A Cure for Best Buy’s Ills?

One of the first places many folks in gadget circles may have gotten a glimpse of their first gadgets may have been a local Best Buy Superstore. They are located in just about any city of decent size, and usually carry many small electronics, in addition to larger things like computers, TVs, car audio, and the like. Driving home from work today, I thought about my days of wandering around the cavernous showroom, compared to my current habit of checking things out online, or in an Apple store. What’s the difference? Why has one died off while the other has grown? Since many Best Buys also carry official Apple products, and have an Apple employee assigned to the “store within a store”, it can’t just be the difference in the products. You can buy most of what’s in an Apple store in a Best Buy.

Best Buy today took a beating in the Stock Market, reflecting the beating it’s been taking in the market over the last year-plus. Investors are worried that management has no solution to pull the big box store from the morass that is the post-brick-and-mortar revolution of this new decade. I’d like to make a few humble suggestions which I think would make it a mecca for those searching for new technology and expertise, as well as a place to learn about and try out tech solutions.

If you’ve visited one of their cavernous locations recently, I’m sure you were shocked by the amount of bare floor space. What was once a crowded, packed store with racks and end caps overflowing and people milling about is now a ghost town. No longer are all the cool kids listening to current hits via headphones placed every few feet in the racks upon racks of CDs. (You remember CDs, right? Those were the shiny discs folks used to get before iTunes and other download sites put physical media in the Museum of Ancient History.) So, why so much open space? No one buys physical media anymore is the short answer. A longer answer includes lower prices of online retailers that can sell for less by not paying the meager salaries of clerks who do little more than point you to a product and try to press the extended warranty or Reward Zone program on you. Hmmm… Have it today with hassle, or wait until tomorrow without having to firmly say “no, thank you” seven times in a transaction. I’ll go with online, says America.

But, walking past any Apple store in any mall anywhere tells quite a different story: scores of young folks, all hunched over iPads playing Angry Birds or CritterBall, or posing with friends for pictures taken with Macs that they can upload to FaceBook. Do they buy products? Maybe, or maybe not, but they are all allowed to freely explore unfettered products, check email, and hound salespeople with random questions about technology. If they ever do buy, which place do you think they will go – to the folks that helped them get comfortable and learn about their tech lives, or the ghost town down the road where the few things of interest are bolted down in an almost unusable state? Yeah, that’s kind of a no-brainer.

So, what’s my great suggestion? Use the room in the center of the store to attract a more hands-on crowd. Do some training sessions on various tablets, smart phones, and software programs. I’m sure Microsoft would front a few marketing dollars for a good presentation of MS Office or OneNote or their latest mobile phone. Same for other manufacturers. Get some discounted hardware (not end-of-life junk, but current stuff you’d really like to sell/buy) and lightly secure it so that people can actually use it, heft it for weight and feel, etc. The layout could be many different configurations, or even flexible, depending on which product is being showcased.

Also, put in a coffee bar with free wifi. Let folks use the demo machines to check their webmail, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. Encourage hanging out, rather than bugging folks to death. You’ve already got the space, and with a little additional training, you could make your Geek Squad into true rock stars by letting them show off their knowledge to your customers. They want to show off, and your customers want their knowledge. This is not something you’re leveraging at all currently. The only way you’re getting money from the GS folks is by having them at the bench doing repairs, or doing the occasional home theatre install. Imagine if you could entice folks into being so devoted to the Squad that they would pay for training? What? Crazy talk!

While you’ve got that nice open presentation/training space, encourage outside technology groups to use it for meetings. In my local area, we have a Mac User group, a handheld/portable tech group, a Ruby group, a Linux group, a PhotoShop group, an Android development group or two and several iOS programming groups at various levels. You know what each of those groups need that is in short supply? A meeting place with good coffee, free high speed wifi, and a presentation system that they don’t have to pay for, or can rent for a buck a seat or so. Sure, this is free space you’re giving away, but it’s all about what is not happening currently – getting warm bodies into the building and having them stay and value the experience.

Wise salespeople will tell you to get the customer to agree to several things early in the conversation. This gets them used to saying yes in your presence, makes you seem to understand them more, and puts them at ease. For the same reason, being helped in small ways while being made comfortable, having a place to hang with friends and share, and being shown that you’re in the presence of true experts who can solve your technological issues makes you more likely to purchase something without putting up a front.

Or you could let leases expire and get smaller stores that no one will visit, rather than the big ones no one is visiting currently, like the current management is suggesting.

What do you folks think? Are the days of the big box store over, or can they re-brand themselves into techno hubs and foster a learning community? Think it’d fly in your Best Buy?

Posted in: Articles, Miscellaneous

15 comments… add one

  • Julie September 14, 2011, 1:26 pm

    I really like the idea of using the store as a meeting place for groups and clubs. Back in the day, I belonged to a Commodore 64 club and an Atari club. I miss getting together with like minded geeks to talk about our favorite hardware and apps.

  • Jerry September 14, 2011, 1:42 pm

    I shop Amazon, the exception being Apple products. BB thought they could rule the the electronics business when Circuit City went bankrupt, guess not…

    Many of their sales people are clueless about the products. I wasn’t enamored with the customer data breach either. They lied about the extent of the breach and offered nothing to help remedy the situation.

  • Bob Y September 14, 2011, 1:58 pm

    This is all very good advice for this most unpopular of stores. While I agree with all your recommendations, it seems to me the most important thing is to train the sales staff. They are truly clueless as to most of the products they sell.

  • James Okola September 14, 2011, 2:24 pm

    Apple stores work because the sales people are generally well versed on the ecosystem. Plus the prices are the same. There is a genius bar, training, and workshops in the store.

    Best buy is essentially a showcase for amazon or newegg. They offer no value other than being able to get the product immediately.

  • Travis September 14, 2011, 3:18 pm

    I think the level of knowledge of the sales staff is epitomized in the Newegg commercial with the blue-shirted salesperson blankly staring at the specs of two different laptops to attempt to answer the question of customer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKgRmO3HJzc&feature=relmfu). But, I don’t avoid Best Buy for this reason. In fact, I would rather not have any sales staff, I can make my own decisions and do my own research outside of the store. I’m only in there to handle the stuff try to test drive it. The only thing that would keep my business is price. I can usually find it cheaper online and without sales tax. Let’s face it, where I live in Texas, 8.25% on a big ticket item can be some serious coin and these savings are certainly worth a few days wait for the item to arrive via free shipping. As you said, most brick-and-mortar retailers could take a lesson from Apple and provide a level of service not found anywhere else but you also have to have the products that can fetch a high price because they just work. People are fed up with the fragmented Microsoft design mentality and they just want their stuff to work cohesively. And if in the off chance it does break, be able to take it someplace that will stand behind it and make things right.

  • Andy September 14, 2011, 4:01 pm

    Great suggestions. I buy a lot of stuff at best Buy but lately have been extremely disappointed by their sales people and their ever-slimming selection. I recently tried to buy an electric range there was was told I’d have a 6-week wait. Wound up buying a better one at a better price at Home Depot — and got it 3 days later!

  • Alan September 14, 2011, 7:29 pm

    Interesting post but it didn’t contain the correct answer. The correct answer is a) STOP upselling everything. They think by forcing employees to upsell (extended warranties, worthless services, etc) they raise their profits. What they actually do is tell the customer that they are only seen as a revenue source and not as a friend and future sales opportunity. b) improve the level of knowledge of employees by paying more and incentivizing them for good service (and not upselling – see a) ). They’re constantly purging good employees because they are not the folks that upsell (see a) ).

    Less immediate sales and more repeat business and long term success. See fate of Circuit City for more information on their future as well.

  • p51d007 September 14, 2011, 10:21 pm

    For me, all BB is useful to me is if I’m in a hurry & need something FAST, like NOW to fix something quick…new hard drive, need a cable etc. Also, I’ll “use” BB, if I want to hold something in my hand (if they have one not behind glass where you can’t), then after I figure I want it…off to Amazon I go.

  • Ken Schoenberg September 14, 2011, 11:37 pm

    Sell it to Fry’s. The BestBuy organization is one of the most unethical retail operations around.

  • BaldSpot September 15, 2011, 12:54 am

    They might reconsider their prices. I needed a battery for my camera. BB: $80 Amazon had a different but excellent brand for $17. I needed a cable. BB: $64. Amazon: $4.00. This kind of way over-the-top price gouging means BB is the LAST place I go looking. If I could walk in there and get something for just a small, reasonable mark-up, like what you would expect to pay in a store, then I’d be happy to shop there.

    I overheard a discussion at their Geek Squad desk. They were trying to sell a customer a service contract that was enormously over-priced and probably completely unnecessary.

    I read a comment in a forum about how one BB manager refused to sell iPads when they first came out unless the customer agreed in advance to buy the extended warrantee. This is very short-sighted thinking. They are not acting like friends, but like money-grubbing jerks. Who wants to do business with jerks?

    It seems their motto is, “A Fool And His Money Are Soon Parted.”

  • thsu September 15, 2011, 2:01 am

    Big stores are doing fine. Just look at Frys, J&R Music World (which sells nearly all electronics, not just music), and MicroCenter, to name a few. All three are packed with people and packed with electronic gear for sale.

    Best Buy over expanded. They should close half their stores and pick up a more diverse set of inventory in the remainder. That’s basically what the other companies I listed do.

  • Cynthia September 15, 2011, 2:25 am

    Hmmm. Out here in rural America, have never even seen an Apple store. Pretty well non-existent entity. At least there *is* a Best Buy, even if it is an hour and fifteen minute drive away. I agree about the upselling though, that’s a very aggravating practice. Simply stock good products and have knowledgeable people around to help with them. Must thank Best Buy for the clearance sale on my Sony 950 reader though! However, the device sold itself. Being able to hands on explore it was great!

  • Jerry Danzig September 15, 2011, 9:17 am

    Best Buy is failing because it is failing miserably on the basics of selection, service, and value.

    As you say, their stores are showing more wide open spaces filled with fewer products. Their sales people swarm when you’re just browsing and disappear when you need their help. Their prices are not competitive, and a request to negotiate a better price with a manager can consume a quarter hour or more with no certainty of a positive outcome.

    Finally, who among us haven’t heard the stories of the way Best Buy employees constantly hustle people into buying stuff they don’t need, like “computer optimization” or extended warranties backed up by dreadful service. Then there are the legions of horror stories of the Geek Squad damaging customers’ equipment.

    The chain’s only hope for survival is to put customers first again, ahead of top executives and shareholders. Until that happens, people will be “staying away in droves” — or browsing at BB and buying online.

  • Pam T. September 15, 2011, 9:59 am

    I guess I’m alone in the BB world – I’ve never seen my local store upselling more than any other store or pulling questionable business practices as others have described here. I may get annoyed when the newest tech toys aren’t on display so I can play with them, but if they’re not in stock, well, they’re not in stock.

    Now, I have overheard the salespeople and GS guys selling people stuff _I_ don’t think they need, like Norton anti-virus, or selling the most expensive router when a cheaper one would do jsut as well, but they ARE in the retail business, so I can’t fault them too terribly for that.

    And you can’t blame the store for having to charge sales tax – that’s your state and local city’s department.

    But I do agree that all in all, if I have time to wait for shipping, I can ususally find it cheaper at Amazon or somewhere else. And I’ll order it. Because we’re all in a money crunch, trying to make our hard-earned dollars go farther. And that trickles down and back to our retail communities.

    Do you think there will be a day when brick and mortar stores are obsolete? Or will bix-box stores simply disappear and be replaced by the little mom-and-pop ones again, who carry only a little inventory, but satisify the “I have to have it now” philosophy?

  • Ted September 15, 2011, 4:40 pm

    They need to keep their nose out of politics. A year ago BB contributed funds to elect a homophobic bigot. I have not shopped there (or at Target) since and won’t until they prove that they will not longer support discrimination

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