TWICE On The Scene: Best Buy's Holiday Reset Raises The Stakes For Brands

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While the rest of the entire universe was writing about the Apple pronouncements this month (yes, the entry-level iPhone is still 16GB, for crying out loud), deep in the bowels of consumer tech we were concentrating on something far more impactful for our collective bottom lines.

In other words, the heck with Apple, it’s reset season, when stores begin to change all the merchandising in preparation for the holiday shopping madness. Oh what a wonderful time, filled with wonder and joy and happiness.

Actually it’s not. It’s filled with panic, dread and last-second terror. And for consumer tech vendors, no company exemplifies this more than Best Buy.

If you have walked the aisles of one of their stores, you will see the impact of resets. A certain section of the store will have empty shelves while another new section suddenly pops up out of nowhere, like a revival of “Brigadoon.”

What goes on those shelves over the next few weeks represents an outsized percentage of a consumer tech company’s revenues for the year. So seeing how the stores are being arranged is an interesting preview of what is going to happen when the hordes hit the floors. And a couple of dynamics are already starting to make their presence known.

I will lean on Genesis for the first one, based on their great old song, “Carpet Crawlers.” And, indeed, we are seeing some crawling on the floor of Best Buy. For years, the area around the entrance to the stores has been inviolate, devoid of displays or anything impeding the ability to funnel all those ravenous shoppers onto the sales floor.

But displays that used to be over in their respective product sections, or living at the end of aisles, are starting to crawl to the front of the store. Inside the entrance of some stores, it’s starting to look like Sherwood Forest with the displays parked there.

And there is another dynamic at work, even if the displays don’t make it to the front of the store. That is, displays from the “corner” tenants making their way into the middle of the store. For instance, one dark corner of Best Buy is always automotive, which until recently was the aisle that time forgot. But now those products are starting to move from the traditional items, such as speakers and amplifiers, to mass-market audiences with Bluetooth products for your phone.

As a result, these new products are trying to crawl out of their normal placement and into the middle of the stores. This is a trend that we saw in more mass market merchandisers such as Walgreens and CVS when fitness products first appeared. At first those products were in the back by the pharmacy (you know, health products, after all), but soon started migrating to the locked electronics displays at the front of the store. In the same way, products are working their way from “back of store” to “front of store’ placement.

And things are changing in those big main aisles as well. Traditionally, the aisles were Best Buy first, brands second. As popular as Beats are, for years they had to sit on the shelves along with everyone else. But recently, brands such as Beats, Apple and Samsung have started to exert more control over the retail experience.

Part of this break has been violating the “building code” at Best Buy, where the consumer had a clear sightline across the store. The better to find, I don’t know, washing machines over in a corner.

Now the bigger brands are starting to rise above the aisles in little skyscrapers to grab our attention. This seems almost inevitable, as Best Buy has been talking about “stores within stores” for quite some time, and it seems like this holiday season is when this will take full flight. In a way, this will change the shopping experience for people, with stores organized around brands instead of product categories. How this changes the dynamics of the shopper are yet to be determined.

What this means for you is that your packaging and displays are going to have to work harder than ever before this year, as you are going up against a far more competitive and aggressive environment than this time last year. You will be attacked from all sides, from unknown standers parked in front of you, and by glossy towers behind you with the world’s top brands.

If ever there was a season where your brand needs to be strong, this is the one. Otherwise, you might find yourself this time next year being reset again — right out of the store.

Christopher Caen is a frequent contributor to TWICE and The Huffington Post, and is a partner and chief brand strategist at Theory Associates, a San Francisco-based strategic tech-branding agency.

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