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MERCHANDISING PERSONAL AUDIO: HOW THE BIG GUYS ARE DOING IT.

PHILADELPHIA-The way in which four of the largest retailers in the nation merchandise their personal audio departments tells a lot about the nature of this category -- and something about the retailers themselves.

Actions speak louder than words, and the various merchandising strategies followed by the quartet -- Kmart, Target, Staples and Best Buy -- show both their levels of commitment and who they think their customers are.

Of four stores surveyed in Philadelphia, only Target exhibited a desire to present personal audio as anything other than a "box 'em up, move 'em out" commodity. It accomplishes it with stylish decor and well-manicured merchandising displays, showing the products and customers a fair amount of respect.

Target's Electronics Department, also on the periphery of the building, is located between Books and Cameras/Film. Ambient music is softer than at Best Buy, and displays and walls are warmer and more attractive, bearing blue neon wall art and variegated pastel green signs and shelf backers. Brands include Philips, RCA, Magnavox and Audiovox.

There is a wide assortment of karaoke machines (stacked on endcaps, with a paper sign advising that one model was reduced from $179.99 to $69.99) and CD units. The back wall is lined with six shelves, holding displayed music systems, CD and portable CD players with boxes below and above. Batteries and other CD and tape accessories (cleaners, holders) are located on pegboards in several places.

Interestingly, despite its slightly more upscale appearance, Target's audio department features a single endcap that holds miscellaneous discounted electronics -- in effect a clearance bin holding a piled-up collection of children's CD players and other assorted, unboxed units.

A freestanding Sony Home Design Sense display that included the Sony LIV Boom Box CD Player ($79.99) and Sony LIV Slim CD Boom ($69.99). Again, bright colors and packaging enlivened the display. The endcap featured the Apple iPod ($299.99) and accessories, as well as Philips travel speakers and headphones.

Staples' decidedly smaller selection of personal audio products (stores no longer carry items like portable tape or CD players) is located in aisle 10, directly in front of and to the left of the front entrance. The department is sandwiched between Computer Products and Mobile Phones and Accessories.

Pegboards are used to hold packages of headphones from makers like Logitech ($19.98, $39.98 and $49.98 price points), Labtec ($14.98), Cyber Acoustics ($9.98), Altec Lansing ($9.98) and Staples' own private-label brand ($9.98).

The speaker selection, side by side with headphones, includes units from Creative ($19.98 and $49.98 price points), Altec Lansing ($29.98 and $49.98) and Cyber Acoustics ($14.98, $19.98 and $29.98). An adjacent endcap displays another Altec model discounted from $99.98 to $79.98.

At Best Buy, the two Audio System aisles sit beside the overstock aisle (with home theater and other boxed equipment) at the back of the store. Loud radio music is pumped out of multiple speakers, making the cavernous, warehouse-style space seem even more daunting to shop.

Major brands include JVC, Sharp, Magnavox, Audiophase and Sony. Inventory is displayed on one shelf, with boxed goods stacked below. Packaged batteries hang on peg boards above. The next aisle carries boom boxes. A freestanding display at the beginning of the aisle has boxed Koss Entertainment Systems sitting on a wooden palette. A pair of nearby skids hold packaged batteries and Sony CD players and Walkmans.

The next aisle, labeled Personal Portable, merchandises CD players and head phones. Accessories hang on peg boards. Best Buy's bare back wall beyond the aisle features CD players and receivers, once again with a single display shelf and top and bottom shelves devoted to boxed product.

At Kmart, the personal audio department, like the store itself, is more helter-skelter, with displays and products arranged in a more haphazard fashion. Far from the store's entrance, the Electronics Department is sandwiched between Home Office and Sporting Goods. At least one television has its volume turned up high.

A metal case with locked glass doors holds a variety of Walkmans, head phones and CD players and related products from makers like Spectra, Sony, Curtis Mathes, Philips and Venturer ranging in price from $14.99 to $79.99, all suspended on a peg board. Two aisles away, low-priced boom boxes are merchandised beside clock radios.

A front endcap offers Classic brand CD/cassette/radio units on special for $99.99. One shelf shows the finished the units, while another holds battered boxes. Another nearby endcap showcases a GirlPower portable karaoke system and CD player for $17.99. Other endcap displays feature CD players for $34.99 and radio/cassette machines for just $8.99. An Emerson Turbo Portable CD system nearby is priced at $44.99.

The final personal audio section offers a hodgepodge of accessories like CD holders, pockets and racks.
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Comment:MERCHANDISING PERSONAL AUDIO: HOW THE BIG GUYS ARE DOING IT.
Author:Riell, Howard
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 8, 2004
Words:810
Previous Article:ON A HAIER LEVEL; THE APPLIANCE-ELECTRONICS COMPANY IS GROWING WITH DIVERSIFIED OFFERINGS AND NEW FACILITIES.
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