Even as it expands and remodels its electronics departments in 1,800 stores, pushing more high-end merchandise mostly into its higher income demographic stores, Wal-Mart is testing or rolling out a series of service initiatives aimed at simplifying and enhancing its CE shopping experience.
A series of self-service touch screens, kiosks and shelf-talkers are being used to guide shoppers through the selection and buying process. They might assist customers in choosing a satellite radio or a telephone plan, a flat-panel TV or a digital camera. Or they might aid in the purchase of customized digital music. An improved signing system also walks shoppers through piecing together a customized computer system.
They are all tailored to offer greater simplicity, clarity and solutions — a mantra repeated over and over again by Wal-Mart executives seeking to enhance the store experience. The devices make the CE department more interactive, presenting gadgets to buy gadgets and drawing customers in with a hands-on experience.
The improvements seem integral to Wal-Mart's larger efforts segmenting its store and customer base, in which CE is playing a central role to pull selective shoppers deeper into the store more frequently.
Indeed, Wal-Mart has highlighted five distinct lifestyle segments it is playing to: suburban-affluent, multicultural-urban, Hispanic, boomers and rural. Each group presents its own needs and challenges, and the retailer believes it can meet them by individually tailoring its stores.
“Consumer electronics are reflective of the fact that this consumer is willing to be earlier in the adoption curve of new technology,” said Stephen Quinn, marketing senior VP, in a recent presentation to analysts. “So, for example, there are plasma TVs and LCD televisions that are heavily featured in this [test] store. Our results in this store also reflect a stronger than average sale, lower cannibalization and higher gross profit, which adds up to higher ROI.”
The merchandising initiatives were seen variously in about a dozen Wal-Mart stores, mostly supercenters, located near the retailer's base — northwest Arkansas and southwestern Missouri, and a just-opened store in Kearny, N.J. Among the more striking were:
- A series of three video screens atop the stepped display for cameras and camcorders. Simply by lifting one of the cameras, which are security tethered to the rack, the nearest screen instantly displays technical specifications and features of the camera. The information helps highlight the differences between the products and should reduce the number of shoppers' questions.
- A series of three touch screens running along the rear TV wall, each programmed for several nearby HDTVs, which supply similar product information.
- Entertainment at Hand, an in-store music CD burning center. The system employs a touch screen and keyboard that allows users to search by genre, artist or song. Wal-Mart charges 88 cents a track with a minimum $4.76 purchase.
- The Connection Center, a similar touch-screen and keyboard configuration for information on mobile phones, satellite radio and DirectTV.
- An HP-supplied signed tutorial showing consumers how to select and purchase a desktop PC system in a 1-2-3 format: select the CPU; select the monitor; select the keyboard, mouse and accessories. The color-coded shelf signing is easy to follow in an eight-foot gondola run, but for those who prefer their PCs off the shelf, a countervailing 4-foot display of pre-built systems is located directly opposite.