Special Feature By Patrick Avenell
Within the next few months, the number of Smart TVs on the market is going to explode. Sony, Panasonic, LG and Samsung all have new ranges and have all refreshed their Smart TV platforms to include much more content.
The Tier 2 brands are catching up quickly. Hisense, TCL and Changhong all have Smart TVs coming out — including Google and Windows 8 models — meaning there will be very few new TVs on sale without a comprehensive IPTV offering.
And for those existing TV owners who don’t want to invest in a new television, several companies are releasing Smart TV set top boxes to turn any TV into a Smart one.
“This is how we are trying to differentiate ourselves from our competitors,"
Chris Lozenkovski, Domayne.
Within the next few months, Smart TV will transition from being a premium feature to being commonplace. And yet most electronics retail stores in Australia do not have the ability to properly demonstrate it. The same is true for the latest and greatest Ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones — without a fast, reliable and open Wi-Fi network, consumers are unable to properly experience the best technology on the market.
Retailers are well-versed in the art of demonstrations in some categories. Walk into a Harvey Norman and you are likely to see a Dyson in action and get a free cup of coffee from a functioning fully automatic. These demonstrations are imperative in the current retail environment — it’s one thing that cannot be adequately replicated online.
Apple, Samsung and Acer all offer free Wi-Fi at their brand stores and kiosks for consumers to play with either their own gadgets or to trial a new one before purchasing.
Suppliers we contacted for comment were cautious about commenting on the record regarding how retailers should best demonstrate their products. Samsung national sales and marketing manager Brad Wright, who is overseeing the release of some of the best-featured and attractive Smart TVs this year, was prepared to go on the record.
“To fully appreciate what Samsung’s Smart TVs can do, they are best demonstrated when connected to the internet, as this provides an experience closer to what Australian consumers get when they take one home,” Wright said. “Samsung is working closely with retailers to make sure more stores offer internet connected demonstrations, as this is key to communicating the key benefits of our Smart TVs.”
Samsung has one of the most attractive Smart TV ranges.
LG concurs with its Korean rival, saying that only an online demonstration can truly communicate the benefits of its Smart TVs.
“To be able to run a live demo effectively, reliable fast internet connections are required,” said a spokesperson. “We are always looking for ways in which we can engage customers and demonstrate our products. The ease of use of an LG Smart TV, once in the hands of the consumer, is immediately apparent.”
Should a retailer invest in internet for their store, LG can provide training and assistance to make the most of this connectivity.
“LG goes to great lengths to ensure that retail staff is trained across its various product ranges in order to enhance the consumer experience,” the spokesperson said.
Sony Australia was not prepared to go into details, providing only the following response through its PR company: “All retailers have their own strategies so it is best to speak to them directly”.
Chris Lozenkovski, the electrical franchisee at Domayne Warrawong, is one retailer that has connected his Smart TVs to the internet. He said this was working well.
“We have the internet in store,” he said, “and one of the big points we are pushing as the ‘Technology Destination’ is that we can demonstrate IT features in the store across our range.
“This is how we are trying to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.”
Lozenkovski said it was policy that all stores were set up and ready to demonstrate. Although his Wi-Fi network is not public, staff will connect customers to the network on a case-by-case basis.
While Domayne is leading the charge into this frontier, others are lagging behind. This has been noticed by the current generation of internet-obsessed consumers.
“It’s terrible — it sucks,” is how George Kaloudis, technical director at DC4G and avid technology fan, described the situation.
When I spoke to Kaloudis, DC4G had just completed installing a free Wi-Fi network at the Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre, a mall with over 50 tenants around 30 kilometres southwest of Melbourne, Victoria. This was an example of a large scale operation for DC4G, which can also implement smaller networks in individual stores.
“It’s very straightforward to set up,” Kaloudis said. “Wi-Fi has come a long way from its beginnings, when it was a very technical thing, to something now that anyone can deploy. Someone from JB Hi-Fi or Harvey Norman could plug it in and works.
“From our perspective, though, we have a commercial grade product that we offer, specifically for retailers, and the solution is targeted at delivering benefits to the retailers.”
A custom DC4G installation would typically cost a normal sized retail outlet $1,200 in start-up costs and then $290 per month for unlimited data on a 12-month contract.
Kaloudis said that in addition to demonstrating Smart TVs, tablets and the soon-to-be-released connected refrigerators, retailers also have the ability to directly market to consumers when they connect to the Wi-Fi.
“Retailers can run promotions that are only available on the Wi-Fi, so you would have to be in their physical retail store to jump onto the system to get a special deal that’s not available anywhere else,
“There’s also an engagement mechanism so users can sign up for loyalty bonuses or to get a discount or get some sort of additional value rather than just free Wi-Fi. We can market and promote the retailer by giving the users the ability to interact digitally within in store.”
Retailers also have the option of setting up their own network. A small format store could purchase a commercial-quality router for around $400 and then subscribe to an unlimited Telstra Business data plan for $280 per month plus a $48 installation fee.
A third option is to contact a supplier of internet hardware, such as routers and modems, and have the experts set it up for you. In researching this story, we learnt that at least one of the major router brands is prepared to install a Wi-Fi network gratis in exchange for the goodwill this gesture would receive.