San Francisco – Sony Electronics president and COO Mike Fasulo used a West Coast press conference here Thursday to formally announce the planned opening of the company’s new home-theater retail spaces at approximately 350 Best Buy locations nationwide.
Called the “Sony Experience at Best Buy,” the merchandising program will essentially deploy shop-in-shops stocked with Sony’s enhanced fixtures, interactive demonstration areas and manned by dedicated, Sony-trained “Sony Experience Experts.”
Fasulo said the salespeople will be Best Buy employees specially trained by Sony to execute the merchandising program. Best Buy will pick up all revenue for sales made through the Sony Experience area. Fasulo said Sony expects the return-on-investment in the form of increased Sony business at Best Buy to be “significant,” as will the influence on Sony purchases in other venues.
Fasulo said the Experience Stores at Best Buy are part of a new broader reaching strategy enabled by a “scrappier” Sony, that through recent downsizing of 1,000-plus employees, is now quicker, more flexible and more responsive to the needs and demands of the marketplace.
Sony’s sales and marketing efforts are now tuned for the millennial generation, Fasulo said, adding that this segment is interested in new TV technologies like Ultra HD; wirelessly connected and high-res audio; and the third pillar of Sony’s product focus, imaging, where Sony is building higher performing camera gear, with built-in connectivity, advanced shooting modes and speeds, interchangeable lenses, and larger and faster image sensors.
Fasulo identified a two-fold product marketing focus Sony will employ to sell both the “consumer premium segment products,” where the company will place most of its focus and resources, and the so-called “foundation” segment featuring more commodity goods, where Sony can offer operationally excellent products that can make a lot of money with little sales support while satisfying the class of trade.
Representing the push for the premium consumer, the Best Buy shops will measure 24 feet wide by 20 feet deep with merchandising walls containing various Sony products.
The center deep wall of the department will feature a Sony 4K Ultra HD TV, with two 4K TVs measuring 55 and 65 inches off to the left, and two Sony HDTVs off to the right. He said Sony has developed software that allows consumers to choose the content they want to view on the different TVs, to allow them to experience and compare the different choices available to them.
Customers can compare 4K Ultra HD TVs alongside HDTVs with HD video and native 4K content. Sony will also demonstrate many of its proprietary technologies, including Trilumios Display, and allow visitors to interactively compare broadcast and Blu-ray quality content.
It will highlight the premium end of Sony’s offerings, with a mix of TV and supporting audio/video products featuring the best designs and features, Fasulo said. Sony will continue selling branded products in other areas of the Best Buy’s stores using other store personnel, including Best Buy’s higher-end Magnolia sales departments and sales force.
In fact, it’s possible that a product featured in the Sony Experience area might also be merchandized in another area of the same store, he added.
Sony will also use the departments to showcase the latest in Sony’s 4K content, including the more than 200 titles in the Sony 4K Unlimited service and Netflix 4K streaming.
The Sony Experience at Best Buy program recently began deploying with a test store in Minnesota and will roll out mid-May at Best Buy stores nationwide.
“We welcome consumers to experience the best of Sony with a premium and unique shopping experience at Best Buy,” said Fasulo, “With user-friendly, interactive demonstration experiences and a dedicated team of Best Buy product experts trained to deliver a world-class experience, the Sony Experience at Best Buy will be an ideal place to inspire, engage and educate consumers about Sony’s home-theater products.”
“The Sony Experience will give consumers a shopping experience unlike anything before,” Mike Mohan, Best Buy’s chief merchandising officer, said in a statement. “The Sony 4K Ultra HD televisions have to be seen for consumers to understand and believe, and our newly transformed home-theater area will showcase the technology and how it all works together.”
Fasulo said that one of the goals of the program is to take “the pain” out of the CE shopping experience by demystifying the technology and allowing consumers to enjoy features and benefits that Sony products offer.
The concept of dedicating sales and merchandising space inside key Best Buy stores, where manufacturer partners can manage the sales and merchandising programs for their product lines directly to consumers, is not new. Companies including Apple, Samsung and Microsoft have employed similar programs in recent years.
Samsung began rolling out Best Buy Experience shop-in-shops last spring, in a bid to find a more profitable use of floor space.
Microsoft also installed a selling section last summer, in part, to boost awareness and sales of its Windows 8 OS and touchscreen PCs.
Also, Google has offered small displays for its Chromebooks and Chromecast dongle.
Even online rival Amazon once had a dedicated display area for its Kindle for a short period.
Many of Sony’s new 4K Ultra HD models will be presented as highlights of the merchandising program, Sony said. Related components that will be part of the merchandising mix will include 4K Ultra HD Media Players (FMP-X1 and FMP-X10) and the 4K HandyCam camcorder (FDR-AX100), home-theater sound solutions including soundbars, and gaming solutions showcasing PlayStation 4, among others.
Sony said it expects its Experience at Best Buy shops will offer consumers “unique demonstration capabilities and an immersive shopping experience that will increase confidence in purchasing new technologies.”
Fasulo said: “For our consumers this will be an interactive environment that allows them to shop and compare products and features intuitively. The dedicated Sony Experience Experts will be certified and on-hand to assist and explain the benefits Sony products have to offer.”
Sony said it is also attending to online shoppers by offering a “Sony Experience at BestBuy.com” section where customers can peruse a dedicated online space to learn about Sony gear and shop the broad range of Sony home-theater products.
Sony has long provided in-store shops of varying sizes to independent dealers like Abt and Fry’s, as well as to national retailer Toys“R”Us. This, however, is the first such implementation in Best Buy stores, and follows the recent closing of 20 of the manufacturer's 31 Sony Stores.
Alan Wolf contributed to this article.