EQ Life brand leaves consumers Extremely Quizzical

Even companies with the best intentions sometimes toss things into the world to let consumers figure it out for themselves. And, just as often, they find themselves facing the Dover Cliffs of retailing, the confused do not buy.

Enter EQ Life, a test concept from consumer electronics giant Best Buy. Entering the store, you are accosted as much as greeted by a staff member asking if we want a complimentary bottle of water. No thanks, the coffee we’re carrying in our hands will do just fine. Staff prepares a back room with inlaid wood flooring for a pilates class. We wander past a rack filled with vitamins and Advil, much like you would find at Walgreen’s. Another rack is filled knee to shoulder with other supplements. Moving on, shampoo is priced at $32 a bottle. I’m looking around for the Kiehl’s until I pick up a bar of soap and check the price. Sixty five cents.

If the pricing doesn’t help define the store, what’s on the shelves doesn’t either.

Turn the corner and you find a heart defibrillator, a fancy ball for exercising your back, a nanosock for your iPod, some Bose speakers, a concession selling coffee and muffins, blood pressure kits and hydrating aha skin peels. Oh yes, and scented candles.

This new retail concept seems to be drafting off the popularity of wellness, personal fulfillment and the brand called you. (We can expect such things now that even Dr. Andrew Weil has a weekly column in Time magazine.)

The question that is left hanging in the air at EQ is a big W: Why?

“I’m just confused,” says one puzzled shopper standing next to a $250 computer bag.

While “Health. Wellness. Technology.” are the conceptual guideposts at EQ stores and there’s something about “solutions for well-balanced living”, the consumer is still left wondering why an anxious bride is getting her make-up applied just around the aisle from a Geek Squad counter (also owned by Best Buy).

Even the advertising don’t explain this undifferentiated scope of product. The ads could be for Target.

While finding a reason for being is usually a marketing fundamental, the leaders leapfrogged that crucial (in primal terms, the creed) element. Perhaps they have been so steeped in EQ Life themselves, they assumed it would be self-evident to everyone else. Not so. The result is a merchandising mishmash.

“It doesn’t seem very well thought out,” shrugs a shopper hefting a Pottery Barn bag.

I walked into a shop with a similar eclectic esthetic near The Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy. I stepped off the cobblestones and into a perfumed shop where I was gracefully led through a succession of products that lured me deeper and deeper into the store. Far in the back, beyond the glasswork, fabric and scented candles, was a pit filled with tapestries and furniture. A hair stylist glanced at us over his shoulder as he snipped away at a patron’s hair. Somewhere, someone was serving herbal tea. None of it made sense, yet it all made sense. We bought chocolates and a book.

EQ Life violates one of the primary rules of retail. Tell me why you’re here and why I should be there too.

I give the EQ Life concept an A. It’s right for the times and could become a smash. This particular execution needs to find its creed and let it be known the first moment people step into the store.