Vonage's New Retail Deal
Vonage unveils the latest in a long string of distribution deals with big consumer electronics and computer retailers, this time with CompUSA. It's also selling its ATAs and service packages through Best Buy, Circuit City and RadioShack, Sam's Club and others, a total of 8,000 stores in all.
The upside is Vonage is achieving something like retail ubiquity. Not that it's the only one trying to exploit this channel -- AT&T's getting CallVantage into the stores (Best Buy, Circuit City etc.), too. And so are smaller players like Packet8 (CompUSA, Fry's, J&R Music). This is all good news for motivated, knowledgeable consumers, and what's good news for them ought to be good news for the VoIP companies.
But how good is the news, really? Earlier this year, I went to a couple local (San Francisco Bay Area/East Bay) Best Buys and looked for Vonage there. Neither store had merchandise in stock. Not great, but not such a big deal if the products a hot seller and people are looking for it; there's still a selling opportunity there. But here's the thing: The salespeople, or associates, or team members, or whatever you want to call them that I talked to had no idea what Vonage was beyond being some sort of "Internet phone."
Now, two stores in a single chain does not a valid conclusion support. But it's enough to raise a question. In a business in which so much consumer education and help is still needed, you've got to wonder how effective these retail partners are in representing the VoIPs and their products.
(Promise: I'll go back into the stores to see what the experience is like now and report back.)