Left to Your Own Devices

You’ve likely heard the term “early adopter.” You’re probably one yourself. According to Tammy Chan, Marketing Manager for Atlas Sound and Vision, if you’re “often quick to try out the newest products in the market, ask for specifications for comparison and are highly selective,” then you’re typical of the Singaporean tech consumer. Congratulations—you’re keeping the industry here on its toes.

Tech is clearly big, big business in Singapore. Last week alone saw the debut of six new smartphones by Nokia and Blackberry and a flurry of activity at Suntec for the monster that is the Comex consumer tech exhibition. At times, it feels like we’re already living in some weird, wired world of the future. But with a market that’s seemingly swamped, and savvy consumers who think they know it all already, how do the big brands plan to stay ahead? The answer appears to be with luxurious, immersive environments, showcasing high-end products before they even hit the market. Forget your regular store or dull-as-dishwater service center, welcome to the world of the experiential tech showroom.

There are now some half dozen of these concept spaces around the city, with newcomer Loewe Gallery set to add to the pile, when it officially launches later this year. Each of them offers something slightly different; all try to engage the consumer, be they novice or pro, to a more personalized degree than was historically the case.

For Eugene Goh, Head of Sony Ericsson Singapore, selling a tech brand here now requires something more sophisticated than simply shouting about your latest specs. It is, he says, key to “deliver a ‘wow’ factor and bring to life the consumer experience.” So people who visit the Sony Ericsson Concept Store can “interact with the display, and see how the [products] make people smile.”

Over at the Samsung Flagship Store, consumers can pick up and share technical tips, with free workshops offered if you purchase products. Says their VP for Sales and Marketing, Irene Ng, the company is striving to service sophisticated customers, “on the lookout for gadgets that help them live smarter.”

Meanwhile, the Windows Experience Zone boasts brand agnostic “Microsoft Captains” who can assist even the most tech illiterate customer. MD Jessica Tan explains that these staff members are “experts on picking which software suits the customer’s needs best but don’t show favoritism to any particular brands,” meaning you don’t need to know the first thing about tech before you step through the doors.

There’s clearly some smart marketing tactics at play here, with lots of talk of “brand familiarization” and the chance to learn about “well-connected systems.” By offering a pressure-free environment—some of these showrooms don’t even let you buy, meaning no-one’s hassling you to sign on the line—brands can soften consumers up, so that when they eventually do make a purchase they have warm, fuzzy memories of that afternoon they spent playing with the latest toys.

And if it’s softly-softly with one hand, the other hand is busy hitting consumers over the head with a big, expensive stick: Most people could never afford the kind of elaborate, integrated systems on display; but by “wowing” them (that word again) with the brand’s full potential, it’s possible that a customer leaves the store dazzled and dazed by what they’ve just seen, and lusting after a part of it, however small.

But, especially at the best of these experiential showrooms, that wow factor really is undeniable. And they’re free to enter, after all. Even if you’re not looking to buy (come on, when was the last time you could say that with a straight face?), they’re fascinating places to spend an hour or two, marveling at what money can now bring you. Enter them with an open mind, and a tight hand on your wallet, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Bose @ MW

Opened: May 2009
The buzz: Ever wondered if a home theater system could really be worth a five-figure sum? This is where to come to find out.
The vibe: So zen you could meditate. The products might kick ass, but the atmosphere is laidback and the décor understated. Home theater systems are set up to make you feel like you’re back at yours, whilst portable speakers and headphones adorn their own sleek counters. If you want to get straight into what’s new, just head straight to the back (look for the word ‘Theatre’ etched out in gold letters). There are also two sound-proofed glass rooms where you can kick back, relax and enjoy all the audiovisual goodness without the world outside encroaching.
The goods: By far the most impressive technology on show is the VideoWave ($9599) which you can experience in its full glory in the theater room. It’s the world’s only speakerless surround sound home theatre system, with all 16 speakers packed into the 1080p television module; and this is the only place to buy it. For something more affordable, check out the famous wireless QC3 Noise Cancelling headphones ($699), alongside a vast range of more modest speakers and accessories.
Why you should come here: For the theater, of course; even if owning your own home-ent system is still a pipedream. But also because high-end products like Bose really are best appreciated as part of a holistic system.

, Left to Your Own DevicesLG Live

Opened: May 2011
The buzz: It’s LG’s first showroom in Asia, and it’s inside the latest contender for Singapore’s most opulent shopping destination. What’s not to like? (Yeah, yeah, the canals and gondolas. We know.)
The vibe: Cyber-minimalist. It’s about half the size of a football field, but it’s white and glaring all round with splashes of black and red from the products and sparse furnishing. It’s pretty “hands-free” too; you can linger for a good 15 minutes and no one even approaches you. When you’re ready though, there are leaflets and brochures at every section, and three or more assistants on standby—more than enough for the trickle of walk-ins they receive at any one time. And the touchscreen directory by the door means you’ll never get lost.
The goods: The various stations (there are four in all, including sections for handphone and kitchen displays) change on a seasonal basis. At the moment, the focus is on the 3D experience. If you’re into that sort of thing, check out their cinema setup, which comes complete with vertical 3D sound, a dual subwoofer and a cinema dome effect.
Why you should come here: The seasonal rotation is quite cool, but frankly there’s nothing particularly special about the experiential aspect of the store—you’re probably better off popping into the electronics section of a regular department store, for a better variety from the brand and displays that let you fiddle with the knobs just as well. If you’re a fan of LG, you’ll appreciate that they show you the latest products but that’s about it.

, Left to Your Own Devices

Samsung Flagship Store

Opened: Dec 2006
The buzz: One of the first experiential showrooms to have opened in Singapore, with several other outlets throughout Asia, this interactive space ranks high on the fun chart.
The vibe: The layout of the store, along with its clean island displays, conjures up unhappy memories of being dragged around Best Denki. But bear with it. Roughly the same size as the LG Live store, most of the space is gaming arcade, with people crowding around the terminals to watch the action.
The goods: Each terminal or “zone,” features full high definition and 3DTV displays, as well as stereo headsets so that you can experience Samsung’s full suite of products as you sweat it out in, say, a virtual tennis game. If it’s merely visual stimulation you’re after, try their nine-screen video wall on for size. The same space is also used for educational workshops on topics like basic photography and the evolution of the 3D TV.
Why you should come here: Terminal hopping here can be highly stress-relieving (and ultimately addictive) and gives you a sense of what works for you and what doesn’t, even if in the end you choose to go buy a brand other than Samsung.

, Left to Your Own Devices

Sony Ericsson Concept Store

Opened: Renovated Mar 2011
The buzz: This store may be located in the heartlands but it’s also the most recent in Southeast Asia to be redone to reflect the new Sony Ericsson experiential retail concept.
The vibe: The store design takes its cue from the phones themselves—there are play, art and entertainment experience zones set up so you can explore the different aspects of each to find one that best suits your user personality. For example, if you can’t decide if you really need a 3D-enabled camera, there’s a terminal complete with propped up 3D glasses for you to view a 3D video taken with the different Sony models on a flat-screen TV. Such lengthy testing of their products will take a long time so we appreciate that the staff don’t press you to make a purchase.
The goods: Predictably, every new (or newish) phone model is on display here, including the Xperia PLAY ($888), which is the only Playstation enabled smartphone in the world. The 3D hologram display, that gives you a preview of the Sony Ericsson catalogue, including cool product features, is a nice touch.
Why you should come here: If you like Sony Ericsson, you’ll have fun trying out their new phone models (quite a few have been launched in the last six months) in such a no-pressure space. If, on the other hand, you’re the Apple-til-I-die type you really should cast aside your prejudices and come check out the competition; but we all know that’s not going to happen.

*I-S PICK* TripleOne Audiovisual Boutique

Opened: May 2010
The buzz: Singapore’s own Atlas Sound & Vision sets a high bar, with this multi label tech mecca, the only one of its kind here.
The vibe: Even with high expectations, you’ll likely be blown away by the sheer opulence. It’s (oddly enough) modeled after the dance floor of a club, but looks and feels more like an executive condo showflat. While you’re there, check into their pod-like mezzanine level, which displays stunning prototype designs—it’s a bit like looking into the future.
The goods: Slip into one of their Pitagora theater armchairs from Poltrona Frau and see (or hear) where your ears take you—most likely to one of their Loewe or Bose sound systems, which can easily set you back as much as $46,000. They also showcase products from Ad Notam and their in-house brand Noo’ance.
Why you should come here: For their full customer needs analysis; a kind of four-hand massage for the techy part of your brain. And the variety of brands is a real plus—even though most of the Loewe and Bose products are available at the individual boutiques (also owned by Atlas), it does help seeing them hooked up together.

Windows Experience Zone

Opened: May 2011
The buzz: The first Windows space of its kind in Southeast Asia (Thailand will have its one of its own in October), with an area exclusively dedicated to the latest Xbox gadgets.
The vibe: At first glance, the WEZ doesn’t look too impressive. Throughout the store are island displays with four to five different computer models set up on each for comprehensive viewing, so it looks rather like a school computer room. But it’s designed with both the newbie and the discerning geek in mind, making it a really conducive place to “personalize” a purchase. The space is split into sections like Learn, Play and Work, and those unbiased Microsoft Captains really are quite helpful.
The goods: You can buy pretty much whatever you like here, including Windows-enabled laptops and extras like external hard drives and keyboards specially selected from their massive range. Heads-up to all you gamers: The Windows Experience Zone will also be the first place you can try out Gears of War 3, which is slated to launch later this month.
Why you should come here: It’s like an IT fair with all the intimidating stuff and screaming marketers taken out. We were genuinely impressed. Wait til October, and you can also try your hand at their new 100” (that’s more than 2.5 meters!) interactive touchscreen designed to help you navigate the overwhelming number of products. And it’s open all night!