In 2021 you’ll see online retail Pine stores open in Europe, North America and possibly also worldwide at a later stage. Let me start by making one thing clear – the current Pine Store isn’t going away and the pricing in the Pine Store will remain unchanged. You’ll always be able to buy and pre-order your devices from pine64.com at a community-oriented price point. The retail stores will function alongside the Pine Store, not replace it, and offer a different customer experience. In this blog I’ll explain the rationale behind this strategy.
First things first – PINE64 is a community, not a business, and the Pine Store’s sole purpose is to serve this community by providing FOSS development-friendly hardware. Sales numbers and revenue are not, and never were, a driving force behind this project; making the next fun and often experimental device was and still is. Some devices, such as the original Pinebook, were even sold at a loss at times – simply because we knew people wanted one. Seriously.
Our strategy was always clear – work with developers to design a product, have partner projects and community developers work on the software and sell the device at a community-oriented price point. This approach has proven to be a great way forward for us, and one that, dare I say it, ultimately distinguished us from the other FOSS-vendors and manufacturers. That said, we’re slowly falling victim to our own success. News of our devices have reached people outside of our target audience, and enthusiast-grade products now frequently end up in the hands of non-technical customers.
I have just been looking at the incoming support tickets these past weeks, and the majority of incoming queries are by people who are not comfortable troubleshooting software problems, have little Linux experience, and do not understand the nature of our devices. In a nutshell, they are general tech-consumers unfamiliar with the intricacies of Linux, FOSS communities and our goals.
The Pine Store’s support structure is designed to help with lost shipments, RMAs, part-replacement and other similar queries. However, much of today’s work actually consists of software troubleshooting, detailed walkthroughs and explaining basics of how the devices operate. In other words, the Pine Store support performs tasks that our community Wiki, forums, and chats are intended for. More frequently than before, support staff also encounters customers completely unaccustomed to troubleshooting hardware issues or participating in identifying the nature of experienced problems. For reference, the Pine Store receives in excess of 3000 support emails per month – this give you an idea of the scale and volume of such support tickets.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame such customers. In their minds we’re no different to any other tech company, our products no different from their existing phones, laptops and PCs. It is a case of misaligned expectations and a fundamental conceptual misunderstanding.
The simplest solution would be to prevent users unacquainted with Linux, FOSS communities and our strategy from purchasing devices such as the PinePhone. We could, for instance, have people explicitly agree to using community resources for software support, declare an understanding of the community-driven nature of the project and acknowledge the work-in-progress nature of the device.
But this would be ultimately unfair – we believe that everyone should have a go at Linux, its community as well as devices such as the Pinebook Pro and PinePhone, which are a great way for people to get involved.
So the resolution we settle on instead is offering a retail experience to those who require it. Let me explain exactly what this means; devices purchased from regional online retail stores will usually ship out within a few days of the purchase date, come with region-specific warranties (inc. RMA) and a guarantee of traditional retail customer support (e.g. software troubleshooting). There may be more benefits to buying from online retail stores too – that remains to be seen.
This will come at a cost – the devices will be more expensive. Devices sold in online retail stores will need to make a profit to maintain this level of support, cover RMAs and put food on people’s tables. As some of you have already noticed, the Pine Store now lists both the community price – available exclusively in the Pine Store – as well as a retail price that will be used in online retail stores (see images below).
Examples of listings including both the community and retail pricing.
Ultimately we wish to offer people a choice. The Pine Store, in its current form, isn’t going anytime soon and the current community-oriented price point will not change. If you are a Linux adept with an understanding of the intricacies of enthusiast-grade devices, then the Pine Store will be there for you just as it has these past five years. However, if you are a curious bystander or simply someone keen to learn and experiment with Linux, then the retail options may prove a better choice.
More information about this topic will follow in January 2021, at which point we’ll explain in more detail how the relationship between the community-oriented Pine Store and online retail stores will function in practice.