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Samsung Puts Fridges and Stoves on Center Stage With High-Tech Showroom

A New Digital Showroom, Created By the Barbarian Group, Flexes the Brand's Push Beyond Mobile

By Published on . 2

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On Friday, Samsung introduced a massive digital installation showroom for its home appliance line in two Best Buy stores in the greater Chicago area. The retail display marks another step in Samsung's bid to grow dominant in the category, springboarding on its established brand identity in mobile phones and TVs.

The showroom, called CenterStage, was built by the Barbarian Group, the Cheil-owned digital agency, using its open-source software Cinder, which won the first Cannes Grand Prix awarded for innovation in 2013.

"There are loads and loads of conversations about transferring brand experience to mobile, web, tablet," said Sophie Kelly, CEO of the Barbarian Group. "But there's very little discussion about retail interactive experiences."

When it comes to appliances such as stove and refrigerators, most experiences, the agency said, are dull and lifeless. "It's rows and rows of stainless steel, and nothing is plugged in," said Keith Butters, the CXO.

Barbarian's task was to build an immersive shopping experience that would win over consumers making the expensive decision. The display is expected to expand to global retailers over the coming year, although the companies would not offer further details.

CenterStage, a hulking six-by-eleven foot wall with nine screens, displays 27 of Samsung's products in their actual size. Shoppers can experiment with the appliances using the touch screen technology; they can zoom in on features, open up a refrigerators and microwaves, tweak their colors, and even plop them down in a fabricated kitchen.

Twenty-five Barbarian staffers were devoted to the project, which took eight months to complete. Method, a New York-based design firm, also worked on the installation. "It's got to be ATM-level usable," Mr. Butters said, describing the installation. "But also cool enough that a 17-year old kid would run over to it."

Having an electronics giant as a client helped.

Not only did Samsung provide the products for the flashy graphics to display, but it built the video screen technology. When a hardware glitch appeared as Barbarian was building the installation, Samsung swiftly dispatched a technician from its video department to fix it.

"It's a one-stop-shop for all appliance needs, and we believe it will appeal to consumers by enhancing and making their home appliance shopping experience easier than ever," Yoon Lee, VP of Samsung Electronics, said in a statement.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Samsung declared its intention to become the dominant home-appliance producer in the U.S. Within the past year, Samsung has increased its retail presence with Best Buy, showcasing its equipment for sale in around half of the retailer's outlets. Last month, Samsung threw a splashy Manhattan event to kick off its new "Chef Collection" line -- the division's "biggest launch ever," Peggy Ang, VP-Marketing Communications, claimed at the time.

Ms. Ang has also spearheaded a major marketing splash for the company's line of cameras, orchestrating a big giveaway publicity event in Times Square in June.

These moves could be a reaction to a slowdown in Samsung's flagship mobile line. Starting last month, analysts cautioned that the company was "overly dependent" on smartphone and tablet sales. In its preliminary earnings statement released this week, Samsung said a slump in mobile will lead to a 24% plunge in operating income.

Samsung's share of the major appliance market in the U.S. has climbed steadily, rising from 6.7% in 2010 to 10.7% in the four quarters ending in March 2014, according to the Stevenson Company, a research firm. Among the products Samsung sells -- refrigerators, washers, dryers and free-standing range ovens -- its market share escalated from 7.3% to 12% during the same period, moving it to fourth-place behind GE, Whirlpool, Kenmore and LG.

Figures from Kantar Media show that Samsung spent $29.78 million in media advertising on home appliances in 2013, more than double its 2012 totals. (Whirlpool, which produces several more appliance products, spent $113.12 million in 2013.)

Yet despite Samsung's push in the category and the strength of its brand-name, the Korean manufacturing giant also trails Whirlpool, GE, Kenmore, LG and Maytag in brand consideration in the category, according to Stevenson Company estimates.

The CenterStage initiative comes out of Samsung's marketing division in South Korea. It will not be accompanied with a marketing campaign immediately, but a company spokeswoman said that could change.

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said the San Francisco-based design firm that worked on the installation was Matter. It was New York-based Method Studios.

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