Photo of Best Buy sotre

Why Best Buy Is Struggling: A Personal Tale

Best Buy, which has been struggling of late, announced today that it was closing 50 big box stores as part of a restructuring. Some commentators viewed this as a sign that the big box retail model has outlived its usefulness, but I think a lot of Best Buy’s problems result from the chain’s flawed approach to retailing, especially customer service. This is just one personal anecdote, but I think it’s telling.

Last week, our aged dishwasher began leaking, so we went looking for a replacement. I find it hard to get excited about dishwashers, but I did a little bit of research on the web before we headed for or local Best Buy, with a newspaper flyer promising free installation in hand. As we looked at dishwashers in the store, an “associate” asked if he could help. My wife explained what we were looking for and asked about the free installation. He informed us it didn’t start until the next day. At that point, he seemed to lose interest andPhoto of Best Buy sotre wandered off.

We were in the store, ready to buy and a salesperson with a little incentive and a little authority would have found a way to close the deal. This associate apparently had neither, so we were out of there. Best Buy also announced today that it would begin basing sales staff’s compensation on customer service. That doesn’t seem to be part of the current equation.

We headed to our second choice, H.H. Gregg, which recently moved into a former Circuit City store about a mile down the pike. The salesperson there also told us the deal we had seen advertised didn’t start for another day, but he led us to an alternative available right away. He also noticed that the counter opening I had measured was a little shorter than normal (we had a ceramic tile floor installed after the old dishwasher was in place) and found us a model–actually less expensive than our original choice–that would fit more easily. Needless to say, he made the sale.

Admittedly, this is only one data point, but the indifferent attitude we encountered at Best Buy is a familiar one. About the only time I have seen Best Buy staff really engaged with customers is when they are trying to push overpriced and generally unnecessary service contracts. My friend Harry McCracken tweeted that what Best Buy really needs is Ron Johnson, the Apple Store chief recently departed to run J.C. Penney or someone like him.

We can’t expect Best Buys to turn magically into Apple Stores, which consistently offer the world’s greatest retail experience. But a recent piece in The New Yorker found evidence that retailers that pay their workers more than the competition tend to be more profitable, presumably because they can attract better employees. That’s something Best Buy ought to think about.



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Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.

6 thoughts on “Why Best Buy Is Struggling: A Personal Tale”

  1. The “blue shirts” at Best Buy used to be the key differentiator between BB and outfits like CircuitCity. Now it appears that BB has fallen to the same level of Circuit and we all know where that ended.

  2. I remember when the help earned more on commission and that did not always make for pleasant shopping. I’m a little persistent and will try to find another salesperson but if unsuccessful, I, too, make for another store. When that happens often enough with a store or chain, it sinks lower on the old food chain for my shopping turns.

    I like your point about pay and quality service. Such is why I am rarely moved to negative thoughts by others. I don’t expect minimum wage earners jumping through hoops and showing joy. Pay is a relative thing and can come in many forms but money is the highest honour in the labour market and is often, sadly, the measure of a wo/man’s sense of self-worth. Therefore I can see why more equitable retailers would fare better at the cash resister.

    I always give my appreciation for transactions, for sometimes, beyond a skimpy paycheque, the smile and “thank-you” are the only acknowledgement some people receive for their efforts.

    Here’s a little suggestion to Best Buy, a little something that could be done in one day. Post a friendly person at the exit door and ask each customer as s/he passes by, “Did you find everything you need?” Pay special attention to the eyes. Polite people may say “yes” regardless, but the eyes find it impossible to lie.

  3. I used to shop at Best Buy all the time. Unlike others that have commented, I didn’t stop going there because of any problems. In fact, I was a little surprised to hear how bad things had gotten for Best Buy. I guess I still remember what they were and have no knowledge of what they’ve become.

    So why did I stop going to Best Buy? Not exactly sure. Perhaps because I didn’t need to? Because I shopped electronically and it was easier to shop from my home than travel to a big box store?

    In some ways, I think I may be the reason that Best Buy is in trouble. All of you are mad at Best Buy for their poor selection, prices and service. I’m apathetic. I just don’t care about them, and worse, I just don’t think about them anymore. I have a feeling that my lack of feeling anything is the very worst thing that could possibly happen to Best Buy or retail establishment.

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