CES 2010 Recap: through the eyes of a shopper marketer

imageI’ve spent the past couple of months visiting clients and talking about key takeaways from CES this year, and I’ve promised to blog a quick recap.  So, belatedly, here it is.

CES is the largest trade show in the US, it’s hosted in Las Vegas every January and it focuses on the Consumer Electronics industry.  A number of blogs do a great job covering the products introduced at the show.  Engadget is a great place to start.  Here is a nicely organized photo library from the show.

My interests at CES are more about what retail designers and in-store marketers can learn from the show.

I try to focus on two key things.

1.  What new products are being launched this year, and how will we introduce shoppers to them in-store?

2.  What tools and techniques are brands using in their own booths to capture attendee attention and deliver product knowledge that we can apply to in-store use?

New Products

image3DTV – Without question the main story at this years CES is the introduction of 3D technologies to home theater and gaming systems.  Most TV manufacturers had a least one demo.  This was well timed given Avatar had just hit theaters and was setting all box office records.

The rapid evolution of TV technology is a real paradigm shift for consumers.  Many consumers owned the same NTSC TV set for 10+ years and never had a compelling reason to upgrade.  Then less than a year after investing in their first HDTV, they may find that they now want a 3DTV.  Most of the 3DTV’s for consumers are based on active shutter technologies which means viewers will need to wear special glasses.  The early research suggest that there is a market for these new products.  DisplaySearch predicts that over 1.2M 3DTV’s will be sold this year, and NPD suggests that about a third of shoppers were interested in the new technology.  CEA conducted their own 3DTV research “3DTV: Is it for Real?” which is well worth the read if you’re a CEA member.

But this technology is going to create a number of retail challenges in stores.  If we run 3D content on TV’s, those TV’s are going to look defective and unappealing to shoppers who aren’t wearing glasses.  How do we tell those shoppers that 3DTVs are also the very best 2D TV’s?  Where will we get 3DTV content samples?  What will the brand interoperability be?  Will shoppers know if their existing BluRay player, HDMI AV Receiver, and cables are compatible?  Will shoppers have hygiene or vanity concerns about trying on 3D glasses in public?  Will the glasses be stolen?  Will they break?  Will the batteries in the glasses last?  How will shoppers know to hit the “on” button on the glasses?  Will retailers existing video distribution infrastructures support 3D?

imageAs is often the case, most of these challenges haven’t been fully considered as the technology is being rushed to the market.  SonyStyle stores now have pre-released demos in most stores (and more often than not you’ll find the Sony power button broken on the glasses).  Best Buy expects to have 3DTV demo’s in several hundred stores this month and 1,000 by the end of the year.

Undoubtedly, the first demo’s will be stand-alone vignettes probably from a single OEM brand.  But pretty quickly this is going to trickle down to all sorts of retail infrastructure and customer experience decisions.

imageSETTOP BOXES – There was also no shortage of boxes to add all kinds of downloadable content and new features to your TV.  Boxee probably got the most ink for their announcement that D-Link would be making a Boxee branded devices (Boxee Box).

Unfortunately, consumers generally can’t tell from the typical retailers fact tags, what these things do, and why they would want one.  Many of these features are built into versions of the latest BluRay players already on the shelves but very few consumers are savvy enough to compare features like “Vudu” vs. “Pandora.”  Even Apple struggles to properly position AppleTV, it’s own offering in the space.

These products all suffer from what I call the “Tivo Problem.”  Early in the lifecyle of personal video recorders, consumers didn’t know they needed one.  Millions of shoppers would walk by the Tivo and ReplayTV boxes on the shelf and never have a clue what was offered within, but go to a friends house that already owns one, and instantly you want one!  So how do we create that same experience in store?  Live demos are certainly one way, but frankly many of these products are too complicated to learn in the 30 seconds a shopper is likely to give you, so I’m a big fan of using video to show simulated ownership experiences.  Show vignettes of consumers happily using these things in their home, and you’ll create demand.  The first OEM to get a really good Vendor Provided Display in BestBuy is going to win a lot of marketshare.

imageE-BOOKS – The Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, and Barnes and Nobel Nook got some serious competition at CES in the form of about 1,000 different cheap devices being made by seemingly every factory in Asia.  Then later in the month, Steve Jobs gave millions of consumers permission to want one when Apple announced the IPad (which includes an eBook use-case).

I’m curious to see how these guys get merchandised at retail stores, because to me the real benefit isn’t the device itself, it’s the content I can get for the device and the use-cases they enable.  Will retailers just focus on the networking and display features of these devices, or will they tell the story that buying an IPad means never having to take out the Newspaper Recycling again?  Will the in-store signage feature pictures of hardware or of John Gresham?

There definitely is going to be some complicated stories to tell in the store: with the Kindle you get your books wirelessly, with the iPad you get them wireless if you pay or are on free-wifi, and with the Sony Pocket Edition you need to download books on your PC and sync it with a USB cable.  What authors are available for each platform, what are the price points?  Touch Screen?  Backlit vs. Reflective?  Etc…

Shoppers are clearly going to want to see the screens and evaluate the form factors in the store, with all the live-sell merchandising and loss prevention challenges that implies.  I hope retailers don’t put these things inside of product jail (a glass display case), or try to re-use a merchandising system that was designed for an MP3 player.

imageWIRELESS CHARGING – Because I help so many retailers merchandise handheld devices (and because keeping the batteries on those devices charged for live demos is such a pain), lots of people are asking me about the new wireless power products.  And certainly Powermat and others are getting some good traction and shopper awareness.

The problem is that so far all of these near field induction power solutions are proprietary and aftermarket. You need to add an adaptor to your IPhone in order to charge it on the Powermat.  The charger option for the Palm Pre can’t charge any 3rd party accessories, etc… So selling these products to consumers makes perfect sense.  Although I’ll bet return rates are high, because few retailers really explain the whole adaptor requirement very well.

But using this technology to more easily demonstrate handheld devices in the store doesn’t make much sense yet.  Today retailers use inexpensive charging adaptors (i.e. SmartCables) to charge each device.  SmartCables are much less expensive than Wireless Charging Adaptors and unlike the consumer adaptors no one has any incentive to steal SmartCables.  So I don’t think any of the current systems really replace a retailers need for a good SmartCable solution.

image However, if an industry standard were to emerge and if wireless device manufacturers pre-built the technology into their devices that was compatible with that standard, then we’d have a whole new ball game and could eliminate the need for retailers to buy and use SmartCables.  One such effort is called Qi (pronouced “Chee”).  Unfortunately there are a number of competing standards and financial interests at the moment, so this is going to take a while to play out.

The elephant in the room on all induction power solutions may be how Un-Green they are.  The energy transfer loss of these technologies is huge, some solutions require 10X the power of a direct coupled solution.

Merchandising Techniques

I have no idea what those numbers mean, but I know I want the bigger ones!Show Me Don’t Tell Me – Many exhibitors did a good job of building displays into their booth to visual communicate an abstract concept.  Tell a consumer that a product has “Motion Tracking” and they probably won’t internalize the benefit, but show them a camera staying focused on a train engine as it runs circles around a track, and they will instantly want a camera with that feature.

Some of my co-workers call these sort of displays the OMSI Style (named after our local science museum that does a great job with these illustrative displays).

Don’t tell me you are more energy efficient, brighter, cooler, smarter, better, etc…  Show me that you are, and why that’s better for me.

Samsung feature displayGet my Attention – You are in one of the most excessive cities in the world, at the largest trade show in the US, and giant TV’s are a dime a dozen, so how do you stand out from the crowd?  Exhibitors have to come up with something visually unique and novel to surprise you and capture your attention.  Getting your attention amongst all the visual clutter is first critical step to having a conversation with you, and retailers face the same challenge every time a shopper walks in the door.  So how do the best of class CES exhibitors do it?

Well most do it by throwing a ton of money at the problem and surprising you with a scale you wouldn’t expect.  “Hey the ceiling in here is made up of 100 65” LCD’s!”  And these kind of featured displays can be very effective.  They certainly worked for LG, Samsung, Kodak and others at CES.  The problem is that in a retail store where a customer might visit 12-50 times a year, the same $1M featured display that might easily catch their attention on the first visit, will not be so surprising or attention capturing on the 50th visit.  So in a retail store it’s usually better to use something other than extravagant investment to engage shoppers.

Microsoft Feature DisplayMicrosoft used some inexpensive light projectors to put moving geometric patterns on fabric walls in their booth.  It cost a fraction of the Samsung display above, but both were equally effective and cutting through the visual clutter and capturing your attention.  The difference is that you can afford to change the Microsoft one every month to keep it fresh in your store.  You can’t do that with the cool but expensive Samsung approach.


It definitely felt like a more energetic show in 2010 than it did in 2009.  That’s probably partly because the economy is showing some signs of turning around, and partly because CEA consolidated exhibitors into a smaller footprint to feel busier.  There were a lot of good ideas at the show worth learning from, and it’s certainly going to be a busy and interesting year for CE Retailers!

I hope this recap is useful for those of you that didn’t attend, and I’d love  to hear what most caught the attention of those that did go.

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