For big international consumer electronics companies, it's no longer just about the gadgets. You need to offer more, which is why Sony has just opened its first Australian "Solutions Bar" in their World Square Sony Centre store in Sydney.
The Solutions Bar is only a few weeks old, so they still seem to be building awareness and workload. At the moment, the focus is definitely geared towards supporting Vaio users, although they do offer services for all Sony consumer electronics except Bravias (you have to walk up a flight of stairs to get to the bar, and hauling a 42-incher would be back-breaking) or PlayStation.
The current staff are all computer technicians, although as demand increases for other gadgets (say, Cybershot digital cameras), they'll add extra technicians to work on those gadgets on-site as well. The current solution is to send those other products off to a servicing centre in Lane Cove. But the Sony Solutions Bar is definitely not the Apple Genius Bar. For a start, nothing is free. A lot of the services on offer through the Sony service are upsold at the point of sale in the store downstairs - things like customising the laptop, adding extra RAM and transferring data from an old Vaio. Other technical problems not already paid for have an upfront fee, which is then offset from the cost of repairs.
It would be good to see the service expand into educational services as well, but considering it's still early days, we'll just have to wait and see what happens in the future. At the moment, the Sydney store is the only available Solutions Bar, but if successful Sony will roll the idea out across Sony Centres across the country.