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Target to showcase CNET reviews as it courts gadget shoppers

A Target employee returns carts to the store in Falls Church, Virginia May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A Target employee returns carts to the store in Falls Church, Virginia May 14, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Jessica Wohl

(Reuters) - Target Corp is bringing reviews from tech news website CNET into its aisles in time for the holiday season as it tries to stand out from a crowd of stores and websites selling a mix of new gadgets.

The partnership between the discount chain and CNET, a website popular with gadget enthusiasts and known for its consumer electronics reviews, kicks off this week after a small test this spring showed that Target's shoppers appreciated getting third-party reviews in stores.

Shoppers will see reviews of 28 products in Target stores and reviews of 300 products on Target's website. In stores, televisions on display will also occasionally show videos featuring CNET Editors' Picks for Target and how-to videos.

The partnership marks a bit of a shift for CNET, whose reviews are sometimes syndicated to places such as retailers' websites but until now were not on store shelves.

"The goal of this is to really make purchase decisions easier during the holidays because this is the time when a lot of people may not be purchasing for themselves," said Lindsey Turrentine, editor-in-chief of CNET Reviews.

A survey released this week by BDO USA found that 62 percent of retail chief marketing officers said consumer electronics would be the strongest selling category this holiday season. The same amount, 62 percent, said that the category would see the most discounts and promotions during the holiday season, BDO, the assurance, tax and financial consulting firm, said.

A wide variety of products are hitting stores in time for the busy holiday season, including updated Apple Inc iPads, iPhone and iPods, the new iPad mini, Nintendo's Wii U, Microsoft Corp's Windows 8 software and Surface tablets, Google Inc's Nexus tablets and new Samsung tablets and phones.

However, the growing practice of using stores to look at items and then buy them at lower prices elsewhere, known as showrooming, has added pressure to stores.

"If you don't really know what you want, (and) you want the broadest selection, then you go to an electronics store," said Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis for NPD Group. "If you have a better idea about what you want and you've narrowed it down then you probably have some more choices in terms of what type of store you want to go to."

For Target, which says that it edits the selection of goods to help make decisions easier for its shoppers, offering reviews may help seal the deal in the stores or push shoppers scanning QR codes to its website, where more reviews will be available.

In May, Target tested putting CNET reviews near a handful of items such as cameras and televisions, and shoppers "definitely valued having not only a consumer review but the expert review as well," Scott Nygaard, Target's vice president of electronics, said.

Now, 28 items - ranging in price from $19.99 to $1,399.99 - will be highlighted with 5-star reviews that CNET writes. Selections were made based on the products' ease of use, style and value, CNET and Target said.

The products selected include cameras from Samsung, Nikon, Fujifilm and Canon. Barnes & Noble Inc's Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight was chosen as the best e-reader for reading in the dark, while Apple's iPad was named the best tablet.

Nintendo's DSi was picked as the best gaming system for under $100 and Sony's PS3 was named the best all-in-one gaming and entertainment system.

"We've got an edited assortment already that we think helps simplify and we're hoping this is just a way for the guest to save time, money and have some research done for them, especially at holiday time where we know they're already doing additional research from a review standpoint," said Nygaard.

Target will also get some added exposure, as its weekly circular promotions will be featured in Marketplace section of CNET.com.

Manufacturers are aware of the partnership between Target and CNET but had no input on the reviews, Nygaard said.

The holiday quarter is the biggest time of year for Target's electronics sales.

Sales of hardlines, which include everything from videogames to gadgets and toys, accounted for 19 percent of Target's sales in 2011, down from 20 percent in 2010 and 22 percent in 2009.

(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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