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Change In The Air For Retailers, Vendors

Even during this cold, hard winter, change is in the air, and in a few cases in this industry, it has little to do with “disruptive technologies” or anything of that ilk.

For instance, Sony’s decisions to sell its Vaio PC business and spin-off its TV operation may have been moves investors and Wall Street expected and been clamoring for, but to many in the industry it was disheartening. Stephen Baker, NPD Group industry analysis VP, said as much to Greg Tarr, TWICE’s executive editor, about the Vaio sale for our story that begins on p. 4.

In my view, the spin-off of Sony’s TV business has a good chance of working since by the end of this fiscal year, March 31, the company said it will just fall short of making a profit in the category. With a focus on what it stubbornly calls 4K TVs (Ultra HD for CEA and the rest of the business) and premium 2K, Sony still has enough brand strength to once again turn a profit in this all-important CE category.

As for retail, change continues to churn there too and, according to the top retailers and distributors who attended TWICE’s annual Retail Executive Roundtable during International CES last month, they were decidedly upbeat about industry prospects during 2014.

I attended the Roundtable and the optimism was a surprise since the admittedly shorter-than-normal holiday season and bad weather across the country during critical shopping weekends curbed sales and store traffic.

But the assembled executives at TWICE’s Roundtable are nothing if not realists. They can see that with Ultra HD prices poised to go to a point where it will be more broadly accepted, consumers will begin to not only see, but understand, why 4K is clearer than 2K, even if you are watching mostly up-converted programming.

Retailers whose operations were originally brickand- mortar (let’s face it; everyone is online now or else they are not in business) realize now that they now only have to emphasize their strengths – that they can demonstrate, sell and provide consumers products immediately without waiting for the FedEx, UPS or Postal Service truck to make a delivery.

They may not be able to, or choose to, compete in every category – especially commodities where price is always the thing. But Roundtable execs told TWICE senior editor Alan Wolf that retailers have the ability to demonstrate and sell the experience and not just emphasize selling one item based on price.

Of course, big boxes of all types are more challenged to do this than independents because their store personnel, for the most part, do not have the training or expertise to do that kind of selling.

And more independents are embracing, or should embrace, what TWICE likes to call “non-traditional” product categories – furniture, bedding, lighting, outdoor products of all types – and many more that they can explain, demonstrate, deliver and install profitably.

But that is a discussion for another day, specifically our March 3 print edition, where we will debut a special report called “[email protected].”

As I mentioned earlier, change is in the air.