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Wal-Mart To Test Sanyo PDPs

In an uncharacteristic move toward upmarket consumer electronics retailing, power discount chain Wal-Mart this week plans to begin test marketing expensive plasma display panels (PDP) at a store in West Palm Beach, Fla., according to a source familiar with the plan.

The trial will include a pair of Sanyo high-definition PDPs in the 32W-inch and 42W-inch screen sizes. A Sanyo official also confirmed that Wal-Mart had started displaying the panels at an Arkansas store near the Sanyo Manufacturing Corp. plant in Forrest City. The panels are manufactured in the Far East.

Tom Edwards, senior analyst with NPD TechWorld, Port Washington, N.Y, said the West Palm Beach, Fla. area would be a logical market to test PDP sales, due to its concentration of highly affluent residents.

But Edwards said he was not convinced Wal-Mart would extend the effort much further. “To succeed, Wal-Mart is going to have to find someone to deliver it, connect it to a wall and put a program source into it,” Edwards said. “It sounds like they are trying to present an image that they are high tech.”

A Wal-Mart spokesman did not respond to queries by our deadline.

Wal-Mart’s market trial follows similar moves by other mass merchant consumer electronics retailers. Sears, Roebuck and Company just announced it was adding flat-panel TV departments to most of its stores across the country. Circuit City, Best Buy and Tweeter have also recently started to redesign and expand their flat-panel TVs merchandising programs.

The Sanyo panels include the PDP-32H1, a 32W-inch 16:9 panel with 852 x 1,024 pixel resolution carrying a $3,999 manufacturer’s suggested retail price and PDP-42H1, a 42W-inch 16:9 panel with 1,024×1,024 pixel resolution and a $5,999 suggested retail price.

Sanyo Manufacturing is handling distribution of the products in the United States and, in addition to supplying Wal-Mart, will begin consumer-direct marketing of the PDPs from its Web site at next month, according to Randy Hefner, Sanyo Manufacturing chief product planner.

At the same time, Sanyo will begin consumer-direct retailing a digital television (DTV) ATSC set-top receiver/converter box over the company Web site at a $399 suggested retail.