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Touch, use, enjoy. . . then buy
Rajesh S Kurup
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April 20, 2006

Imagine a TV showroom where you can walk in and watch the latest Hollywood flick along with your family and kids on a state-of-the-art hi-tech home-theatre system, that too without being disturbed for the entire length of the movie. Well, that is if you don't mind tea and snacks being periodically served, or whenever you call for them - all free-of-cost.

These showrooms, called 'Digitial Experience Lounges', do not necessarily sell products. Their intention is to familiarise the user with hi-tech products. The user is free to buy the product of choice from any vendor or merchant establishment, and in most of the cases these lounges would not even know of the purchase.

Xplore - a brand floated by Mumbai-based mEssence Consulting and Services, US-based technology company Nvidia Corporation, European telecom equipment major BenQ and South Korean electronic major Samsung Electronics are among those who have already set up digital lounges in India.

However, Xplore - which has a digital lounge at Lamington Road, Mumbai, that is spread over a 1,700-square feet - is the only showroom to display products of various companies. Other digital lounges showcase their own products.

Xplore has products ranging from software from Adobe, personal computers and laptops from Apple, computer accessories from iOmega and mobile handsets from BenQ and Samsung among others.

The lounge has rooms converted into a theatre, where a family can sit and watch an entire movie on the system of their choice; a home zone to display household appliances, work zone for office-related equipment, mobility zone for handsets and accessories for people on the move, and a gaming zone for videogaming software and equipment.

Xplore does not sell any of these products. Instead, it refers "interested parties" to the nearest authorised dealer or vendor.

"A fear of new technologies is what makes customers shy away from buying an advanced product, like a newly-launched digital camera, a laptop or a high-end hometheatre system. These showrooms help potential buyers to use the product, learn its functionalities and compare price and features, before the actual purchase," says Xplore executive director Shubhendu Nath, explaining the rationale behind the lounge.

But how does the company make money? Xplore levies advertisement charges from a company that showcases its wares at the lounge. Another method is to rent out the premises for new product launches, while it also conducts exhibitions and promotional events for increasing the awareness of a product.

Lamington Road is a success story for Xplore, with over a 100 personnel visiting the showroom per day, and on days of events and expos, the number increases manifold. Further, the Xplore initiative is being proposed to be launched in 10 metros in India, one in Goregaon, another in a Mumbai suburb and a couple of outlets in Bangalore.

On the other hand, Nvidia Corporation, a global major in graphics and digital media processors, has set up two digital experience lounges - one each in Mumbai and Delhi. The company has around 40 square feet of space both in Delhi at Nehru Place and Lamington Road in Mumbai. Termed as Nvidia Experience Centres, these function on the similar lines of Xplore, but with a difference. Nvidia only showcases it own products at these outlets.

"Graphics and multimedia processors, like many pioneering technologies, can only be truly appreciated if one can see it and interact with it. It is also important to explain how photography, video, games, animation and overall system performance can benefit from the technology," according to Nvidia group director of marketing (EMEA and India) Alain Tiquet.

The centre provides consumers an opportunity to walk-in and experience the company's entire productline, including the Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX, a complex graphics processor. Technically-qualified personnel have been employed to explain the nitty-gritties of the processors.

"Moving forward, we plan to engage PC and consumer electronics consumers in India with technology that can deliver solutions to their specific needs," he said. The company is also looking at setting at digital lounges in Bangalore and Chennai, which is expected to be operational by the end of this month.

Not to be left behind, BenQ has also ventured out and set up two digital lounges: one in Nehru Place, Delhi, and another at Lamington Road, Mumbai. Called BenQ IT Zones, these centres are spread over a 250 square feet of area, and the company showcases its handsets, LCD monitors, IT peripherals, keyboards, notebooks and projectors at these stores.

According to Ish Bawa, marketing and communications head of BenQ, "BenQ IT Zones provide a touch and feel experience to the users, and is mostly frequented by users of high-tech and hi-touch products. Around 60-100 people visit the showrooms everyday, and the number increases to 150-200 during festive season and at times of promotions and other events."

LCD displays are the most sought after, while touchscreen monitors are also in great demand. multimedia kits, desktop PCs, wall-mounted TV screens and other high-end objects are displayed here.

"We offer a demo of the products and if our customers are satisfied with it. Buying is not specified, but as BenQ IT Zones also sells the products, the revenues are directly accrued from sales of its own products," he said.

BenQ is planning to set up another 15 showrooms in the next quarter, which would be gradually increased to 50 by the yearend. These would use the franchisee route and would measure around 200-450 square feet per outlet.

So the next time you plan to buy a high-tech gadget, a visit to a "digital experience lounge" might just be in order.

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