In-Store Testing, A Recipe That Sells
In a study of 1,000 consumers, the Arlington-based Retail Industry Leaders Association recently found that between 75 and 80 percent leave a store without making a purchase because of an inability to find products or differentiate between them.
Some high-end boutiques, such as Bang & Olufson, have been encouraging consumers to test-drive their goods, but executives credit the success of Ikea, the Swedish purveyor of trendy assemble-your-own rooms, with generating the current interest in this approach. The company devotes about 25 percent of its floor space to fully furnished -- and, where electricity is required, functioning -- rooms showcasing Ikea products and some non-Ikea appliances. The so-called vignettes encourage sales not only of single products, the company says, but also of entire collections.
To sell Maytag's latest ultra-quiet appliance, Brian Baumgarten, who owns a Maytag Store in Sterling, used to launch into an elaborate explanation of its sound insulation package. Now he just turns it on. "Isn't that quiet?" he said as he passed one of them.
Cindy and Woody Himes seemed to think so. The couple, who are upgrading appliances in their Ashburn condominium, came to the store in search of a new dishwasher. A salesman showed them three options, opening doors, pulling out dish racks, and moving around glasses and bowls.
Then he turned each on. As the machines began to hum, Woody Himes crouched down and listened. He stopped at the Maytag Quiet Series 300, the most expensive of the trio, at $499.99. "I'll take it," he said. "It's the quietest."
Newton, Iowa-based Maytag, which manufacturers the Maytag, Jenn-Air, Amana and Magic Chef appliance brands, does not own its retail stores, which are independently operated. But it was the company that developed the concept for the new Maytag Store.
At about 5,000 square feet, the new stores are at least twice the size of the older format. They contain color-coded signs for appliances tied to cooking, laundry and dishwashing. And the stores are strategically located near home goods stores such as Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Inside a Maytag Store (the traditional format is called a Maytag Home Appliance Center), appliances are installed into full kitchens, complete with fruit baskets on the counter and spices in the cabinets. Employees put cinnamon water in the oven and bake it to create the smell of home cooking.
Baumgarten, who has owned several traditional Maytag stores in the region, opened the Sterling store in 2002. He estimates sales in the larger, interactive store are twice those of the older one. The biggest difference, he said, is how many appliances consumers buy. "Instead of buying one range, they buy the range and the refrigerator, and maybe the dishwasher, because they see how it works together," he said.
Minnesota-based Best Buy, the nation's biggest electronics seller, has installed vignette areas in 32 stores and eventually plans to introduce them in each of the chain's 600 stores, Damian said. The mock rooms, which include everything from kitchen appliances to home electronics, are positioned across the store, underneath large banners that read "Test Drive: Try it before you buy it."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Sales consultant Don Ownby tests a washer in the Maytag Store in Sterling where customers can try appliances.
(Olivier Douliery For The Washington Post)