Perusing the Portables
By Duke Ratliff
An undercover shopping trip last month in Westchester, N.Y., revealed that it's definitely not the same-old, same-old in the consumer electronics sections of mass merchants Walmart, Kmart and Target.
All three discounters are devoting lots of space to i-Pod/MP3 players and accessories as they head into the gift-buying fourth quarter. Concurrently, this is the first Christmas season without Circuit City, leaving Best Buy as the sole consumer electronics category killer. With increasingly expanded and sophisticated consumer electronic sections, Walmart and Target clearly have Circuit City's former customers in their sights.
A recently remodeled Walmart store featured the CE section as a destination point near the back of the 13,000 square-foot unit. Taking up an entire corner of the store, the section was well lit and could be seen (and heard) from all around.
Front and center at the entrance of Walmart's CE offerings is an i-Pod display case, emphasizing the importance of the category. i-Pods and other MP3 players are merchandised under glass with features called out with signage. A Walmart employee was strategically placed behind the glass case of i-Pods for any questions, instead of being behind a glass case of cameras, as is usually found at discounters.
Shoppers walk past the i-Pod case, which is stocked with MP3 players of all sorts and prices, into a 12-foot aisle with MP3 speaker systems and radios on the left. Accessories such as cables, headphones and cases are on the right.
Not surprisingly, Walmart clearly merchandises its i-Pod speaker offerings, distinguishing brand features. Speakers and docking stations--some with clocks, others with CD capacity and phones--are displayed on the shelves, out of the box, with descriptions. The items are stocked in ascending order according to price: the least expensive first to the most expensive.
The 12 selections ranged in price from $39.99 for a Memorex i-Pod speaker to $149.99 for the Philips CD player that works with an i-Phone. Other items included the iHome Wake & Sleep ($99.88), the Sony i-Pod Phone Clock Radio ($89.88) and the Memorex Mini Move Portable i-Pod Boombox for $49.88.
The shelf facing the speaker systems was filled with accessories--including headphones and ear buds, i-Pod auto adapter kits and smaller speakers including the iHome Stereo Speaker system for $19. Also stocked on the shelf were music-download gift cards at various prices.
Kmart's electronics section reflected more of a traditional--and price-conscious--approach with the camera kiosk, manned by an associate, as the central focus. Kmart's i-Pods, players and accessories take up most of two shelves lining a 16-foot aisle. An endcap of MP3 players calls attention to Kmart's selection of offerings.
Kmart's MP3 speaker systems are all either $29.99 or $49.99. Items include the iHome Colortune ($49), the 6PX Clock Radio ($29.99), the SDI Dock iHome ($29.99), the ILive Boombox ($49) and the Memorex Mini Move Boombox ($49).
The retailer also had a wide range of mini-speaker systems, ranging in price from $3.99 to $14.99. Kmart emphasized lower-priced MP3 player systems including the GPX Element, starting at $17.99.
Target puts its magical merchandising touch to good use for its portable, digital music section. Nicely lit, wooden displays coordinate with large, immediately recognizable i-Pod signage to grab the shopper's attention. i-Pod players including the Nano, the Shuffle, the Classic and the Touch are highlighted in a large display case at the entrance to a 20-foot aisle with players on one side, accessories on the other.
Target also emphasizes its upscale brand offerings with a huge Bose display in the middle of the aisle. The store offered two Bose Sounddocks, with various features ($299 and $399), plus Bose headphones ranging in price from $99 to $179.
In addition to the higher-priced Bose offerings, Target offered 13 MP3 speaker systems. Prices ranged from $49 for the Memorex Mini Move Boombox to $169 for the JBL On Time Speaker Dock. Other items included the iHome Speaker Dock Clock ($99), Skullcandy's Speaker Dock ($69.99) and the Logitech Purefi ($129).