Here at gap intelligence we’re always trying something new and different, whether it’s organizing a conference or flying kites in the park. Our latest venture is most exciting to me personally because I get to be involved in the creation of a new product category! We recently opened up a TV segment, and I am very pleased to be able to shepherd its growth as the resident TV analyst. When I first started venturing out to retail shops, there were so many TVs to see and so much information to take in that I didn’t know where to look first. Thankfully, living and breathing TVs for several weeks has helped me make more sense of it all. That said, I thought it might be helpful to offer up this basic primer on how to navigate the HDTV section of your local retailer.
If you have gone shopping for a new TV lately and felt overwhelmed as soon as you stepped into the store, you are not alone. The television section at most major retailers is an explosion of options that can often be more confusing than helpful. Large retailers like Best Buy, Sears, and Fry’s Electronics all have more than a hundred different HDTV models to choose from, and even Kmart, with the smallest selection, has over 40. If you spend enough time doing some prep work and shopping around, however, you can start to make sense of all those glowing screens.
One of the most important aspects of TV shopping is the picture quality. You need to be able to see the product in action before you buy it. In order to display a large item like a TV, a retailer must invest in a lot of floor and wall space. Be prepared to stroll up and down several aisles of products as you find your perfect living room entertainment hub. Fortunately for us, retailers tend to organize their televisions by size, so if you know how big you want your screen you can compare products easily.
According to market research firm NPD, the average LCD TV screen size increased by 5% to over 35-inches over the past year, and shipments of screens 40-inches or larger increased by 12% to capture a 37% market share. Sharp Electronics predicts that the average screen size will grow to 60-inches by 2015, although that could be wishful thinking from the manufacturer that specializes in—you guessed it—large screen HDTVs. As the average television size continues to grow, we can expect the retail space devoted to displaying the TVs to expand accordingly. Or, retailers can take a cue from Best Buy and include tags next to each television on display that shows what other sizes are available for that model. This practice cuts down on the amount of products the store has to display, but if you’re looking for a 32-inch HDTV, you’re not likely to scour the tags next to the 60-inch screens to see what else is available.
Most people are at least nominally familiar with the three most common screen types available in retail: LCD, LED-LCD, and Plasma. Plasma screens are rarely available in televisions smaller than 42-inches, so the choice is easier when you’re shopping for smaller screens. Retailers typically don’t separate the plasma from the LCD screens, although Fry’s Electronics does have a small section within its TV displays, which features plasma screens. Each format has its benefits and its drawbacks, so it is important to check in with a knowledgeable sales rep to decide on which type is best for you.
TVs also come with a variety of features that are of interest to consumers. Smart TVs, which can access the internet and stream content directly to the TV, are gaining popularity. The technology is expected to reach 70% market penetration of all TV shipments by 2016, up from 25% in 2011, according to IMS Research. Although the feature is pointed out on product tags or even posters, retailers tend not to separate their smart TVs from the rest of the crowd at this time. The current draw is in 3D televisions. Best Buy, Fry’s Electronics, and Sears all have similar displays set up with a pair of 3D glasses held on a pedestal to allow consumers to test drive the 3D capabilities before committing to a set. Consumers are encouraged to walk up and test out the screen in the store. Although it seems like the best way to show off 3D capabilities, I have yet to see anyone actually using the displays.
Pricing is also a concern for many customers, and with the average retail price of a new television at $1,043, it is not a small purchase. Fortunately, the same models tend to be carried across the retail spectrum without a large difference in price. In fact, the average new TV price at most individual major retailers is within $20 of the overall average. Selection at each store can make a difference, so if a store carries more large-screen televisions than others, or if it carries more high-end brands, its average price will be a little higher.
The most important thing a consumer can do before heading out to buy a TV is to take the time to do a little research. Read up on different screen types and sizes, and try to decide whether paying more for a smart TV or 3D capabilities is worth the investment. If you go into the stores armed with some data, you will be better prepared to come out of the experience with your sanity intact – and maybe a new TV in the back of your truck.