Concept Stores to Give Retail Computing a Shot in the Arm?

By Vijay Anand - on 16 Sep 2011, 3:36pm

Shops specializing in computing equipment, notebooks and full desktop systems are aplenty across our sunny island. There's certainly no lack in options on where to get your personal computing products or on behalf of your company. However with recent developments like Gartner and other analyst/research firms revising down global sales forecasts, the explosion of mobile data consumption, ever-growing craze for more tablets and smartphones, and HP following the footsteps of IBM to consider spinning off its PC division, the retail scene for computing looks gloomy. For years, several computer retailers locally have expressed their frustration in rising operational costs while demand hasn't exactly kept to that pace.

Perhaps one option for the retailers is to invest in concept stores? While this term has several meanings and expectations across various industries, the general connotation is a store that tries to sell goods in a different fashion that's not the norm. It could be in the form of a new user experience, an unusually designed store, or even cross-selling products in a different fashion. The underlying goal is to retail in a different manner to invoke a new shopping experience for consumers (and who would hopefully like it). AV distributor Atlas has perhaps taken the concept store option to the extreme with a lavishly decorated showroom to promote big names like Bose, Loewe and many others, complete with listening rooms and top-tier furniture to add to the shopping experience.

Given the margins of the PC computing scene, going lavish may not work out. There are however several other ways to approach the concept to better inform consumers stepping into the store - after all, purchasing a tech product requires more inputs and considerations than buying food from the supermarket. Newstead Technologies tried its hand to stir the retail computing scene with the launch of its new concept store Digital Style in Funan. Officially opened yesterday on 16th September, I was on-site to observe some of the changes that Digital Style incorporated over other stores.

Although Newstead Technologies has several outlets in Funan itself, they've gone ahead to try a slightly different approach to offering a shopping experience with their new Digital Style concept store.

First off, it should be noted that most of the changes Digital Style incorporated into their concept store aren't anything groundbreaking. So while you're not going to be swept off your feet, there are several subtle aspects incorporated to the store that will offer a better shopping experience. The most obvious difference is how the core computing products are categorized and laid out in different 'islands' that are demarcated by their usage categories as seen hanging brightly from the ceiling. There are six broad categories to suit most user needs:-

  • Mobile Communications - Comprising of tablets and high-end smartphones.
  • Ultra Mobile & Business - Lightweight laptops and relevant mobile accessories from audio, presentation and input devices.
  • Office & Professional - Solutions, software, accessories and systems for SMEs and SOHO users.
  • Home Computing - Desktops and notebooks, AIO machines, printers, software and accessories.
  • Entertainment & Media - Multimedia notebooks, PMPs, audio peripherals, etc.
  • Gaming - Powerful desktops and laptops for gaming and relevant accessories and software.

Of course if you walk into a store like Best Denki or any others, you'll find broad product category based segmentation like notebooks, cameras, systems and more. The distinct difference in Digital Style's store versus most others is how the products are grouped. Digital Style attempts to view products by user needs and groups products relevant to that category. And even within the category, the products aren't bunched by brands, but instead, you'll find a nice mix of relevant products. For example, if you head to the Mobile Communications 'island', you'll find a variety of tablets from all brands neatly laid close to each other - perfect for quick comparisons. Also, you'll find similarly sized products grouped together, like 10-inch tablets and 7-inch tablets.

We have to admit that convincing brand owners to ditch their marketing space and compete effectively with all other products is no small feat achieved by Newstead. Perhaps this is a sign of the new age of retail where the product will have to sell for itself based on its own merits and user preferences. For consumers who still need hand-holding, thankfully, the store has six staff at any one point of time to also offer guidance.

Here's one of the user requirements-based 'islands'. Being one of the more popular set of gadgets, it's located pretty near the entrance to draw users in.

Popular 10-inch tablets are on the bigger circular platform while the 7-inch tablets and other pads take position on the smaller circle of devices above. Note the void of marketing to brainwash consumers as the gadgets are left to consumers to fiddle with and make their own judgment.

More 'island' themes seen here - Gaming, Entertainment & Media and Home  Computing. Note that notebooks - common to all of these product groups - are shown as-is with their battery packs attached. This gives users what to expect exactly in terms of weight, unlike many other stores that remove the battery packs and set inaccurate expectations.

Here in the Gaming 'island', you can check out several competitive notebooks side-by-side - something that's not readily possible in most other stores. For example, this photo shows the MSI GT-series notebook next to a Toshiba Qosmio, while just behind is an ASUS G-series notebook for immediate comparison.

Besides products grouped effectively to user needs and competitively placed, you'll find that each 'island' of products has its own set of relevant accessories in its immediate vicinity. For example, the gaming section feature high-end notebooks and systems but just next to it, you'll find Razer, Thermaltake eSports and many more suitable input devices and accessories to power up this group of user needs.

Right next to the Gaming island, you'll find all the relevant accessories and input devices required for this user group. Like-wise, you'll find relevant add-ons and software in the other 'island' groups too. For example, the Mobile Communications section has covers for tablets, power packs, mobile audio peripherals and more.

Here in the Office & Professional section, Newstead has mimicked an office work space area to showcase relevant products, conduct demos and more.

For each of the user requirements based product category, Digital Style also has also set aside space to show case some common tasks like wireless setup, router setup, file backup, wireless printing, media sharing and more. To facilitate the users' decision making process, consumers are also encouraged to use their own media to try out the various products to make a sound decision. After all - according to HP (ironically) - the PC is now personal and everyone has their own requirements and expectations.

That about sums up Digital Style's attempt to make computing equipment retail outlets a better experience. Like I said earlier, it's not a day and night change, but subtle improvements that work in favor of the consumer. Perhaps the next concept store idea might incorporate an in-house 'doctor' of sorts for people to seek consultation on various product groups? It's really up to the various retailers to start thinking about how to value-add their customer's shopping experience. Tell us, what else would you like to see in a new generation tech retail store?

Vijay Anand

Vijay Anand / Editor-in-Chief

A pioneering contributor of since its inception in 1998, his keen interest in DIY computing has helped establish content standards in testing and reporting online, while his drive to share knowledge has laid the foundation of Social Media 1.0 in Singapore via the HWZ Forums. As site editor since 2005, he oversees all content production with the local team, supervises the regional teams and provides forum management insights to the large pool of contributors.

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