In our first special report on retail, KidScreen assigned four reporters in four different U.S. centers-New Jersey, Chicago, Los Angeles and Tucson-to examine and rate the merchandising of children’s interactive software and videos. They looked at everything from customer service to in-store displays to the way companies were branding their products at the retail level. We included major chains and small independent stores, computer specialty shops and bookstores.
Software Etc., Paramus, New Jersey
Like Goldilocks finding the porridge that’s just right, stores like Software Etc., located inside a Barnes & Noble in Paramus, New Jersey, attract computer-literate customers who don’t make computers the central component of their existence. The store may not carry the volume of inventory that computer megastores do, but it has an ambiance that makes it a nice place to shop.
Software Etc. (also known as Software at Barnes & Noble) is part of NeoStar, which owns other computer store chains including Babbage’s Software and Supr Software. This 3,500-square-foot section is one of about a hundred Software Etc. outlets that lease space inside Barnes & Noble.
Located on the second floor of the bookstore, the first thing shoppers encounter is a multimedia Demo Station. The Demo Station runs software, usually children’s, that customers are encouraged to sample. The computer is set up so that an adult can operate it standing up. A stool is provided for young children.
Straddling the Demo Station is the children’s software section. New product, under a section labeled ‘Kids & Fun,’ runs along one wall; specially discounted items are on another. A rough count estimated the number of software packages at about 125 to 150. The children’s section is positioned in the front of the store to emphasize the family aspect of shopping there, according to a manager. Shelving and displays are consistent with the mood and feel of Barnes & Noble.
End-aisle displays featured no significant promotions, although an island display showcased a variety of product, including Image Smith’s eye-catching Yearn 2 Learn software, packaged as a Snoopy lunch box, handle included.
Software Etc. takes part in Barnes & Noble Jr.’s summer story time program. Every Friday, after story time in the children’s section downstairs, kids are encouraged to go upstairs to Software Etc. and interact with a CD-ROM that enhances the story time experience.
The store also has a Frequent Buyers Club, that entitles shoppers to discounts after purchasing 10 products.
Being smaller and more intimate, Software Etc. snugly fits in with the classy atmosphere that Barnes & Noble stores project. The clerks were helpful and ready to answer questions or just talk about computers in general. Type A personalities won’t shop here. Customers who like to browse, or who feel intimidated or just put off by larger stores, will.