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Best Buy Kiosks a Click-and-Mortar Marriage

17 Oct, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

Customers walking into Best Buy will find the chain eager to make sales in a difficult season and trying to provide new tools to unify the online and in-person shopping experiences.

The specialty chain has recently finished a chainwide installation of iStations, computer-based information stations that let customers do research at home or within stores, accessible from either place.

“We're trying to move toward being a click-and-mortar company so we have integrated information about anywhere they want to shop with us,” said Tony Hart, Best Buy's VP of customer relationship management. “The in-store kiosks let them read more and find out about products or compare reviews.”

That's a boon for customers and staff, said Marina Ramirez, media manager at the chain's South Coast Metro store in Costa Mesa, Calif.

“The customers use them a lot,” she said, “especially around the holidays when it's not always easy to find an available salesperson.”

But even if the floor is teeming with associates, customers can use the iStations as a CD listening post to sample songs, a feature Ramirez said is very popular. The question is how much such efforts can help in a retail season that's projected to be dismal.

“The greatest impact upon Best Buy at this point has been the recent slowdown in consumer spending on electronics. That has had a broad impact on retailers in general,” said Steve Butler, a senior analyst at eMarketer. “Best Buy has made some aggressive moves in the etailing space with its free shipping offer, and during the late spring and early summer it saw a significant increase in its Web site traffic. However, data from comScore Media Metrix show that many of the visitors to Best Buy's Web site were comparison shoppers that had also visited Amazon.com.”

It's those customers Best Buy hopes to capture with its CRM initiatives. Beyond the in-store experience, the iStations help customers store research they've done at home and retrieve it at the store. For instance, a customer visiting Bestbuy.com can do research, make a wish list, then retrieve the wish list at the store. They can also check product availability online and, if they prefer to get product through the mail, the chain is offering free shipping on all orders through the holidays, “We find that a lot of our customers do pre-research,” Hart said. “We're trying to integrate all these points of information together.”

While the information is largely a one-way road right now, the chain hopes to use what it learns to reach customers with e-newsletters, loyalty programs and added content.

How much the efforts will help the chain remains to be seen.

“The biggest boost for BestBuy.com will come from a return of consumer spending on electronics devices, rather than through its investment in CRM systems,” Butler said, “although its use of CRM technology could help Best Buy hold on to customers in a more competitive retail environment.”

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