New Sony Consumer Focus Pays Dividends

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Sony Electronics has started to win back lost business by implementing a corporate strategy that puts greater focus on the consumer than on the retailer, Phil Molyneux, the company’s U.S. president and CEO, said at a press conference here last week.

Molyneux, who took the reins at Sony 14 months ago, said his chief mission has been to redirect the Sony corporate culture, putting the consumer first in product planning, marketing and support.

The results, he said, led to a successful Black Friday holiday sales period without the company having to resort to doorbuster discounting tactics.

Molyneux said Sony saw a 40 percent increase in its online call center business over the Black Friday weekend compared with a year ago, and a 21 percent increase in sales at its revamped Sony Stores.

At national accounts, Molyneux said Sony virtually across the board bettered its target sales goals in key categories over the four-day period. He singled out Blu-ray players for “phenomenal success.”

“Based on our touch points, shop front and shareholder value, we really didn’t want to go in with significant discounts,” Molyneux said. “However, the results were really strong for TV and digital imaging. Vaio and our tablet have been on plan, but we did not overachieve there.”

Upon his arrival here, Molyneux said Sony’s corporate focus was stuck on meeting the retailers’ needs.

“We were focused on sell-in rather than sell-out,” Molyneux said. “We were an organization that made an effort to ship and forget. I had to drive a cultural change. The relationship with the retailer is important, but the focus on the consumer is paramount.”

Molyneux mapped out nine touch points Sony needed to address to better “engage the consumer in a delightful way.”

These included storefront displays, service platforms, dealer sales force, call centers, assisted sales support, online sales, NPS and events.

At the top of the list, Molyneux said, are Sony’s revamped direct-sales store operations — “the most powerful vehicle we have.”

The company recently changed the stores’ names from Sony Style to just Sony Stores, where the company “can walk the consumer through this journey with Sony,” covering products, content, services and support.

Currently the company operates 46 locations, and recently opened revamped 6,000-square-foot “pilot” showrooms in California, Texas and New York. Molyneux said Sony will eventually replicate the concept across of the Sony Store outlets. The company is also looking to add 3,500-square-foot Sony Store boutiques in some markets, depending on the city and location, he said.

Sony has also embraced social networks, including Facebook, to reach consumers.

Molyneux said Sony built up a Facebook fan base from less than 100,000 fans a year ago to more than 1.3 million today.

The company has also extensively leveraged You- Tube, producing in-house videos showing consumers how to get the best experiences out of their Sony equipment.

For national advertising, Sony has also identified TV programs that engage audiences interactively — such as the Fox Network hit show “X-Factor” — for national advertising spots.

At retail, Sony has taken the techniques that have worked successfully in its own stores to retail partners. This included establishing “Golden Space” unique merchandising executions for various products. For example, a Bravia TV is taken off the wall and placed in a vignette that invites the consumer to make programming selections and experience products’ benefits.

Sony is working with five “Golden Store” partners who have implement multiple Golden Space merchandising executions and allowed Sony sales reps into their stores to help train their sales staff and to work with consumers during peak selling hours.

The initial Golden Store partners include Target, Best Buy, P.C. Richard, hhgregg and BrandsMart.

“I think this is incredibly important,” Molyneux said, “because these guys we train to a different level, and they are very passionate about Sony and will have long-term contracts with Sony, so they feel part of the family.”

Another key touch point coming mainly from Sony Stores is providing premium services, from personalizing a Vaio PC to recycling an old product.


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