By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
More evidence that the end was at hand for Toshiba's HD DVD format came from a recent J.D. Power and Associates mystery-shopper study that found retail salespeople across the country were strongly recommending Blu-ray Disc players to their customers.
Chris Denove, VP with J.D. Power and Associates, said that less than one in 10 retail salespeople recommended HD DVD to survey takers posing as shoppers for the syndicated, independent field study.
The HD disc study was part of the Television Retail Insights report, which is jointly produced by J.D. Power and Associates and Market Force Information. Over the course of the year it will be sending more than 5,000 mystery shoppers into 30 different retail chains on a regular basis to shop for HDTVs and HDTV peripherals and components.
Also included in the study will be 2,000 to 3,000 telephone shops, and about 1,000 facility audits of what retailers are stocking and displaying to evaluate what brands and categories are getting preferential treatment.
The current study, which used over 200 shopper experiences, covered electronics salespeople in more than 200 storefronts in January. Mystery shoppers posed as people who had just purchased an HDTV and were looking for a nameless dedicated HD disc player.
The survey found 25 percent of all salespeople chose not to recommend one platform over the other. But of those who did, 89 percent recommended Blu-ray, and most of them "very strongly recommended Blu-ray, to the point that a typical customer would have had to think long and hard before buying HD DVD in the face of what salespeople are telling them about the two platforms," Denove said.
"Best Buy just issued a press release saying it's going to recommend Blu-ray. But our data shows that they've been recommending Blu-ray all along, in fact more so than the national average," Denove told TWICE. "In fact, in January, we didn't come across a single Best Buy salesperson recommending HD DVD."
Denove said that typically CE retail salespeople were quick to point out to their customers that there was a technology war similar to what happened back when VHS battled Beta.
"Without even being asked about the battle for DVD supremacy, half the salespeople told our shoppers that there was a battle going on and Blu-ray either was already the winner, or would become the dominant player in the end," he said.
"About a third of all salespeople said our shoppers should choose Blu-ray because of the strength of the companies behind Blu-ray," Denove said.
Only one retailer — Rex — had salespeople that were split approximately 50/50 in steering shoppers toward Blu-ray and HD DVD, Denove said.
The study did not bring up gaming consoles with HD DVD or Blu-ray playback ability, but gaming devices were factored into the study if suggested as a consideration by the salesperson.
Denove said that some retail chains — Best Buy in particular — had salespeople that seemed to be more focused on cross selling, where they were more likely to tie in the TV elements of the disc formats with computers or gaming.
In light of recent developments with Warner Bros. endorsing Blu-ray exclusively, "We had expected that salespeople would focus on the title wars in making their recommendation," Denove said. "Many did, just not quite as focused on titles as we expected. Overall, a little more than a third talked about Blu-ray either having more titles now, or would end up having more titles in the future."
According to the study, the only advantage of HD DVD mentioned by more than a few salespeople was price.
"Out of nearly 200 mystery-shopping experiences, not one salesperson suggested that HD DVD would become the dominant format," Denove said.
Denove said the survey indicated that the sales push toward Blu-ray "was not related to technical features. Instead the focus of most pitches were on the following: 1) There is a format war going on and most salespeople felt that Blu-ray had already won the war or would be the eventual winner of the war; 2) The companies backing Blu-ray are the stronger players, with Sony mentioned most prominently; 3) Blu-ray had the strongest studio support and title selection.
As for Toshiba's recent promotional price cuts on HD DVD players, Denove said, "Salespeople were pushing so heavily in the favor of Blu-ray that only a small percentage of them are even talking about the price advantage of HD DVD, and right now that's the only thing they seem to want to rally around."
Even dual-format players failed to leave significant measurements, Denove said.
"Given that our shoppers were trying to decide between Blu-ray and HD DVD, we were surprised that only 7 percent of all salespeople even offered up the option of a combo player so that our shoppers didn't risk choosing the wrong format. This likely reflects the fact that salespeople seem fairly confident that Blu-ray will win out in the end."
By brand, salespeople focused almost exclusively on Sony for Blu-ray (Sharp and Samsung came in a distant second and third, respectively), J.D. Power & Associates said. Not surprisingly, of those recommending HD DVD, Toshiba was almost always the recommended brand.
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.