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Sony Stiffens Internet Policies

New York – Cognizant that the Internet is being used by mainstream consumers today to find products and make purchasing decisions, Sony Electronics is looking to take control of the pre-purchase experience by instituting uniform e-commerce product information requirements, while policing the Web for unauthorized Internet sellers.

Jay Vandenbree, Sony Consumer Sales Company president, told TWICE that Sony is very aware that consumers today are using the Internet to a greater degree to both purchase consumer electronics products and educate themselves about the features, benefits and performance of CE devices.

“The Internet has finally gone mainstream, as it relates to consumer electronics,” Vandenbree said, adding that Sony is increasing the focus on its “ability to shape opinion before the retail experience,” through its SonyStyle stores, Web site and various retail merchandising initiatives.

He said the role of the Sony stores “is as much about branding and showcasing as anything else,” adding that the 32-store retail chain closes one out of 12 people who enter. “Yes, we sell products [in a SonyStyle store], but its real purpose is to educate consumers.”

Sony is also striving to get information on its products out on its Web site as quickly as possible so e-shoppers will have access to the facts, Vandenbree said. Sony would like to help consumers quickly dispel the rumors and myths that have been perpetuated by some CE blogging sites and chatrooms.

Vandenbree said Sony has become concerned that in some cases potential purchasers have been dissuaded from items by bloggers and other Internet sources, sometimes before those items arrive in stores or even in legitimate reviewer’s hands.

To help combat the problem, Sony is working with retailers to a greater degree to get all of the correct information about new Sony products out to consumers. Vandenbree said the approximately 50 authorized e-commerce dealer sites on the Web are now required to port syndicated data on a Sony product directly from the SonyStyle site.

He cited the XBR section on the Crutchfield Web site as an example.

“The Internet has given everyone a voice, from the smallest voice to the largest, and this has generated as much disinformation as information,” Vandenbree said. “Our ability to work with our channel partners to make sure that message is correct and is seen similarly in different areas is going to help the consumers doing their research separate fact from speculation and opinion.”

Sony is also reviewing all of its Internet distribution, including business-to-business, to make sure [Sony’s retail] customers who sell on the Internet “are adding value to the product,” said Vandenbree. He continued that this would include educational elements.

The company is also using “net enforcers to police the Internet and make sure that unauthorized sellers are taken down from eBay all the way through standalone sites,” he added. “You are never going to control the Internet. That would be like holding back the ocean, but for as much as you can influence that the consumer is going to see what you are trying to say and the value you are trying to create, we are working hard to do that.”

Vandenbree said a “substantial” number of unauthorized sellers have been taken down by Sony using trademark rights since the effort launched in January.

Sony is also working to maintain a uniformity of message at the dealer level. The company has been working with such accounts as Abt to put in a Sony merchandising department, called a “Sony Store,” that was designed with the help of the SonyStyle store design team.

“Bob [Abt] runs the store, and it is manned with his people, but he worked with Sony to design the operation,” Vandenbree explained. “We are taking that concept and rolling it out. If you go to Ultimate’s headquarters, for example, you will find a smaller version there.”

Vandenbree added that Sony offers its help to its retail partners, who bring their own individual value to each operation, and is not requiring uniform merchandising efforts.

From a consumer standpoint an awful lot of the value equations are starting to cross,” Vandenbree said. “Consumers are making choices about where they want to shop, based on their comfort with the product and the value-equation that that retailer provides, and they are shopping everywhere.”

The company is also using the “Sony United” initiative to leverage Sony’s diverse business assets, such as hit movies, to promote and sell other areas of the Sony operation.

Meanwhile, Vandenbree said Sony is migrating sales into a new “demand based selling organization.”

“The next great change that I see coming is that the consumer is becoming the value proposition, and they have a vision about what they want their future to be, and both manufacturers and retailers have to listen to that vision to provide the value they expect,” Vandenbree said. “Getting the consumers in front of the curve instead of behind the curve is what’s going to drive our business for the next 10 years.”

In the new direction, Vandenbree said the value chain and business process will remain similar but the wants and needs of consumers are placed first, leaving Sony and its partners to find the solutions, from designing products to selling them in the market.