When the Amazon Kindle was released I really wanted to buy one but worried about how different it could be from what I was seeing in pictures. They were and still are only being sold online. I needed to touch it before I paid the price they were asking. Only after I ran into someone who owned one and got the opportunity to see it first hand did I decide to buy it. I was sold within minutes. That took a few months from the day they released the Kindle to the day I placed my order because I had to see and touch the product. This strategy of only selling online may come back to haunt Amazon.
Sony has started to be far more aggressive in supporting sales of its own E-reader. I recently flew through Amsterdam’s Shipol airport and in every electronics store in the airport the Sony E-reader was on display(See pictures). With millions of people going through the airports of the world this can be a winning strategy for Sony. It also reminded me of a time when a friend of mine was traveling within the US and started sending me SMS messages wanted to get my thoughts in regards to the Sony E-Reader. She was about to get on a plane and was thinking about buying a Sony E-Reader because it was right there in front of her to pick up and take. She bought it then and there.
The importance of physical retail has been proven by Apple’s success and Sony may have something going for it with it’s strategy. The retail channel was highlighted even further when Microsoft moved into retail(http://www.fool.com/investing/value/2009/10/26/microsoft-coming-soon-to-a-mall-near-you.aspx) to compete with Apple’s retailing operations. Barnes & Noble is not far behind with it’s own E-reader, the Nook(http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33401356/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets/), and has all it’s physical book stores to help it sell.
Amazon has a strong lead but it may be wise for the folks in Seattle to think about putting those Kindles out where people can play with them and touch them. Best Buy could be a good channel for them but it’s not the only one. Of course it’s easier said than done. Changing your business model is never as easy as one thinks. Just ask the airlines.