DALLAS – RadioShack Corp. (RSH) thinks it has found a way to help consumers wondering how to edit digital photos or understand the difference between 1080i and 1080p high-def televisions: online classes.
The electronics retailer on Wednesday announced a series of virtual training courses to help consumers learn about tech topics, including digital photography techniques, choosing and setting up an HDTV, what to look for when buying a new computer and information about satellite radio.
The classes will have staggered start dates beginning this month and November.
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Participants who sign up online can take the courses at their own pace, but none should take more than a month to complete. The classes will be moderated by instructors with experience in the specific topics, company officials said.
The hope, of course, is that shoppers will use their newfound wisdom to buy products from RadioShack.
"We need to be out there giving advice and building loyalty and trust in the RadioShack brand," said Bob Kilinski, the company's vice president of marketing. "Our brand position is trying to help people get the most out of technology in every neighborhood in America. This is an extension of our offline brand."
The announcement comes amid a rebuilding effort at Fort Worth, Texas-based RadioShack.
In February, former Chief Executive Officer Dave Edmondson resigned after questions were raised about the accuracy of his resume. In August, RadioShack laid off 400 workers by e-mail.
And so far this year, the company has shuttered nearly 500 stores and suffered from a string of disappointing earnings reports.
In the most recent quarter, RadioShack lost $3.2 million, or 2 cents per share, for the three months ending in June, on revenue of $1.1 billion. That compared to a profit of $52.3 million, or 33 cents per share, on revenue of $1.09 billion for the same period a year ago.
Julian Day, a former Kmart executive, took over as RadioShack CEO in July but has been tightlipped about the company's turnaround plans. RadioShack posts third-quarter earnings Oct. 25.
Patti Freeman-Evans, a retail analyst with JupiterResearch, said her research shows that about 82 percent of online buyers research their offline purchases online.
Though she described the classes as a small step toward improving RadioShack's performance, it's important nonetheless in an industry as commoditized as the consumer electronics business, she said.
"Retailers are constantly trying to understand what kind of content will help them drive more sales," she said. "This is not going to solve their store problems, though it is a step in trying to differentiate themselves."
The technology powering the online classes is being run by Powered Inc., a private, Austin-based company that provides similar instruction for an array of companies, including Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) and Sony Corp. (SNE)
Financial details of the deal between Powered and RadioShack weren't provided.
"The thing that we've found with all of our clients is there's a really strong effect we call the gratitude effect," Powered CEO Dave Ellett said. "Consumers feel significantly better about the company that brings them this education. They're getting something of value that isn't an advertorial."