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Samsung Experience Shops at Best Buy: Retailer as host or hostage?

Posted by: Bill Chidley on April 08, 2013
Best Buy

As Brand rivalries go, Apple vs. Samsung has the makings of an epic one to watch. It’s the Ford versus Chevy of the age.

When I first heard of the Samsung Experience Shops that Best Buy plans to roll out in May, the easy judgment was that it’s yet another “me too” move on Samsung’s part. The comparisons are inevitable and differences will likely vary by degree. That this is a great move for Samsung and a possible shot of adrenalin for Best Buy is also undeniable.

Brands benefit when they can become experiences and retailers benefit when they get an exclusive leg-up with hot brands. the interconnectivity of mobile devices, TVs and content to a brand like Samsung could be further leveraged, and consumer experiences of aspects of what the brand offers today’s consumer broadened. An immersive experience with trained consultants is fast becoming a necessity to demonstrate innovation.

But is the bigger story the implication for Best Buy and how consumer electronics brands and retailers thrive together in the future?

Best Buy began as a category killer for electronics and an antidote for the hard sell commissioned sales experience of the day. When the rest of the electronics retail landscape was literally “showrooming” products, Best Buy was allowing shoppers to buy from inventory on the floor at great prices, with a helpful unbiased staff. There were no three-part invoices, no pick up counters and no salespeople who made you feel stupid. It was refreshing, lots of brands at great prices.

Bill ChidleyInterbrand Design Forum actually designed the second generation stores with Best Buy and it was an objective to communicate a breadth of brands, because selection was king. Best Buy was a hot concept and well capitalized, opening many stores to cover the market, so manufacturers clamored to get slotted on the shelves. In fact, Best Buy was the retailer where Samsung came into preeminence and ultimately stole Sony’s thunder in the consumer electronics category.

Brands were merchandised shoulder-to-shoulder and competed on price and features. It was a brand party that Best Buy hosted where the bulk of shoppers decided who was cool and who was not.

In 10 years local Best Buy stores could look like mini Consumer Electronics Shows. With the advent of Apple Shops, Samsung Experience Shops and likely more shops to come from other brands, what is Best Buy’s role now? The current (old) model provided a shopper experience like a grocery store where shoppers navigate from store, to category, to subcategory, to brand. With the proliferation of branded shops, the shopper experience is shaken up.

The implication is that shoppers must navigate by brand first and foremost. This means that the role of Brand in the shopper decision is amplified and brands will need to aggressively clarify what they offer and their propositions. Brands will need to divert marketing dollars to retail experiences and Best Buy, likely led by consumer insights, will need to arbitrate and define which brands make sense to have experiences and which do not.

Ultimately Best Buy could evolve into a confederation of branded experiences with fewer and fewer opportunities to define their own value proposition in the mix, like a convention center for branded product experiences. Traditional retailers too have been playing with the in-store individual brand experience, including Macy’s, JC Penny and Target, featuring celebrity brands such as Martha Stewart and large branded displays for brands such as Starbucks, a retail giant in its own right.

Best Buy may likely be held hostage by the needs of the brands to use their venue to tell their stories as much as close sales. The implications could be huge for Best Buy and retail. Demand creation will change, shopper experiences will change, business models will change, marketing budgets will be reallocated and retailers will redesign their organizations around this new Brand Experience focus. That is how I see what appears to be a benign rivalry massively influencing the bigger consumer electronics landscape.

Bill Chidley is SVP, Executive Consultant, Interbrand Design Forum.

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