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Best Buy's Final Destination

29 Aug, 2014 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Best Buy’s amazing slide to a 45% drop in income in the second quarter of this year, and ominous warnings of further drops to come in quarters three and four, can’t be attributed solely to the lack of new smartphones and the continued migration of shoppers online.

The electronics chain’s makeover, putting discs, CDs and other software in a corner in the back and reserving its prime floor space for tablets and smartphones, has destroyed its character and made it a lot less fun to shop there. You’d think management would have learned a lesson from Radio Shack, whose death march began when it brought in the iPhone. Sales initially surged, but margins plummeted — and before long everyone was carrying the iPhone and Radio Shack had painted itself into a corner.

Best Buy not only followed the same strategy, but also mangled a great idea last fall through its “showrooming” counterattack. Stung by consumers checking out products at Best Buy but then buying online, the company commissioned a series of 11 ads under the "Your Ultimate Holiday Showroom" theme, touting its low-price guarantee and the ability to order online and pick up in store.

The trouble was, the campaign focused more on outdoing Amazon than it did on highlighting the benefits of shopping in-store at Best Buy — although, in retrospect, maybe that’s because those benefits simply aren’t all that pronounced.

It all goes back to how fun it used to be to shop at Best Buy, before the chain transformed itself into a physical portal for tablets and smartphones. And there’s the essence of what Best Buy needs to do if it is to survive, much less thrive, in this increasingly challenging environment.

The stores need to become destinations again. I agree with Jehan Hamedi, global market development manager at Crimson Hexagon, a social-media analytics company that analyzed Twitter and Facebook dialog on Best Buy’s ad campaign. He told Ad Age Best Buy should make the stores more of a "playground" destination with fun in-store events, group discounts and refer-a-friend programs. "There's such a huge opportunity for them to link their product showroom appeal with a social experience," he told Ad Age. “We found that the largest, the prime [consumer] expectations, had nothing to do with what I might expect, like touching or sampling the product. It's more about social gratification — having fun. You go with your friends and they are your pre-purchasing sounding boards. It's a destination.”

My last visit to Best Buy was not a fun experience. The local store is situated in a large strip mall, right next to Walmart. I got there at a quarter to 10 on Sunday, wanting to pick up some discs as a gift for a birthday party my youngest son was going to, but Best Buy didn’t open until 10 and even though there were more than a dozen people outside waiting to get in those doors didn’t open until exactly 10, on the minute. I went to Walmart instead, and that was a lost sale Best Buy could have had if there was some flexibility and awareness of the store’s retail surroundings.
After my purchase at Walmart, I went to Best Buy to check into getting a protective screen around my middle son’s new school-issued iPad. It took me 10 minutes to find an available clerk, and I found the screen protector before he did. It was also I who suggested the Geek Squad put it on, not him.

As I was walking out, I saw a refrigerator I had purchased on sale on the Fourth of July holiday for $1,799 was back up to $3,265 — “10% off the regular price, just in time for Labor Day.” I understand price fluctuations, but come on! It’s episodes such as this that build consumer distrust — and at this point that’s the last thing Best Buy needs.

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