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Now that portable navigation players with built-in U.S. maps have dropped below the $1,000 mark, retailers, in a sweeping gesture, are starting to stock the products.
Larger retailers such as Crutchfield and Best Buy are adding new brands, and smaller chains are placing their first orders.
One of the best-selling portables with built-in maps, the Magellan Roadmate 700, recently became available in 500 RadioShack stores, and Thales Navigation (which owns the Magellan brand) is “in discussions” to roll out the product to an additional 1,000 RadioShack locations, said worldwide marketing senior director Howard Leyda.
Lowrance said it just signed on 1,500 Staples stores to carry its new iWay 500. The company also began selling the iWay 500 to 25 Best Buy locations and will expand to 100 outlets in July.
A few weeks before press time Lowrance said of its new iWay 500, “Last week we sold more than we had in the past four months, and I think we'll start doubling our business on a weekly basis.
“The momentum has really started now,” said automotive sales manager Jim Luetjen.
Thales said it expects approximately 150 percent growth this year in the segment.
Portable navigation units with built-in maps are gaining popularity because consumers don't want to fuss with downloading maps, said suppliers. But until recently, the price premium for built-in maps was $600 to $800 over other portables.
Now that premium is shrinking to as low as $200.
Thales dropped the price of its Magellan Roadmate 700 by $100 last month to a street price of $999, and Garmin recently debuted a new lower-priced C330 at a suggested retail price of $964. TomTom is expected to ship this month the lowest-priced product in its class, called the TomTom Go 300, at $699 suggested retail price, and Lowrance has been shipping for the past few months the iWay 500 at $799 suggested retail price. Other new products with built-in maps are expected to debut this year from brands including Clarion and Dual.
Said TomTom's president Jocelyn Vigreux, “The question we've all been trying to answer recently is why high-end units were actually getting the preference of customers out there. The Magellan 700 and Garmin 2620 were pretty successful at $1,200 and $1,300, while $700 devices [that required the downloading of maps onto removable media] didn't sell as well. The only issue was usability. We will see a great shift downward in terms of pricing for products that are usable right out of the box. That is where the battle will be fought now.”
Christian Bubenheim, VP and GM of Magellan Consumer Products for Thales Navigation, added, “Customers have been making a very strong vote with their wallet that they don't want to load maps.”
Car Toys, Seattle, agreed, claiming the only portables it sells are those with built-in maps. “We've found the U.S. public to have very low levels of interest in products that require downloading of maps, or other less feature-packed combinations,” said Jim Warren senior merchandising VP.
Those portables requiring users to download maps are currently selling in the neighborhood of $450 suggested retail price.
Myer Emco, Gaithersburg, Md., said it expects to enter the built-in map segment in the next 30 to 60 days. Crutchfield said it recently expanded its assortment from a single vendor, Garmin, adding TomTom and Lowrance. Action Electronics, Newington, Conn., said it will begin carrying the Magellan Roadmate 700 and will then pick up additional brands in the third quarter. Custom Sounds, Austin, Tex. said it has carried Magellan but will now add the Lowrance iWay and will begin “actively promoting” the segment. Jo Di's Sound Centers, Hartford, Conn., said it will enter the segment as soon as Dual ships later this year.
Not all retailers are rushing into the segment. Some, such as Sounds Good, Woodland Hills, Calif., and Dominion Radio, Richmond, Va., say they are enjoying a lot of success with in-dash DVD navigation units, and they are shying away from portable navigation.
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