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Best Buy, Amazon, Walmart Are Most Influential CE Retailers


The power trio of Best Buy,

and Walmart has been the most influential
force in CE retailing over the past quarter century.

So saith you, our readers, in TWICE’s special
25th anniversary industry online poll this June.

But what’s even more interesting about the survey
results, at least to this retail
reporter, are the movers
and shakers, both current
and departed, that received
shorter shrift.

Granted, we may have
unintentionally stacked
the deck by including
suggested dealers in the
questionnaire in an effort
to get the conversation going.
Listed in alphabetical
order were Amazon, Best
Buy, carrier-owned wireless
stores, Circuit City, Fry’s,
Montgomery Ward, Sears
and Kmart, RadioShack,
Tweeter, vendor stores,
Walmart and warehouse
clubs. Readers were asked
to select three.

But we also included
room for “other,” an option
that few chose to take.

Hardly anyone would
question the choice of Best
Buy as the most influential
CE retailer of the past 25
years, as determined by an
overwhelming 73 percent
of respondents. Indeed,
some readers, including
Nebraska Furniture Mart’s
divisional merchandise
manager Mark Shaw, saw no need to cite any other
dealers beyond Best Buy.

Over the past two-and-a-half decades, the
former Sound of Music audio chain developed a
mass-merchant approach to specialty CE retail
that quickly carried it from regional to international
status, and positioned the now $50 billion business
as the No. 1 colossus of consumer electronics

Coming in at a close second is Amazon, which
garnered 67 percent of the ballots. The brainchild
of Jeff Bezos, Amazon emerged from the primordial
e-commerce ooze of the mid-1990s to become the
leading full-line web-only merchant and the fourthlargest
CE dealer, with nearly $8 billion in hardware
and video gaming sales
last year. (See TWICE, May
23.) In the process,
Amazon helped change
the way a new generation
of consumers shop and
is re-writing the rules of
traditional brick-and-mortar

Trailing at a distant third
is Walmart, which garnered
just under half of your
votes. Once considered
the most disruptive force
in CE retail before Amazon
usurped that mantle, the
discounter has, depending
on your point of view,
either commoditized and/
or democratized consumer
electronics, enabling tens
of millions of Americans
to enjoy the technological
fruits of this industry who
might otherwise have been

What’s surprising, however,
is the meager voter
turnout for trailblazers like
Circuit City, Tweeter and
Apple Stores.

Regardless of its missteps
in later years, Circuit
City was still on the ascent
when TWICE was founded in 1986, and was largely
responsible for creating the national CE superstore
channel. Circuit City also did much to bring personal
computers into our lives, and its demise in 2009
helped reshape the CE retail landscape. Yet only 14
percent of readers gave Circuit its due, among them
Boscov’s divisional merchandise manager Howard

Also disregarded with just 2 percent of the vote
was Tweeter. Again, looking beyond its less-thangraceful
swan dive into insolvency, the business
came thisclose to realizing its dream of a national
A/V specialty chain, and for better or worse consolidated
some dozen independent regional dealers that
were looking for an exit strategy.

Also dissed was Apple. Although relatively late to
the game, the company stores, developed under the
leadership of former retail senior VP Ron Johnson,
are the idealized interactive showrooms for displaying,
selling and supporting CE products. Over the
past decade Apple Stores has mushroomed into the
No. 3 electronics chain behind only Best Buy and
Walmart, and has become a template for brick-andmortar
retailers searching for a compelling response
to the web.

While 14 percent of respondents voted for the
general “manufacturer stores” category, which
included the examples of Apple, Sony, Gateway and
Dell, only one reader specifically cited Apple on his
write-in ballot.

Greater props were given to warehouse clubs (27
percent), whose voters included Matt Frankel, president
of NEW Customer Protection Company, while
honorable mentions went to:

• RadioShack, cited by 7 percent of readers,
including industry veteran Bob Borchardt of Industry
Science and Michael Flink, president of distributor

• Fry’s, cited by 5 percent of readers including
Consumer Electronics Association president Gary

• Sears/Kmart, cited by another 5 percent, including
independent dealers Bob Young of Young’s
Appliance and Thomas Olson of Olson’s TV & Appliances;

• Carrier-owned mobile stores, cited by 4 percent,
including Allan Wolfe, president of Dataware Technologies;

• Sears’ one-time rival Montgomery Ward, which
garnered just 1 percent of the vote.

Other write-in candidates included hhgregg, as
suggested by industry veteran Warren Mann, among
others; the overall independent dealer channel, as
suggested by Jim Feeney, VP of the Nationwide
West chapter of the Nationwide Marketing Group;
and the once-powerful New York metro area chain
Tops Appliance City, as written in by P.C. Richard &
Son store manager Ben Hogan.