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Fourteen hhgregg Stores To Open In Chicago Region In Mid-September

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CHICAGO (STMW) – Technology gadget and electronics buffs will have a new retailer to explore on Sept. 15, when Indianapolis-based retailer hhgregg opens 14 stores throughout the Chicago region.

Shoppers cannot help but notice the high-tech offerings, since a typical 30,000-square-foot store features 110 flat-panel TV screens spread across the entire length of the back wall. Each TV is turned on to demonstrate its qualities. The chain also keeps in stock more than 500 appliances, including models from GE, LG, Samsung and Whirlpool.

Its smartphone offerings, all sold with Verizon as the cellular provider, include LG, Samsung and HTC, as well as the Apple iPhone, and its tablet computers, ranging from the Apple iPad to the Archos Arnova, feature Android operating systems.

Though hhgregg is known for what some consider old-fashioned policies of offering good deals, quality service, lowest-price matching and timely deliveries and installations, industry experts believe hhgregg faces competition not only from Sears, Best Buy, Lowe’s and Home Depot, but also from on-line rivals such as amazon.com.

Mark Miller, an analyst with Chicago-based William Blair & Co., wrote in a recent investor report that hhgregg’s products and price premiums significantly overlap those of amazon.com, indicating that hhgregg could lose market share to the Internet giant.

Miller wrote in separate reports that hhgregg’s disappointing first-quarter net sales — $431.5 million versus analysts’ estimate of $478 million — show the challenges the retailer faces in a weak economy.

Yet Miller also noted that hhgregg is expanding its mobile phone and tablet computer offerings, and deserves kudos for its “high-touch” service to customers.

Said Jeff Pearson, hhgregg’s vice president of marketing, “We maintain a modern, high-tech feel in our stores, and we have our entire inventory online.”

The retailer is launching a new e-commerce platform and transforming its website, hhgregg.com, to let shoppers more easily compare products, watch videos and learn how to operate high-end merchandise, Pearson said.

The e-commerce overhaul will let hhgregg customers shop with their smartphones, communicate with salespeople online in real time, and buy a product online and pick it up at a nearby store or have it shipped from the store or a distribution center.

Gregg Throgmartin, the retailer’s chief operating officer, said the website upgrade being rolled out now will let online shoppers type in their name and telephone number to reach a salesperson at an hhgregg store.

“The sales associate can walk over to a product and answer questions, verify a dimension or check a color,” Throgmartin said. “The associate can touch, see and feel any product that the shopper has questions about.”

Because most shoppers research products online before buying them, the website recognizes familiar brand names, even if the shopper misspells them, and offers the correct options, he said.

The videos will include those from manufacturers and from salespeople.

“The salespeople are specialists in one of three areas — appliances, electronics and televisions and home audio — so they will explain in 30- to 90-second videos the two or three features about products that customers love,” Throgmartin said.

The retailer expects to open six more stores soon in the Chicago area. Each store employs 50, including salespeople, managers, customer-service representatives and warehouse workers. Hhgregg also will operate a regional distribution center in Aurora employing 40.

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