Yesterday, the Associated Press had an interesting story on Japanese electronics and media giant Sony's (NYSE:SNE) steady, but low-key, moves to get into retail through its Sony Style stores. You might not have seen one -- I haven't -- but the company will bring its total tally to 12 this month and, the story says, is shooting for a total of 30 by April 2006.

Elliot Spagat's article focuses on the company's store model and the concerns that some of its retail competitors -- particularly local firms -- have about the company's entry into the retail market. But given that Sony appears likely to stick to smaller stores in large markets with high-traffic malls, it seems unlikely that investors in companies such as Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) or Circuit City (NYSE:CC) should worry too much about their market position.

Heck, Sony would have to make a pretty big (and almost certainly prohibitively expensive) bet if it really wanted to have American retail make up any kind of meaningful part of its business. The impact on its sales channel would likely be huge if not ultimately disfiguring. As such, that's not what I find most interesting about the Sony Style concept.

What I do find interesting is that Sony -- as Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL) has done with some success -- is taking a step back toward its customer even as retail, with the growth of online shopping and a mailbox-stuffing fulfillment model, has in many ways moved away from the end user. (Interestingly, Spagat's article highlights Sony's efforts to serve female shoppers with innovations such as perambulator-width aisles and concierge service -- notable because electronics marketing is largely geared toward gizmo-loving guys.)

By doing this, the company has the opportunity to better establish itself as a lifestyle brand and not just a machine maker -- something Apple has certainly done -- while creating a high-profile way to get its hottest products in front of shoppers and find out what they like, what they don't like, and what kind of questions they have. All that and some incremental revenue to boot? Not bad at all.

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Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison doesn't own any of the companies in this article.