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Can Bose survive without physical stores? Here's the data.

1 week ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Big Tech, Consumer

Gadget enthusiasts woke up this morning to some surprising news that Bose ($BOSEwould be closing all 119 stores throughout North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. The company cited the usual Retail Apocalypse reasons: decreased brick-and-mortar shoppers and e-commerce as a viable alternative.

It's an interesting move, particularly in Bose's case, as it's always relied on in-store demonstrations to show off the wow-factor of its products. Its  Acoustimass cube speakers introduced mall shoppers to the concept of speaker arrays and subwoofers in the 80s. Its Wave Radio became the CD player of choice for offices on its looks and size alone.

But as Bose will rely on e-commerce alone moving ahead, and with expensive headphones its signature product of the 21st century, the company has a difficult road ahead. Its products are no longer the unique standouts shining in the corner of a Sharper Image. Instead, they're one of many. Consumers are now choosing between Bose, Sony, Apple, Sennheiser, Beats, and a dozen other headphone makers that do exactly what Bose does cheaper, and, in some cases, better.

So how healthy is Bose's digital, e-commerce presence? According to sales data from major e-commerce sites, and traction data from major social networks, the once-innovative speaker maker has its work cut out for itself in an extremely competitive marketplace.

Crowded out at Amazon

Bose is telling reporters not to worry about the brand's future, because e-commerce will keep things going. While it's certainly true that e-commerce is a thing, the problem for Bose is that in the vast jungle that is Amazon, it's just one of many choices for consumers. And without a chance to see Bose products in person, consumers may go for alternatives.

Case in point: in Amazon's electronics category, Bose only has 1 product on the site's top-100 sellers in its electronics category. It does a bit better during the holidays — and it had a run last summer — but the above chart shows just how crowded the category is these days.

Beats, a similarly priced headphone brand, track similarly in Amazon Electronics' top-100 sellers, with what appears to be some growing popularity from 2018 forward.

Sony averages more bestsellers than Bose on any given day. To be fair to Bose, Sony makes not just headphones, but also televisions, cameras, computers, and even cell phones.

Social ambivalence?

Without a physical presence, Bose will rely more on its social media profiles to get some digital attention. On Facebook, the company looks to be facing a plateauing following moving forward that could probably use a shakeup.

In 2018, Bose was picking up a healthy number of followers on a day-to-day basis. Later that year and into 2019, however, its rate of change plateaued, and heading into 2020, even dropped a bit. A slowdown is one thing, but users actively "unliking" a brand is bad news in any social media marketer's playbook, and that's what appears to be happening here.

2018 was good for Bose when it came to the frequency in which it was mentioned in Facebook posts. That, however, has also slowed down. Mentions of Bose saw a slight rise this holiday, peaking at 27,000 on December 15, but that is 12,000 fewer mentions than it saw at its holiday apex in 2018.

Facebook "Were Here" count measures the number of status updates, selfies, and other posts made to Facebook that are geotagged to a company's location. Beginning in January 2020, the number of Were Here counts for Bose saw its most sustained decline. Of course, we expect this to continue as the company shutters real-world locations. 

There is some good news for Bose social media folks: Its Twitter following remains healthy and continues to pick up followers. As of this week, Bose has 216,000 followers on the platform, up from 203,000 at this time last year. Not a massive pickup, but certainly something to build on.

Hiring for the future as a digital company?

If Bose is to become an all-digital company, at least in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia, it will need to bring on talented e-commerce and digital pros. Lately, however, hiring at the company has been down.

In November 2018, for instance, the company was hiring for as many as 580 people. This week, however, it lists just 365 openings on its careers websites.

Much of this likely has to do with the company's move away from retail, of course. When filtering Bose job openings over the past couple of years for those focused on retail, we indeed see a significant dropoff.

The job listing data seems to suggest that Bose execs had their hands on the retail light switch back in February 2019, when Retail jobs plummeted from 143 to less than 100 almost overnight.

About the Data: 

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales. 

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Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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