What a different Best Buy experience

My wife and I have a love/hate relationship with Best Buy. For a long time they’ve been the only complete Bricks and Mortar game in town, but the shopping experience has been horrific. When you are neither the low-price leader (ala Wal-Mart and Costco) nor the service/experience leader (ala Nordstrom, Apple Store, etc.) then you’re in trouble. And they are. The question is, can they remake themselves into something that leaves them the last nationwide survivor of the dedicated cross-vendor technology chains?

Comparing our experience buying a camera a few years ago with buying one this weekend offers some hope that Best Buy is navigating a path forward. A few years ago, and this experience has been repeated multiple times for various products, we went in looking for a camera.

Like most products at Best Buy the demo units are connected to security devices which were then attached to coiled wire. This makes it impossible to actually hold the camera as it would be held in real life, feel its weight, etc. you would be repeatedly accosted by salespeople who it would turn out knew nothing about cameras. Worse, when you told them you wanted to hold the camera without the security device they would tell you it wasn’t allowed. If you pestered enough of them long enough they would find a manager who would come remove the security device so you could really hold the camera. Questions? Sorry, we don’t know how to really answer those! And so frustrated, and not really wanting to repeat the experience of trying to get a different camera removed from the security device, we left and went to a nearby camera store. We bought a camera for more than it would have been at Best Buy and much more than it would have been from Amazon, B&H, or a half-dozen other reputable web stores.

Indeed in most cases I’ve walked out of Best Buy without something, whether then purchased at another bricks and mortar store, or most likely online, it has had little to do with a modest price difference. Either the Best Buy shopping experience made me want to run home and take a shower, or they didn’t have what I wanted.

Our plan this weekend was to go camera shopping at the local camera store we’ve had good experiences with. But we decided to stop at Best Buy first to get an idea of prices. Surprisingly we were greeted by an experience closer to an Apple Store than the Best Buy of old (though clearly they could do more). There were greeters to direct us. While looking at a (broken) demo unit a manager came by and asked if we needed help. He then went to find “Clint”, the guy who really knew about the cameras. And know them he did, Clint was able to answer our questions about different models and what the trade offs were. And when we mentioned the broken demo unit Clint simply said “Let me open a box and get one out for you”. A short while later we’d decided on a camera and were loading up on accessories and plunking down my credit card. Clint went one better. I had read a review suggesting the use of a wrist strap instead of the included neck strap and asked Clint about it. He pulled out a box with wrist straps that were left over from demo units and offered me one for free.

Yes I could have saved about 7% at Amazon, but the service was worth the extra cost. Sure when I know I want the RouteCo 15237-QX router I’m just going to buy it online. But when I need to hold and try something, I want an experience like we just had buying the camera. And I’ll pay a modest premium for it. So if this experience was indicative of where Best Buy is going they may just have a shot at survival. At least I’m going to feel a lot better about going there when I need to buy consumer electronics.

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3 Responses to What a different Best Buy experience

  1. dave says:

    I’ve received good and knowledgeable service help in some departments in some Best Buy stores. The challenge I’ve experienced is seemingly not every store has a “Clint” for all departments. Best Buy needs to stop selling “dead” or marginal technology (gps, car stereos, alarm clocks… ) specialize in higher value, higher volume items and ensure their training programs offer continuous learning.

    I have benefitted from their broad selection at times, but I’d rather they stay in business with fewer “departments” and less selection than go out of business altogether.

  2. Bob - former DECie says:

    Several years ago we bought my wife’s feature phone at Best Buy because the AT&T corporate store didn’t sell them any more. There was nothing wrong with the experience other than having to dodge other customers as they took a short-cut through the cell phone area to get to other departments.

    I generally only buy something at Best Buy if I know what I want and can’t wait for it from Amazon, NewEgg, etc. About 1.5 years ago I wanted to get a laptop mouse for my wife’s laptop like the one I have for my work laptop. Checking online, Best Buy stocked the mouse, so I drove to the closest one that showed the item in stock. When I couldn’t find it, I asked someone and they checked to make sure some hadn’t been mis-stocked as there was another similiar version of the mouse that looked very similar. Upon verifying that there didn’t appear to be any mis-stocked mice of the correct model, they checked the inventory and it indicated they had none. That’s not really an issue as I know that inventory counts that are in single digits are often wrong. The person checked inventory at other stores and located a store that had double digit quantities on hand. I thanked the employee for their help and drove to the other Best Buy store, found the mouse in stock, and purchased it. This is where I ran into one of my pet peeves about Best Buy, the warranty upsell at the register. No I’m not stupid enough to pay $10 to double the warranty period on a $30 mouse.

    One of the Best Buy stores here is being closed and replaced by a Best Buy Mobile store while the others are getting some new make over. Maybe I’ll take a look at one after they finish the make over.

  3. Brian says:

    Your stories are comparable to the history of Home Depot. I “built” my own house twenty years ago (sort of, we hired a contractor, but it was our design and we did much of the purchasing). We spent many hours at Home Depot talking to the experts there about our needs and buying lots of stuff.

    In 2000, Robert Nardelli took over as president and figured having knowledgeable staff was a luxury that the stores could do without. Eventually customers figured out that Home Depot was a terrible place to shop and Nardelli got the boot. However, as a “parting gift”, he got to go home with a substantial portion of the “savings”.

    Having learned its lesson, Home Depot is again a great place to shop at. I’m hoping Best Buy gets there too.

    The best things customers can do for a retail store is “vote with their feet”.

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