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 sell-through.

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 retail.

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 excluded.

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 Samuels.

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 ADI;

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

• 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; and

• 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.


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