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Sony Introduces Online Shopping, Sony Style

Seeking to reinforce its image as a market innovator, Sony has become the first of Japan's major electronics manufacturers to open a comprehensive online store for domestic consumers.

The Sony Style e-commerce site opened for business on February 1, just five days after Sony Corp. and domestic sales affiliate Sony Marketing Inc. formally established Sony Style.com Japan Inc. as a 50:50 joint venture.

The new firm, which has an initial staff of about 30, will operate the Sony Style shopping site, fulfill orders, manage product inventory, and handle online business development.

Sony Style went online on Tuesday with just one of four planned "style zones" operational -- the VAIO Style zone, which features Sony's popular VAIO notebook and desktop personal computers and peripherals.

A Home Network Style zone of customized home audiovisual products is scheduled to open on February 14.

A Music Style zone and Visual Network Style zone, which will offer Sony's portable music players and accessories and digital cameras and videocameras, are expected to be online by the end of March.

Frequent Sony Style shoppers will receive "purchase points" that they can redeem for free Internet access through Sony's So-net Internet service provider.

Eventually, the Sony Style site will add a range of non-electronics products and services, such as insurance and training courses, from other Sony group companies.

Also planned for the Sony Style site, possibly as early as April, is bit-Select, an online shopping mall of independent "e-Sony shops" and non-Sony "PC e-tailers""

This is part of Sony's attempt to make Sony Style "more than an e-commerce platform" by fashioning a "real world business" that creates new, synergistic relationships among retail, distribution, and after-sales service providers.

Sony is actively seeking cooperative options that can benefit traditional retailers to avoid provoking a backlash that could hurt overall domestic sales of its products. An official of one large retail association was quoted in the Japanese press as warning that if Sony's online venture posed excessive direct competition for retail store sales, "we would consider pulling all their products off our shelves."

Sony Style.com Japan has set an online sales target of 10 billion yen (US$93 million) in its first year, said company president Kazumasa Sato.

Within five years, Sato predicts that annual sales of Sony products through the Sony Style site will reach 160 billion yen (US$1.5 billion), accounting for about one-fifth of Sony's domestic market sales.