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Walmart Tries To Raise Audio Decibel Level

BENTONVILLE, ARK. – A renewed focus on nationally known brands,
the addition of sound bars, and the installation of interactive displays for a
variety of CE products, including home-theater audio, are driving Walmart’s
increased aggressiveness in home audio.

theater audio to TVs] in a self-service environment,” said
Stephen Baker, The NPD Group’s industry analysis VP

At the same time, the company has scaled back its selection of
legacy audio products, such as headphone CD players and boomboxes, although
“probably more gradually than other retailers” because a segment of Walmart’s
customers continues to purchase these products, Baker said. The chain remains
“pretty aggressively SKU’d” in MP3 players, including iPods, he noted.

To boost the attachment rate for home theater in a box (HTiB)
systems and sound bars, the company is rolling out interactive displays that
let customers turn the products on and play music through them. Neither type of
system, however, is displayed in the higher-traffic TV-display area, where some
suppliers said the systems would benefit from greater exposure. Like many of
its competitors, suppliers noted, Walmart displays all the speakers of a
demo-capable HTiB in front of the consumer, precluding a true surround-sound

Interactivity in the revamped CE departments also extends to
portable navigation devices (PNDs), Blu-ray players, cameras, cellphones and
other portable electronics, including headphones and MP3 players, said a
Walmart press release.

The audio selection, like the CE department as a whole, reflects
a renewed push in the past few years to increase the percentage of nationally
known first-tier brands in the stores, multiple suppliers also observed. About
six years ago, one supplier said, Walmart appeared to reverse a slow-but-steady
migration to better-known brands by expanding its assortment of Durabrand
house-brand products in audio and other electronics, “but they moved off this
pretty quickly” because of the shift to digital technology, the marketer said.

Walmart shifted back to a branded focus, the marketer explained,
in large part because Durabrand’s OEM suppliers couldn’t deliver the latest
digital technology as quickly as top-tier suppliers could. “Digital technology
was moving too fast,” and Durabrand’s OEM suppliers put Walmart in the
potential position of “buying last year’s technology,” he said. “The top-tier
brands became stronger because they could deliver these technologies.”

The chain also moved away from the Durabrand house brand to keep
return rates under control, the marketer said. “When TVs began shifting to
digital, the new technology had challenges,” he said in citing one example.
“There were challenges even for the top-tier display manufacturers. To try to
do this with OEM suppliers would have been a disaster.”

With its renewed focus on leading brands, Walmart’s HTiB
selection includes models from Sony, Samsung, LG, Philips and RCA at price
points ranging from $98.96 to $398, based on a walkthrough of the company’s
relatively new Riverdale, N.J., store. Five HTiBs could be demoed live at
eye-and-ear level, and six other models were stacked on shelves below in their

Two sound bars were also connected to interactive displays, with
a Vizio model at $99 without subwoofer and a Samsung model at $298 with
included subwoofer.

Six iPod-docking speakers systems and clock radios on display
ranged in price from $39.98 to $149 from Memorex, iHome, RCA, Sony and Philips.
The MP3-player selection included Microsoft’s Zune and models from Philips and
RCA. Sony MP3 players, though not visible at the store, are part of Walmart’s
mix in other stores.

For legacy-type portable audio and tabletop stereo products, the
Riverdale store displayed boxed products stacked on shelves and hung on display
boards in a 20-foot-long display. The products included three headphone CD
players up to $39.72 from Memorex, Philips and Sony; Sony belt-clip personal
radios; two Sony voice recorders; six clock radios from Emerson, Sony and RCA;
four CD-playing shelf systems from Sony, Philips and GPX at up to $197; and
seven CD boomboxes priced up to $49.87 from GPX, RCA, Emerson, Memorex and

 The display also hosted
two transportable satellite-radio tuners with included car-mounting kit at
$59.88 each.

The chain also offers Sony e-readers, which along with PNDs were
displayed near the cellphone area.

The audio selection and price points reflect Walmart’s position
in the market, said NPD’s Baker. “Typically, Walmart is not going to have as
complete a selection as CE specialists because of a lack of space, so they
focus on driving volume in high-volume products,” he explained.