As it looks to bolster its reputation for technological expertise, Best Buy Co. Inc. has teamed up with Intel Corp. to showcase concepts such as augmented reality and 3-D printing that are not yet in the mass market.
Intel Technology Experience zones, which average about 240 square feet, are being placed in 50 Best Buy stores later this month. In the Twin Cities, Best Buy's store at the Mall of America will get one. The first opened earlier this week in Portland, Ore., where Intel has engineering and manufacturing sites.
"The normal consumer can't get to the Consumer Electronics Show to see the latest cutting-edge technology," Jeff Haydock, a Best Buy spokesman, said, referring to the industry's annual trade show. "This gives you a sense of what is possible with this kind of technology."
It's also the latest example of Best Buy's strategy to carve out mini-stores within its stores to highlight top brand partners. It has rolled out Samsung and Sony mini-stores, which show off 4K TVs, in more than half of its U.S. stores this year.
In the Intel zones, customers will be able to design 3-D robots on a touch-enabled, Intel-powered laptop and then see them come to life on a 3-D printer. They will also be able to use Intel tablets to design and race a Mars Rover and then will be able to maneuver it virtually through a physical Mars landscape. And they can use an Intel-powered device to remix Ne-Yo tracks and control stage lights like a DJ does.
Customers won't be able to exactly replicate the experiences at home. But Haydock said that many of the Intel-powered laptops and tablets used will be available for sale in stores. He also noted that Best Buy will add the printer by 3-D Systems used in the experience to its online store in coming weeks, joining a handful of other 3-D printers it already sells online.
Jason Long, a consultant with Shift Marketing Group, said the Intel experience is a creative way for Best Buy to drive traffic to its store during the holidays. After all, many people have heard about 3-D printers, but haven't seen one live.
"It's not just another sale or promotion," Long said in an e-mail. "What a great opportunity for Best Buy to position their stores as the place to go to see the new technology. I don't feel like any other retailer has claimed this space in the consumer's mind, so it could be fertile territory."
And it provides customers with an experience they can't get online.
Of course, Best Buy won't mind if customers pick up something else in the store while they're checking out the Intel lab. The Richfield-based retailer has been working to reverse 10 consecutive quarters of sales declines. It has said it expects sales during the holidays to be down by a low single-digit percentage.
The Intel Technology Experience zones will be staffed by Best Buy employees and will be refreshed every season with new technology. "It's not just a holiday play," Haydock said.
He added that no departments were reduced or eliminated to make way for the new Intel areas.
For Intel, the space within Best Buy stores offers a prime opportunity as it looks to connect more directly with consumers and tries to branch out beyond its PC business. While it doesn't directly sell any of its own devices, the chipmaker has recently been moving into the growing mobile device market as PC sales have slowed.
Last year, Intel had three pop-up stores during the holiday season, in Los Angeles, Chicago and Manhattan. A spokeswoman for Intel said the partnership with Best Buy is the chipmaker's largest initiative yet for a dedicated physical presence in stores across the country.