Sony Revamps Store Format With 'Style'-Free Prototype

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LOS ANGELES –

Sony Electronics debuted a next-generation format for its direct-channel retail stores here last week that emphasizes connectivity and live displays.

As part of the redesign, the chain and e-commerce site, currently branded as Sony Style, will simply be dubbed Sony.

The launch follows the closing of 11 Sony Style stores in as many states on March 20, leaving the chain with 30 locations.

The new showroom, located here at the Westfield Century City shopping mall, borrows a page from Apple Stores with its bright, open sales floor and live, table-height displays designed to encourage consumer demos.

The format also features a new Premium Services support program, reminiscent of Apple’s famed Genius Bar, which will provide customers with assistance and education by trained staff and certified technicians. Services include product setup, repair facilitation and IT support, as well as home delivery and A/V installation. Some services will be complimentary, and others will carry a fee.

The new retail concept comes 16 months after Sony hired away Apple’s longtime senior regional store director Linda Turner as senior VP of Sony Style retail stores, and gave her responsibility for the chain’s strategic and operational direction, including all aspects of the customer experience.

“Sony’s goal is always to exceed customer expectations by providing an exciting, interactive and entertaining shopping experience,” said Sony Electronics president/COO Phil Molyneux. “Our new store concept gives shoppers an opportunity to interact with trained and knowledgeable staff as well as preview, test, compare and unlock the full potential of Sony’s entertainment offerings.”

To that end, the prototype will provide live demos of Sony products and content including video games, cameras, headphones, 3D movies, and networked services like Music Unlimited and Video on Demand powered by Qriocity. It will also showcase future and emerging technologies and innovations, such as Sony’s RayModeler, a 360-degree display prototype that projects a 3D image which can be seen from all angles.

The 4,200-square-foot showroom, designed in collaboration with Klein Dytham architecture (KDa), also features movable interior walls and changeable color schemes, affording it a flexible layout that can be reconfigured to highlight specific products, services, or content, and provide a “fresh experience” for returning customers, the company said.

Zeena Freeman, who heads up Sony Corp.’s global retail office and serves as consumer business development senior VP for Sony Corporation of America, described the new showroom as “a significant step in building a blueprint for future Sony stores, both in the U.S. and around the world.

“In this store, Sony is eager to test innovative offerings and listen and learn from customer feedback. We will gather opinions so that we can continually evolve and improve our retail experience, both here in the U.S. and around the world,” she said.

Sony did not announce a timetable for new store expansion. It currently operates 29 Sony Style stores in the U.S., down from a peak of more than 40 stores in 2008, along with 15 outlet locations.

Freeman noted that the decision to drop “Style” from the direct-sell brand reflects Sony’s “increasing focus on providing an integrated shopping experience that features all that Sony has to offer, from hardware to content to services.” The company said the shortened moniker will also allow customers to more readily recognize the Sony-direct channel, and hopes to have all stores rebranded by year’s end.

It is not clear if elements of the new store design and branding will also be integrated into the in-store Sony shops found at select dealers.

The concept store officially opened on April 1, and was heralded with a three-day-long giveaway contest announced over local radio station KIIS FM. In addition, a live in-store performance by Grammy-nominated singer/ songwriter Natasha Bedingfield was scheduled for April 2.

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