The Sleek Laptops are Now Reaching Store Shelves, but What do Retailers
and Consumers Know About Them?
from Samsung, Asus, Toshiba and other OEMS are now on store shelves.
In the wake of the
on-going buzz around Ultrabooks, we went looking for the new category of
laptop computers in the Sacramento, Calif. area. Visiting retail stores
where computers are sold, we asked sales associates to show what they
had to offer. Despite all the news and attention Ultrabooks got at the
recent International Consumer Electronics Show, we found mixed results
in terms of knowledge and awareness:
"Ultrabook. That's a new term for me," said Westin at the Staples in
Citrus Heights. "I don't think we have any. [They didn't.] If you want a
whiz-bang-fizz laptop I'd go with this HP Pavilion dv7."
Standing in front of an end-cap display featuring the Samsung Series 9,
Asus Zenbook and Toshiba Portege Z835, Scott at the Best Buy in Folsom
said, "I really like these. Intel has guidelines that have to be met for
an Ultrabook to be an Ultrabook. Ultrabooks have mobility, speed and
turn on in about 18 seconds."
"We have these," said Jon, pointing out five Ultrabook systems at the
Fry's Electronics in Roseville. "If you want mobility and power, the
Ultrabook is the way to go," he said before walking through features of
the Acer Aspire S3, Asus Zenbook, HP Folio 13, Lenovo Ideapad U300s and
Sony Vaio Z series.
Office Max in Natomas had no Ultrabooks among six notebooks on display,
but Claudia, who admitted she didn't know what Ultrabooks were, offered
to look on the online catalog and found one, the Toshiba Portege Z835.
"I checked availability and there's not one available anywhere," she
Staples in Roseville had one Ultrabook in the store, the Acer Aspire S3,
and Ernest was limited to citing only what was written on the
Also with a single Ultrabook was Office Depot in Foothill Farms. Brandon
said about the Asus Zenbook UX31E on display, "It's small, great for
Haylee at the Staples in Folsom said she had never heard of "Ultrabook."
The store had zero Ultrabooks on display.
"Ultrabooks, yes," said Nicholas at the Fry's Electronics in Sacramento.
"We have these four from Toshiba, Acer, Asus and HP. You'll find that
they're lighter, have better battery life and I really like that they
have solid-state drives." The store carried three of the same models --
Acer Aspire S3, Asus Zenbook and HP Folio 13 -- as its sister store in
Roseville, didn't have the Sony Vaio Z series, but did have the Toshiba
Portege on display.
To be fair, Intel's Ultrabook definition may not be widely known as the
first systems went to market in the October-November timeframe, with
more expected later this year. For the record, an Ultrabook is defined
as a security-enabled mobile device with a thin and light design that's
less than 21 millimeters thick with ultra-fast startup and extended
battery life of 5 to 8 hours.
must be less than 21mm thick and have extended battery life of 5 to 8
Intel acknowledges that widespread awareness of the Ultrabook among
retailers at this early stage may not be strong.
"It will probably be hit-and-miss at retailers until [Ultrabooks] start
to get critical mass on shelves," said Brian Fravel, the director of
brand strategy at Intel.
Sales associates where Ultrabooks are presently sold should know the
basic selling points, according to Jeffrey Maguire, CEO of Pulse LTD, an
Ohio-based consulting firm that works with such clients as Best Buy and
Intel to help drive consumer experiences through the retail workforce.
For Best Buy's part, the company has been priming its associates since
fall, according to Charlie Feidt, category sales manager for Best Buy.
"We started providing information about this new category and its
benefits to customers well before Ultrabooks went on sale in-store," he
said. "We've teased it through our internal news channels since November
and provided extensive online training. We've had a couple of live
national conference calls with field leaders and store employees."
As for a computer salesperson who still regards "Ultrabook" as a foreign
word, Feidt had this to say:
"I would be disappointed if a sales associate at a store carrying
laptops wasn't at least familiar with the term 'Ultrabook'," he said.
"That name has been sort of branded over the past few months so they
should at least know it's in the thin-and-light category. Just based on
all the reports out of CES they should have heard of it."
And what about consumers? What level of brand recognition should they
have several months after Ultrabooks debuted in the marketplace? Intel's
Fravel said he wouldn't expect more than half of "average people on the
street" to have heard of Ultrabooks within the first year of the
That may change starting this spring when Intel is scheduled to launch
an aggressive marketing campaign for Ultrabooks. At present, Fravel's
forecast is in line with the results of a random survey of Sacramento,
Calif. area shoppers, albeit taken after only a few months of the new
laptop category arriving in retail. Less than a quarter of those asked
had heard of Ultrabook.
Consumer awareness is expected to rise as more shelf space is given to
Christmas inventory just about out, we should see more Ultrabooks in
retail in the coming months, which will mean RSPs [retail salespeople]
will need to be more up to speed," Fravel said.
The marketing campaign Intel will launch in April, called "A New Era of
Computing," may help get customers interested in Ultrabooks in the first
"There definitely will be a lot of media in Q2 through Q4," Fravel said,
"so if people look for Ultrabook they'll see it."
The TV, print and outdoor ads and online and in-store retail components
work both ways, according to Maguire of Pulse.
"Obviously, retail associates are also consumers and come into contact
with the totality of the marketing push," he said. "I would expect a
very high level of awareness in the associate population, which will
translate directly to shoppers on retail sales floors."