In-Store Testing, A Recipe That Sells
Now Shoppers Bake, Wash Before They Buy
By Michael Barbaro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2004; Page E01
Falling in love with the new Jenn-Air convection oven but unsure whether it can handle a 25-pound turkey? Maytag Corp. has a novel idea: Bring in the bird and cook it.
As part of a new program, the company is encouraging consumers to test-drive appliances before buying them. Shoppers can throw in a load of laundry, wash dirty dishes and bake their favorite dinners. There's even a package of cookie dough on hand in case people forget to bring their own.
"Try it before you buy it" used to apply to cars, clothes and sporting goods. Now it's weaving its way into such major household purchases as refrigerators and TiVo. National retailers, fighting low-priced discounters and the Internet, say the strategy is giving them a much-needed edge.
It's proving a powerful tool in selling appliances and electronics, complex gadgets whose technical-sounding and price-increasing distinctions -- higher resolution, extra gigabytes, more pixels -- can easily be lost on consumers.
One major target of the effort: women. They make the most household purchases but are more interested in understanding how a product will fit into their lives than hearing a salesman tick off its bells and whistles, executives said.
Maytag has opened 41 stores with the new format and plans 50 more this year. "You don't buy anything else at that price without testing it out, and we don't think an appliance should be any different," said Jill Spiekerman, a company spokeswoman.
Best Buy Co. is rolling out stores featuring mock rooms, each filled with chairs, lamps, rugs and thousands of dollars worth of electronics. Salespeople encourage shoppers to kick off their shoes and watch satellite TV on wide-screen plasma monitors.
James Damian, a senior vice president at Best Buy, said multiple product and service sales have risen sharply in stores with the mock rooms. "It's kind of like going to the Ralph Lauren Polo store," Damian said. "They are selling you a wardrobe, not just a shirt. Before now, big box retailers have never done this."
Retailers say the interaction sells. At Whirlpool Corp.'s 12,000-square-foot studio store in Atlanta, shoppers spend an average of two hours each turning knobs and pushing buttons. Afterward, 90 percent of them buy a Whirlpool appliance, the company said.
"I think we are going to see a lot more of this," said Raymond R. Burke, a professor of business administration at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business, who predicts the trend will help consumers sift through a crush of nearly identical devices. "This is an overdue way to communicate what makes a product unique."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company