People have said that both Sony and Gateway are trying to become more like Apple, so it's no surprise that all three companies have focused on retail stores. Of course, so far, the only one that has been successful with the strategy has been Apple, and that's because they don't have channel conflict to deal with. I've been to the Sony store in San Francisco a few times, and I still don't quite understand the point. It's clearly not there to sell anything. Prices are more expensive than you can find elsewhere, and there really isn't that much selection. It's more of a big display case where you can check out Sony products, but that doesn't seem particularly efficient. Still, Sony has decided, in light of Apple's success with their stores, to expand the retail effort and will be opening a bunch of new stores. Of course, part of the reason for Apple's success is their group of loyal customers who do things like lineup for miles to get in on opening day. Sony doesn't inspire the same level of fanaticism. Besides, Sony really does risk pissing off their channel partners. They try to solve this by basically admitting that these stores aren't designed to sell products - which should only lead to the question of "why?" If the store isn't designed to move product, then it seems like a very expensive (especially in the locations they're building them), very inefficient form of advertising. Do they really think the overall benefit of stores that aren't designed to sell products will outweigh the costs of real estate and labor?
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