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Talking To The Locals

CES still seems like it happened a week or so ago. But we are in the middle of February, and the way the economy is shaping up I’m sure many of you wish we were still in January, traditionally the second-biggest shopping month of the year in CE.

For me, maybe January disappeared a little more quickly because I took the week off right before the Super Bowl, in part to attend a family party out of town and also to catch my breath after the hectic CES season, which seems to begin around October and end in late January.

Maybe it was the Super Bowl hype, or maybe it was because friends and family know what I do for a living, but there seemed to be plenty of buzz about HDTVs and CE in general.

If people weren’t talking about lower prices during the holidays for flat-panel TVs, they were asking me about what next year’s analog TV cutoff means; asking if HDD camcorders record in HDTV; recalling their first experiences with new navigation devices received as gifts during the holidays; bemoaning the lack of quality of pictures taken with new cellphones, not to mention voice-quality; and much more.

In talking with the locals — either at that party in Florida or back here in New York — everyone was interested in CE and talking about it, which is good. But as the old saying goes, talk is cheap.

As you can read in our story by senior editor Alan Wolf, retailers sold plenty of HDTVs prior to the Super Bowl but not in the quantities they needed unless they promoted heavily, so they didn’t get the margins they expected.

So we are now in mid-February. While pitchers and catchers will be in Florida and Arizona within days, the month’s sports highlights include The Westminster Kennel Club dog show and figure skating. I doubt that will compel many to buy a new HDTV. Although the Hollywood writers’ strike has ended, it will be several weeks before new shows appear.

And of course there is the state of the economy. The stock market dropped like a rock to open the year and the word recession is thrown around in the media every day, which just adds to consumers’ worries about the sub-prime loan mess and higher energy costs. The economic stimulus package can’t come fast enough … along with the usual tax refunds of the spring. Maybe (I’m crossing my fingers here) many consumers will do their patriotic duty and spend their stimulus checks at retail, on CE products. Maybe.

So I guess I’m a little more optimistic because I had a week off, but my casual conversations during my vacation showed to me that there is still plenty of CE interest out there, regardless of the state of the economy.

During times like these my advice is to listen more closely to your customers — either in person or online. They may give you ideas on how you can convince them to shop, even in February, and maybe even give you the opportunity to sell up.