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Mobile Audio Merchandising Displays Are Stuck In Neutral

I’ve been working with a manufacturing client who is interested in seeing its business in new ways; revolutionary new ways if possible. It sells car audio, navigation and other 12-volt products, and during the course of our discussions I suggested that much (actually too much) of the way such products are merchandised at retail is very similar to the way things were done when I first entered the business in 1978.

There are of course differences, starting with the product. Back in the day there were no $2,500 navigation head units. Head units yes, but topping out somewhere south of $500, all mounted side-by-side in a display board, each with a small tag that included the model number, three or four bulleted features and a price.

If that sounds familiar it should. The same is pretty much true today, the only the difference being that the high-end is now really high-end, relative to what consumers who stand in front of such displays are used to seeing.

In 1978 asking a consumer to buy a $200 head unit because (one of the three bullet points would say) it had “pinch roller release” was one thing, but asking today’s consumer to buy a $2,500 AM/FM/CD/navi head unit because it includes “POI capability” (points of interest) may be expecting too much of those little bullet tags.

I also wonder what consumers think — particularly those of us who are, shall we say, “age experienced” — when they see that a $2,500 head unit even exists. Would this not be shocking to someone who has previously browsed head units many times, possibly noticing that the most expensive were always under $1,000? Might this not cause them to feel as though they’ve suddenly been propelled through some space-time continuum to a place they do not belong? Especially when they see this $2,500 product in essentially the same setting (a car stereo display board) in which they have seen similar looking head units for the last 25 years, none of which cost more than $1,000?

In 1978 people typed a letter on a typewriter, placed it in an envelope, put a stamp on the envelope and mailed to someone who would generally receive it two to three days later. Now we have that same letter (better actually because of spell check, the ability to include graphics, and to attach photos and other documents) before the recipients eyes within seconds.

In 1978 you would call someone at their office and if they were not there or could not accept the call, an assistant (actually we called them a secretary) would take a message on a specially designed note pad, placing the original on the callee’s desk and keeping a carbon copy in case the original was misplaced. Now we have voice mail.

In 1978 most people had at best six or seven TV channels from which to choose, and which they would watch one station at a time. Now we have 100-plus cable and satellite channels.

In other words, even though we’ve had revolutionary change in the past 28 years, when it comes to 12-volt product merchandising or, for that matter, CE retailing in general, not much has happened. I would bet that if we time warped someone from 1978 and placed them in front of a 12-volt retailer’s display board today, they would see little or no difference — other than that $2,500 price point (talk about sticker shock!).

Given the inherent differences in today’s consumers, there are better ways to merchandise most all CE products, including most certainly mobile audio and most definitely $2,500 head units. If you’re curious about how, contact me and we’ll share ideas.