More Opportunity Than Ever

In the last couple of months I’ve gone to two different events where new products were introduced. Both the CE Line Shows in New York and the Levin Consulting Group Electronics Retail Summit in Las Vegas might well have been called Headphone and iAccessory shows. I’ve seen hundreds of cellphone and tablet covers and dozens of headphones, many of which rival those made by Bose, which for decades had a corner on the high-end market.

The introduction in recent years of fashionable and feature-packed headphones has led a market growth of more than $2 billion in sales. Walk down any city street and you’ll see that the ubiquitous white earbuds are being replaced by a variety of phones in different styles and price points, especially those at the higher end of the scale. According to NPD, in 2011 sales of headphones priced over $100 doubled from the previous year, well ahead of growth in the category.
The Apple economy has spawned an entire market for new accessories for its iPhones and iPads. The global market for mobile phone accessories exceeds $34 billion. Apple-approved products—accessories made by or branded by Apple—represent about $3 billion of it.
I’ve seen iPhone cases with Swarovski crystals, diamond-encrusted cases for several thousand dollars apiece, and in every imaginable color and material.
But there’s more. CEA predicts that sales of audio and video accessories—including carrying cases, cables, chargers, cleaning kits, and headphones—will exceed $4 billion this year.
Where are consumers buying them? From anyone who displays an enticing assortment with associates willing to take the time to help them buy.
Accessories have become impulse items. Every mall has at least one kiosk selling cellphone cases, car cords, and chargers. I’ll bet that not one buyer at these retail pop-ups set out to upgrade their phone cases. But once they see the display and hear that cases come with built-in USB adapters and other features, those lookers became buyers.
Traveling on business? Family vacation? InMotion is the place to stop at virtually every major airport to pick up the charger you forgot to pack or get a new portable DVD player to keep the kids occupied.
Similarly, bluwire bills itself as “Cool environment. Hot electronics.”
Office, grocery and convenience stores have all scooped up a piece of the accessory pie. Hardware stores and home improvement centers have a pretty good selection of cables and other accessories as well.
I frequently hear more traditional electronics dealers tell me why they don’t sell more accessories. “Our customers don’t think of us for those things.” No, those customers think of places like Radio Shack, which created an entire business of selling things that these retailers can’t be bothered with. I bet their customers don’t go out to the airport just to get a pair of headphones.
Same thing goes for appliance accessories. Consumers need trash compacter and vacuum bags as well as filters for their water dispensers, humidifiers and air purifiers. There’s a huge business in high-end small electrics, but most are sold at Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table, not in appliance stores.
Savvy appliance dealers are now selling specialty laundry and dishwasher detergent, insuring their customers come back more frequently.
Brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling to keep their customers off the Internet and coming into their stores. Margins continue to erode as prices decline. Dealers have to sell more units to generate the same profit dollars they made just a few years ago. Increased accessory sales are an opportunity to increase traffic, raise margins and boost sales.
Start from scratch. Treat accessories like you would any new category.

– Establish sales and profit goals.
– Designate a category champion within your company.
– Carefully select vendors.
– Allocate high-traffic space to the products.
– Properly display accessories; create additional displays near the products they go with.
– Create a promotional budget; use accessories to build traffic.
– Include accessories in your online product catalog.
– Use social media to drive traffic to your store.
– Create bundles and packages, such as HDMI cables with screen cleaners.
– Compensate associates for the extra effort taken to add accessories to their sales.

We all have more shoes than we can ever wear, and a kitchen full of gadgets. Our customers are no different. It’s up to you to provide them with what they need and what they want. The products are here. The consumer demand is here. The time is now. The opportunity is yours. l

Elly Valas is a consumer electronics retail consultant, and a member services director for the Nationwide Marketing Group.

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