May: Training, Demos Answer Price Competition


San Diego - Dennis May, hhgregg CEO, told a DisplaySearch FPD Conference audience that he thinks OLED display technology slated for market later this year will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary in its impact on the overall CE business, and that his chain will rely on educating consumers to fuel continued growth.

"OLED will move us into an environment where the customer wants to upgrade," May said. "It will take some time. It is a more evolutionary nature, but it is a product well done, though."

LG Electronics and Samsung showed at International CES 55-inch ultra-thin OLED TVs slated to ship to market late this year or in early 2013. The highly touted "breakthrough" technology offers ultra-thin panel depths, strong contrast and black levels, low power consumption and high anticipated price tags.

May indicated that while not a revolutionary technology that will generate wide-scale TV replacement, OLED will help drive replacement TV sales as consumers begin to replace old and worn out flat-panel TVs with the latest technology.

May said vendors are doing a good job of delivering innovation, but indicated that they need to listen better to consumers need rather than pushing them toward innovations created without their input.

"The biggest change to make is to better understand what the consumer wants, to become more consumer centric" May said in response from interviewer Steve Baker, industry analysis VP at The NPD Group.

Rather than depending on a new revolutionary product to boost growth, May said hhgregg will continue to drive sales by educating consumers on the wide volume of products coming through the pipeline, both in stores and online.

"Our goal is to take specs and translate them into features and benefits for the customer," he said.

"The devices coming to consumers in the near future are very exciting," May continued, indicating that smart and connected products are bringing a new world of use options to end users.

"OLED, 4K, 8K ... there are so many choices for consumers," May said. "TV continues to evolve. Large screen is going to be a game changer. Different screens will be going into consumers' homes. We expect dynamic growth out of 55-inch and larger sets."

"This used to be a very narrow industry," May said. "Today, the industry has totally changed" and is bringing a broad base of consumers with "an insatiable appetite for technology."

May said consumers today demand access to content "whenever and wherever they want it."

The challenge for hhgregg will be to figure out "how do we position ourselves to educate the consumer," he said, adding that his chain spends heavily every year on training its retail staff.

Asked what he expects from a potential Apple TV product, as widely rumored to be on the way according to media reports, May withheld judgment.

"Apple is very good at stirring rumors and keeping secrets," he said. "None of us really knows what that product could potentially look like. New products are either evolutionary or revolutionary. If it's revolutionary, that's what the doctor ordered. I don't view it as a bad thing."

In addition to sales training, hhgregg is investing in presenting interactive live displays to help customers interact with new benefits and features coming to market.

He pointed to new TVs being equipped with voice activation presenting the need "to rethink end-cap displays," as the technology "becomes a major feature."

As for changing dynamics in the e-commerce field, May said hhgregg views consumers coming into brick-and-mortar stores to compare pricing as a good thing that gives a trained sales staff an opportunity to educate the consumer and make the sale in the store.

Online retail growing is an important element to hhgregg's business, May said, adding that it is "the fastest-growing segment of our business."

    The chain is "agnostic to how the consumer purchases. Regardless of where the customer's at in the purchase cycle, we will help make sure they have a best in class experience."

"The consumer is empowered today, and we love that," he said. "If the consumer is interested in technology, they do their research and come into our store."

May said he sees consumers who order products online for pick up at the store as customers looking for validation on their purchase decision.

Regarding the stress on the industry resulting from falling average selling prices, May said, "An educated consumer will buy a better product."


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