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Amazon Ready to Guide Customers on HD

28 Aug, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

E-commerce giant Amazon.com has a unique niche in the market for high-definition technology.

On the DVD hardware side, Amazon has the rare ability to remain format-agnostic forever if need be, with no shelf-space constraints to worry about.

Amazon has carried both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc hardware for preorder prior to and during the dual product launches. The site offers the $499 Toshiba HD-A1 player for $459. On the Blu-ray side, Amazon shoppers can purchase the Samsung BD-P1000 player for $814 (SRP is $999.99) or pre-order the $999.99 Sony BDP-S1 model, which is due soon. The site also offers 10% off software purchases over the next year with the purchase of one of the high-def players.

Electronics is a huge category for the seller — about 30% of the site's sales are in this category, according to Amazon.

Obviously, Amazon.com's shopper base for both high-def products, as with other retailers, is the early adopter, said Noah Herschman, director of audio/video for Amazon's North American sites.

But a two-format high-def world for packaged media isn't likely to last, especially if it's to become a mass-market product, he said.

“There has not been historical evidence to support that happening successfully,” he said.In the chicken-and-egg question of which comes first: the HDTV or the high-def media player, Herschman said the TV is the main driver right now.

Amazon buyers have access to a huge selection of HDTVs and both next-generation DVD formats.

Unlike brick-and-mortar competitors, Amazon cannot offer an elaborate demo of the pricey hardware. However, Amazon has several systems in place to take the worry or confusion out of the process for the online shopper.

Amazon hired the former head of Best Buy's boutique home theater retail arm, Magnolia Entertainment, to train a staff of customer service representatives who are on call at all times to help Amazon HDTV shoppers. If customers have questions about a set, they can click on a link, enter their phone number and a service rep will call them immediately or at a specified time.

After a shopper purchases a set, Amazon delivers it and sets it up for the consumer, running through a tutorial of how to work the TV, as well.

It's a “white glove delivery” that mitigates a lot of apprehension about the online buying process for HDTV sets.

Additional factors such as consumer reviews — Amazon's feature that shows what other shoppers looked at before they purchased, compared to what they ultimately bought — and the site's continually updated top seller list in the category help create a community for high-def enthusiasts, Herschman said.

Amazon itself is purely brand- and format-agnostic and will remain so, he said.

“We are like the pure customer barometer,” he said. “People will go with what connects with them.”

What's connecting with shoppers is more than just the high-def nature of HDTVs, he said.

“It's also about form … the sexiness, the sleekness of flat-panel displays,” he said.Herschman spent several years working for the electronics chain Tweeter, and he's watched shopper behavior change.

“This is really the first consumer electronics product where women really want it,” he said.

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