DATE – OCTOBER 20, 2003
DAY – MONDAY
TIME – 8.00 P.M
In the lush green campus of my college, I was attending my first introductory lecture on Consumer Behavior. The professor that day set the pace of his talk by starting with a brief recapitulation of the basic concepts we had learnt in Marketing 101, with everything under the sun pertaining to fundamentals discussed that day. Among other things, which I remember, from that day’s dialogue was the fact that “unlike products, which have a quantifiable shelf life stemming from the time interval prevalent between their production/manufacturing and actual sale/consumption, services don’t have it, since most of the services are first sold, and then produced and consumed simultaneously, as in case of a restaurants or travel & tourism industry. This anomaly between the nature of these two integral elements of trade & commerce also makes it inevitable to have a proper system of storing the products, till the time they are sold/consumed. However, in case of services, no such arrangement is required, due to their almost nil shelf life.” But little did I know that in the coming years the inquisitive and analytical nature of the human brain would one day, completely change this very identity and nature of services, assigning an altogether different meaning to them.
The human civilization, among its many innovative and pain relieving invention breakthroughs, has been a witness to one path-breaking innovation that, though initially transformed the way man communicated with each other, but later on slowly permeated his overall lifestyle, and today, the situation is that it has quickly topped up the list of items necessary for survival, dethroning even the bare necessities for air, food, water and sleep. Yes, I am talking about Computers & Information Technology, which has manifested itself in the form of various creative inventions, be it as the world’s first PC Z1 Computer in 1936 or the innovatively & diametrically contrasting iPhone 4S in 2011. Each of these inventions, were essentially services (software), wrapped inside a product (PC or mobile device), with each being interdependent both functionally & commercially. Here, how do you differentiate the product from the service, because an empty PC system sold without an installed software is useless, since it is the latter that makes a desktop/laptop up and running and lends monetary value and utility to it, thereby, making the final output to be viewed as a unified whole, rather than separately. If this is true, then what do you take into account while calculating the shelf life of a PC? Is it the tangible hardware or the intangible software that breathes life into an otherwise dead box? The answer, you would expect from even a non-technical person is of course the software, which has a quantifiable shelf life, due to it being nothing but a technology, be it MS Windows XP, Windows 7 or the more awaited Windows 8. Reason being, the IT industry is marked by break-neck dynamism with every technology having an average life span of 3-6 months (or maybe even shorter) depending on the continuous R&D efforts and improvement practices being implemented on a global scale. So, in other words, we are trying to imply that though software is a service, it still has a shelf-life. On the other hand, the bulky PC machine that represents the other half of the complete purchase is nothing in itself (as discussed earlier) without the previously mentioned piece of software installed in it. This makes the computer nothing more than a storage device for the software package that runs in it. Thus, even this second and final limitation of not requiring a storage arrangement for a service stands removed, making me conclude that in today’s times there is a very blurring divide between what actually constitutes a product and a service, because the final purchase made depends on the holistic view that the customer makes about the entire offering, along with the changing roles of a product and service played by it.