Friday, May 23, 2008

Macy's Doesn't Need Qualified People to Sell Electronics, Just Vending Machines

So much for the idea that you need qualified salespeople to sell consumer electronics. Macy's, a major department store chain in the U.S. has decided that vending machines will do just fine. The retailer is expanding on a 2-year pilot program, and erecting the e-Spot machines in 400 of its stores.

In an effort to sound tech-savvy, Macy's Senior V.P. of Customer Operations Chris Mizer said: "Personal electronics are a massive business in today's texting, downloading, photo 'tagging,' YouTubing world. And arguably more so than ever before, people's tech taste is as much an extension of their personal style as their choice of shoe or apparel brands. As we continue to expand the Macy's brand as the premiere shopping and lifestyle destination, it became increasingly obvious that our customer was looking to us for this calibre of electronic product. They wanted one-stop, no-fuss shopping, and we are responding." He calls it a "no pressure" environment. I guess he forgot about the no interaction part, which is really what sets traditional bricks-and-mortar retailers apart from the competition.

Products to be sold through the machines will range in price from $14.99 all the way up to $349.99, and include items like Apple iPods, Canon and Samsung digital cameras, and B&O and Harman Kardon headphones.

On the one hand, this might be a good way for a non-traditional CE store to add technology items to its product offerings for grab-and-go customers to snatch up. Macy's obviously sees a big enough market of consumers that are already educated about technology, and know what they want before they walk into the store. After all, I don't think there are too many people that sit through a demo of an iPod, or need to know of its features, before they buy one - they just want it.

But on the other hand, does this process insult the knowledge and education that dedicated CE retailers put into their staff? Walk into downtown Toronto's Bay Bloor Radio and you'll see a full wall of headphones where customers can try each model out with his own music, and decide upon the right fit with the help of a sales associate. Visit any Henry's Camera location across Ontario and staff is constantly busy discussing and demonstrating the latest digital cameras, including Canon-branded ones, for eager-to-learn customers. Is this all for not?

Perhaps in Macy's land, a $350 pair of headphones is an impulse buy, just like razor blades and chewing gum is in a standard grocery shop. No word on whether the machines will answer your questions or accept returns.

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Jim V. said...

Being a former electronics salesperson I'm not insulted in the least as some gadgets are self explanatory and I'm sure they'll fill the machines with such products. I'd be more worried to see what the customers do when their purchase doesn't fully disengage and hangs off the edge.

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