StorefrontBacktalk recently ran a couple of pieces on Best Buy that followed up their recent pieces on Best Buy’s Black Friday Fiasco and Best Buy’s Wifi Porn, which was expanded upon by SI in its recent posts on how if you wanted a best buy experience, you weren’t going to get it at Best Buy (Part I and Part II). In its first piece on Best Buy’s Last Hope, the author says that Best Buy has one shot — an expensive, painful, highly disruptive shot — to truly turn itself around. It must embrace customer service in-sore to an extent that would make Nordstrom, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods blush. That means store associates who are true experts in the electronics they are selling.
Frankly, I don’t think this is going to happen. The mentality would have to change from “who will work for us for minimum wage and pretend they know enough about this product to actually sell it” to “where can we find someone who knows what they are talking about, is passionate about the products they sell, and will actually work for us as a sales rep” and “what is it going to take to get that kind of people”. Right now, the type of service I’m used to is “this isn’t my department, you’ll have to find someone that is working in this department” to queries as simple as “can you tell me if you still have any of this product in stock” (which any associate can do simply by logging into one of their terminals and doing a query) or, my favourite, in response to “I’d like that” (pointing to something in a cage). Get the key, open the damn cage, give it to me and/or walk it to the cashier. An untrained monkey could do it! (And monkeys are smarter than you think. Pete the Monkey taught himself to do dishes.)
Plus, as the author notes, they would probably have to fire most of their staff and replace them with Apple-store caliber employees. And any employee of that caliber is probably going to go work for Apple or, if they prefer Windows, Sony where knowledgeable associates are preferred.
After all, as the author notes, they currently think they can win a price war with Amazon. A company with massively deep pockets, minimal physical overhead (compared to a retail store chain), and a willingness to go eight years without turning a profit just to conquer a market. Winning a price war against Amazon in the electronics space is not going to happen. Amazon can, and will, win on margin every time if that’s what it takes to be the next major electronics retailer and put Best Buy and its competitors out of business. (And it won’t be hard when it’s customer service reps often give better service over the phone than Best Buy associates in store!)
The other piece that got my attention was that Best Buy Planned Outages Due to Its Move to the Cloud. If you believe the hype (and the doctor does not), the whole point of moving to the cloud is so that you don’t have outages. But the most ironic aspect to this story is that Best Buy is cutting Amazon a check for its cloud efforts. They might as well just sell to Amazon.com now and become Amazon’s mobile presence. One little glitch and a propagated purge command and — voila! — no more Best Buy online. (Not that it would make a huge difference anyway. What good is a web store that a growing portion of your market can only order one item from at a time anyway? [See Best Buy Experience? Not at Best Buy! Part II.] the doctor is now ordering more electronics from the local office supply depot because their web site actually works! And if you send them an e-mail, customer support actually responds! On the other hand, it seems that Best Buy’s method of dealing with problems is just to ignore them. It’s not a problem if you don’t recognize it, right?)
The nostalgic part of me would like to say that Best Buy still has a Bright Future, but, in the doctor‘s view, the only chance of Best Buy lighting up the sky is if the same thing happens to it as happened to the Buy More in the season three finale of Chuck. The way things are going, it’s going to be closing 50 stores on a regular basis. And I don’t think China’s going to save it. If Best Buy truly takes off in China, there’ll likely be so many indistinguishable clones in three months that it will just be hastening its demise.