By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
For CE chains and independent dealers, success today depends to a large degree on the ability to carry and effectively sell the very latest and most advanced products, from handheld devices to digital televisions.
But retailers face some common hurdles when it comes to selling these high-tech items. These include the challenges of adequate staffing and training sales associates on the constant flow of new products, keeping products secure while enabling customers to interact with fully functioning SKUs, and addressing the customer's desire to learn about and compare products whether or not a sales associate is readily available.
Fortunately, some significant advances have been made in merchandising systems to directly address these issues and challenges. The latest generation boasts capabilities that any retailer can take advantage of, whether they're selling digital cameras, mobile phones or the newest portable media players. And expect to see these systems and techniques used to solve merchandising challenges for a much wider range of specialty retail segments in the very near future, as consumers embrace more advanced in-store customer experiences.
Chief among merchandisers' current capabilities is product interaction, something that customers just expect when it comes to buying CE products. Today, it is possible for a customer to be presented with a store's complete line of the very latest digital cameras, for instance, and find that every product is fully powered and can be picked up, tested and compared, without the store having to worry about theft.
Displays that enable this have underlying technology that delivers power through tethers that are integrated with store loss-prevention systems, but that also give the customer a great deal of flexibility in experimenting with features and making comparisons. Display technology is now available that also automatically rotates a product to the optimal customer-facing position each time it is placed back on its pedestal. In addition to contributing to a neat and clean departmental look — which is part of the continuing challenge of store brand and image burnishing — this capability eliminates the need for salespeople to constantly arrange products and inadvertently crowd customers out of the way in the process.
Then there is the common problem of customer confusion, which is heightened if salespeople are tied up in the aforementioned house cleaning, aren't available in the department or aren't up to speed on a particular product. So merchandising system manufacturers are responding with tools that allow for customer self-education. Key among these tools is digital merchandising: small- to modest-sized flat-screen displays that are mounted next to or behind individual products or product groupings. Such signage can depict static information about an item — such as its primary features — or trigger the presentation of more detailed information in the form of text, graphics and even video when a product is lifted off its post.
Look for the latest generation of touch screens too; they are finally reliable and cost effective, and they allow customers to drill down to the exact information that will help them make a purchase decision. Good systems will even present promotions and recommendations that help increase add-on sales and expose customers to higher margin products.
Also give strong consideration to signage-capable displays that can be networked. They enable new product information or promotional content to be developed centrally and distributed automatically whenever a new SKU is added, or when it is desirable to change product information in anticipation of or in reaction to a market development or competitive move.
Web-based integration is practical now, too, meaning a customer could get access to the same set of information and services they expect from a manufacturer's Web site, but while they are still in the store. This added capability may mean the difference between a sale and the customer leaving the store empty handed as he heads home to conduct more research online.
So make room for the coolest new CE SKUs. The merchandising display wizards are right there with you, to help show off the products, make the most of your sales staff's time and to help create educated and motivated customers.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.