CNET has posted an editorial extolling the virtues of Best Buy as an actual physical retail presence, at a time when buying trends are ever-increasingly shifting toward the convenience and value of online shopping, and the practice of showrooming — using retail locations to merely pick up and touch and try out products before buying them on the interwebs. It’s no doubt been a rough year for Best Buy:
“People who thought we were dead have to go through the painful process of revisiting that point of view,” [Best Buy CEO Hubert] Joly told The Wall Street Journal on Friday.
I’ve wondered many times if my regular weekly visit to the local Best Buy would be my last. And still do.
But I like knowing the store is there.
Best Buy is really the only electronics specialty store besides Fry’s Electronics (mostly a West Coast phenomenon) that packs lots of PCs, Macs, tablets, and phones into relatively small abutting areas, allowing you to easily comparison shop.
Joly’s “not dead yet” statement definitely strikes a chord with me. The Best Buy I regularly visit these days is, frankly, a mess. They’re cluttered with “me too” tables. They’re strip-mining the media section, creating a confusing layout where the items you might actually want to buy are only found on random endcaps, and since they’ve outsourced the entire media department to a third party (which costs more than handling it themselves), none of the employees know where anything actually is.
If anything, Best Buy needs to organize a bit, play to the strengths of physical retail space, and embrace showrooming as a business plan, because like it or not, it’s the reality of the market. And we desperately need Best Buy to survive in the market that actually exists. Microsoft and a bunch of other partners are setting up their own stores; why not rent them some space in actual Best Buy stores? Turn it into a mall of sorts? I have a feeling that is part of what Best Buy founder Richard Schulze was thinking in his failed attempt to buy back the company. But whatever approach the company takes, it needs to be grounded in making product easier — not harder — to locate.
The retail experience isn’t dead, but if it does die, most electronics manufacturers — aside from those who have built their entire business model on direct sales, like SVS and Emotiva — will suffer for it, because the vast majority of consumers that have no idea what’s available are going to be relying on the tiny departments at Target or Walmart to discover new things. I also think that the industry knows it, and that they’ll do everything they can to prevent becoming more beholden than they already are to Walmart (which isn’t in the best shape itself).
I think Best Buy will continue to shrink, but the company will eventually stabilize, and that we’ll see a greater synergy between online sales and physical retail. Hopefully it won’t be too late to keep people in their jobs, as I’d hate to see more empty boxes littering the highways of America.