Target tests new Apple-like format in its electronics department

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 17, 2013 - 4:25 PM

Electronics buyers can get up close and personal with the products.

 

Target’s electronics departments may be a getting a new look.

The discount retailer recently remodeled the departments in several of its stores with waist-height, bright white tables and displays. The move fits a design trend seen in recent years at stores run by Apple Inc. and Best Buy Co. that gives shoppers more hands-on experience with the goods.

“It’s more a minimalist approach with space for consumers to touch and test the merchandise,” said Chris Christopher, director of consumer electronics at IHS Global Insight in Massachusetts.

And it comes at a time when electronics sellers are seeing a major shift in product mix as the space that used to be devoted to cameras — which are declining rapidly in sales — gives way to square footage for cellphones.

Target is testing the format to give customers a more convenient way to interact with products and services, said spokeswoman Erica Julkowski. “Guests are looking for more interactive ways to make purchasing decisions about the latest technology,” she wrote in a statement.

The concept is being tested at stores in Brooklyn Park, Mankato, Ridgedale and the Quarry location in Minneapolis, as well as outside Minnesota. There was no word on how long the test will last or when Target executives might decide whether to bring the idea to the rest of its approximately 1,800 stores nationwide.

Brett Laabs of Minnetonka was at the Ridgedale Center store Wednesday comparing phones for his son. Although he liked the look of the remodeled department, he left somewhat frustrated, wanting more information.

“I wish they would compare the plans better,” he said. “But I did like the way I could feel and play with the phones.”

Putting phones directly in the hands of customers is a reaction to the “showrooming” trend and competition from online retailers such as Amazon.com, said Christopher, the IHS analyst.

The hope is that the test departments will create “reverse showrooming.” That occurs when customers do preliminary research online at CNET or the phone carrier’s site, for example, then go to the retailer to buy, Christopher said. It’s easier to compare features and check reviews online, he said, but bricks-and-mortar stores can put the phone in their hands faster, assuming it’s in stock.

The challenge for Target and other electronics retailers is to give customers a better experience in the store than they might have online. One way to accomplish that is to emphasize service, said Amy Koo, a senior analyst at Kantar Retail in Boston.

At the Ridgedale store Wednesday, several attentive staff members in electronics were catering to customers in the department. One employee said that staffing in electronics had been increased since the makeover, but Target officials would not confirm that.

Lowering sightlines and getting customers to play with the phones isn’t enough, Koo said.

“They need to make it more experiential and transformative by adding something that a consumer can’t accomplish online. Like a headphones station,” she said.

Electronics is the latest department to be given a makeover at Target. Cosmetics recently added concierges to pump up the service factor at 200 locations. In the Chicago area, Target also is testing a new concept called Baby 360 aimed at new and expectant mothers.

 

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633



 

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  • Target’s new electronics display areas resemble those found at Apple and Best Buy stores..KYNDELL HARKNESS • kyndell.harkness@startribune.com

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